I suppose that a majority of the citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand think that democracy is a good thing, even if the word means different things to different people. Anyway, if democracy is good, then more of a it should not hurt us. By more democracy, I mean more direct involvement of citizens in making decisions.
Currently we have in Aotearoa New Zealand a version of representative democracy, under which, at a national level, we elect a mix of list and
constituency members to the House of Representatives. Beyond
the point of putting marks on ballot papers it is relatively difficult for the citizens at large to infuence, let alone to control, what the government of the day gets up to. Both good and bad laws can be and have been enacted with a one vote majority, and not infrequently under urgency, thus bypassing even the limited scrutiny provided by select committee.
Since the abolition of the Legislative Council in 1950, there has been little or no formal check on what Parliament gets up to, which mainly means what Cabinet and the PM get up to, except for the periodic need to get re-elected. A possible, if long-term, objective could be the reinstatement of a second house within Parliament, this time a citizens’ assembly, selected by lot. One of the tasks of this second house, free of the need for re-election, free of the need to please sponsors, free to consider the good of the country as a whole, could be the scrutiny of draft bills. Another task could be to identify the need for, and the initiation of legislation on topics otherwise regarded as electorally toxic and so avoided by the political parties.
Clearly this would represent a big shift from the way things are run at present, and there are all sorts of practical issues to be addressed. How would section by lot actually be carried out? What would it take for citizens at large to be prepared to participate, that is to have their names in the hat for selection? How long should a citizen’s assembly be expected to sit? How would the participants be compensated? These aside from the biggest question of all; would parliament be prepared to surrender some of its power to a citizen’s assembly? Would parliament be prepared to sign up for a bit more democracy? It will be a long process of learning to think beyond our present system.