Referenda on Euthanasia – NZ First’s Victory – or a Major Miscalculation?

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.NZ First’s success in putting the euthenasia bill to a public referenda may not be the victory they believe it to be. They may even have sounded the death-knell for a second Labour-NZ First-Green coalition.

On 23 July this year, NZ First MP, Jenny Marcroft, submitted a Supplementary Order Paper whereby a  binding public referendum on David Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill would be held at next year’s General Election.

Ms Marcroft voiced her party’s non-negotiable expectations on this issue;

“The New Zealand First caucus’ further support of the Bill is contingent upon the amendment, providing for a referendum, passing.”

Ms Marcroft’s justification for calling for a binding referendum sounded lofty, apparently based on high principle;

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“New Zealand First believes this issue directly affects the fabric of society, and is one that temporarily empowered politicians alone should not decide upon. This decision requires the direct participation of the voting public.”

Whether NZ First actually believes that is unclear.

One thing is for certain; if successive polls are any indication, the referendum will pass the Bill into law.

In which case, NZ First can claim – hand on heart – that it “simply had no choice but to follow the will of the people”. So NZ First may escape the wrath of critics of euthanasia who will then focus their electoral retribution elsewhere (or so NZ First hopes.)

But NZ First can also claim praise from supporters of the Bill by pointing out it was instrumental in it’s adoption (albeit indirectly).

Writing for Newsroom, Sam Sachdeva made a similar point;

“But in pushing for referendums on euthanasia and abortion, Peters positions himself either claim the credit or dole out the blame depending on the vote result and fallout, and more easily peel off both red and blue voters come 2020. Politically, it is shrewd.”

All things to all people. It’s a cunning plan, if that was the true underlying reason for promoting the referendum.

Unfortunately, as with most cunning plans, there are often unintended consequences.

This is ACT’s Bill. Relitigating this issue next year as the election campaign heats up gives ACT much needed oxygen –  extra publicity by using every platform available to promote the referendum and promote itself at the same time.

If the publicity of championing the Individual’s right to choice gives ACT an extra couple of percentage points of Party Votes, David Seymour could find himself with three extra MPs.  If National’s support holds at around the 47%-mark – that gives them 57 seats. Fiftyseven National plus four ACT = Prime Minister Simon Bridges.

An unpleasant thought, to put it mildly.

NZ First’s wily old fox and its political strategists may not have thought this one through.

In 1996, the Alliance put forward a Citizen’s Initiated Referenda on whether or not the country’s state forest plantations and cutting rights should remain in public ownership.

The Alliance’s chief stategist-at-the-time, Matt McCarten toured the country, explaining to every electorate Branch that the CIR on forestry ownership would likely boost the Alliance’s prospects at the first MMP election in late 1996. Matt explained that the added publicity of the Alliance policy on public ownership of strategic state assets would be a major draw-card in the coming election. With MMP imbedded as the new, fairer, electoral system, the Alliance would finally be able to capitalise on every vote cast for the party.

No more “wasted votes”.  A CIR, in Jim Anderton’s name, would remind voters which political movement opposed the steady advance of neo-liberalism. That “nudge” in the ballot-booth could benefit the Alliance immensely.

Matt McCarten gave his speech to a packed hall in the Rongotai Electorate in the presence of dozens of party activists; local Alliance candidate, Bill Hamilton, and a much younger Electorate Secretary – Frank Macskasy.

The CIR lapsed due to the high number of valid signatures required – ten percent of registered voters – within an unfeasibly tight time-frame; twelve months.

But the very act of thousands of highly-motivated Alliance activists going door-knocking in the lead up to the 1996 Election Day, presenting the petition; discussing it with householders; reminding them face-to-face that the Alliance was staunchly opposed to privatisation – may have provided an impetus even if the CIR itself failed to gain sufficient valid signatures in time.

In 1993 there were two Alliance MPs.

After the 1996 Election, the number skyrocketed to thirteen.

Even though votes for the Alliance fell from 350,063 in 1993 to 209,347 (siphoned off to a fledgling NZ First, that had also campaigned on halting asset sales) public support was still considerable. The unsuccessful petition event may have contributed to the success of both parties.

Twentyfour years later, and the stark possibility exists that NZ First may – inadvertently – assist it’s nemesis at the next election.

According to media reports, David Seymour, says  “he didn’t feel strongly either way about the referendum, but saw it as a necessity“. A “necessity” to win more votes and seats next year?

Mr Seymour is not without political nous. With one eye on recent polling and the other on next year’s general election, he may also have calculated that NZ First has inadvertently thrown him a life-line.

If ACT gains exposure from the euthanasia referendum throughout next year’s campaigning, finally reminding voters at the ballot box, the outcome  may be the greatest unintended consequence since the a certain intoxicated Prime Minister thought an early election would be a… cunning plan.

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References

NZ First: Binding referendum on End of Life Choice Bill

NZ Parliament: End of Life Choice Bill

Mediaworks/Newshub: Most New Zealanders support euthanasia

TVNZ: Strong support for legalising euthanasia in 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton Poll, as MPs set to thrash out details

Scoop Media: New Poll – Euthanasia Support Overwhelmingly Strong

Wikipedia: Referendums in New Zealand

Newsroom: Why Winston Peters is wrong on referendums

Wikipedia: 1996 New Zealand general election

Wikipedia: 1993 New Zealand general election

ODT: Euthanasia bill to go to referendum

Other Blogs

No Right Turn: Death with dignity (various)

The Daily Blog: Why NZ First are right and the Euthanasia law needs to be a public referendum

The Standard: The End of Life Choice Bill

The Standard: Parliament votes to give disabled people the right to a good life

Previous related blogposts

John Key – Practicing Deflection 101

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This blogpost will be re-published in five days on “Frankly Speaking“. Reader’s comments may be left here (The Daily Blog) or there (Frankly Speaking).

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8 COMMENTS

  1. If Labour and co can’t make a convincing argument for second term then maybe the truth is they don’t deserve one. Certainly my view is they seem to want to be in opposition. Starting with the passage of the CP-TPP (which Trump kept his promise on and walked away), they have failed again and again to acknowledge the needs and concerns of true left wingers like myself.

    Its not that people want the right back but if they are anything like me they want a left leaning government that is just that in more than just words.

  2. Frank Macskasy , I dont know if I am misreading your article but you seem to be saying that we should not have a referendum because it will gather a lot support, which may transmit into votes for ACT. That’s called democracy isn’t it?
    It appears that you believe the referendum will result in a resounding defeat for your side. I wrote a comment recently that I believe the referendum will succeed by “the length of a street”. We will see. What it might do to the internal politics of the government is of no concern at all.

    • Yeah nah, that’s not what he’s saying at all Bonash. He’s simply pointing out that promoting Act’s referendum may likely translate into promoting Act next year at the election. Seems fairly straight forward to me.

      With the Nat’s hard core attack on gangs, solo mums, and welfare, I think next years election is going to be very dirty. With Bridges’ career hanging on the outcome he’s going to use every dirty trick, red meat issue, lie, he can getaway with. Simply put the guy has NOTHING to lose.

  3. It’s a bit convoluted Frank, but I think there is some sound logic in there: ACT is gaining exposure through both the euthanasia bill and their resistance to the firearms ownership restrictions. These are consistent positions based on their libertarian foundations. They will gain some votes and yes, I can see another MP or maybe two for them.

    Who *really* cares about euthanasia? Only conservatives religious people: Catholics, Presbyterians and some PI churches. I think the rest of us would be pleased to be able to ‘pull the plug’ once the pain becomes unbearable or we won’t be able to remember our own name in a years time. So once again – yes you’re right, NZF and maybe Labour too will shed some votes due to allowing euthanasia to go to binding referendum.

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