Friday, January 29, 2016

With Goff & Shearer Showing Their True Colours, The Number Of Parties You Can Trust To Protect NZ Sovereignty Shrinks

There's something sadly inevitable about Labour self-sabotaging on issues of genuine and serious national importance. We saw it several times over the last two electoral cycles with a succession of frankly bizarre policy decisions on the campaign-trail that helped to keep Labour (and, for that matter, a presumably Labour-led left-wing coalition government) out of office.

It should therefore come as little surprise that the two men who presided over these defeats, former Labour leaders Phil Goff and David Shearer - men who, if we'd listened to Labour may very well have been Prime Minister - have come out and done exactly the same thing on the TPPA.

And yet somehow, it still rankles.

Labour activists can take to social media to claim (with some legitimacy) that these two men's personal stances do not represent the Labour Party as a whole; and Bomber can mount a valiant rearguard action for Phil Goff's Mayoralty campaign by pointing out Goff remains the presumptive left-wing option for Auckland's top job.

But any way you choose to slice it, the fairly public spiking of the Party Line by these two former leaders represents fairly incontrovertible evidence that there remains a prominent and powerfully represented Neoliberal wing to the Labour Party.

Matters grow somewhat worse when we consider Andrew Little's defence/contextualization for his renegade MP's remarks.

The justification for Phil Goff being able to take an overtly pro-TPPA and anti-sovereignty stance, according to Andrew Little, is that it's allowable on the basis of Goff's previous involvement in kicking off the TPPA in the first place. As you may recall, he was the Labour Party Trade Minister under whose watch this whole abomination got off the ground in the first place.

Goff himself goes further. He's explicitly fine with a loss of sovereignty for New Zealand as part of this trade deal, and points out that Labour's record includes other instances of sacrificing our sovereignty for somewhat nominal trade-deal gain.

So why's Little allowing this? It's not just because Goff is not long for Parliament due to his local body career ambitions. It's because Goff is free-and-frankly stating and defending Labour's record when it comes to endorsing pernicious trade deals.

I also have little doubt that there are other not-so-closet neoliberals in Labour's upper echelons who are having their views on this matter represented by Goff and Shearer. By allowing one MP the freedom to speak his mind on the issue, Little is therefore creating a 'safety-valve' for any more-than-residual neoliberal opinion still hankering around his Caucus.

In any case, even though I've been quite hard on Labour both in the past and in this post, I should like to warmly congratulate a large chunk of the Labour Party - including its *present* leader, if not two of his immediate predecessors - for taking a stand against the loss of sovereignty represented by the TPPA.

It may have taken them quite some time to decide what on earth they were actually going to do, and which side of the fence they'd line up on ... but they have, eventually and for the most part, made the right decision.

But with highly public outbursts from prominent and high-powered MPs undermining and undercutting Labour's announced stance on this issue, it's not hard to see why many voters are asking questions about whether they can actually trust Labour to genuinely represent their views and play a vital role in stopping the loss of our sovereignty - as well as other neoliberal shenanigans - dead in their tracks.

There's only two parties in Parliament which have been dead set against this kind of thing right fro the beginning: New Zealand First and The Greens.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Referendum Approach To Cannabis Law Reform - An Idea Whose Time Has Come

A #Reeferendum represents the best way forward for cannabis law reform at this point in time. We should therefore all be pleased that it's no longer just New Zealand First advocating on behalf of one. Thank you Helen Kelly for helping to lend legitimacy to the Reformist side of this debate.

But why a referendum? Why not go with the tried and tested previous approaches of Private Members' Bills or voting for the Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party?

Because, frankly put, these simply don't work.

It's arguably something of a travesty that the ALCP at the last Election scored nearly double the support of the "party" which brought us legalized synthetic cannabis, yet doesn't similarly possess a seat in Parliament with which to advance its cause. But that's the electoral system for you.

Meanwhile, there's a lack of serious political will on the part of our MPs to get even the best-thought-through legalization, decriminalization, or medicinal marijuana bill over the line.

To be fair, both the Parliamentary climate and broader political terrain are changing. No doubt inspired by successful US experiments in this area, popular support for the reform of cannabis laws continues to wax strong. MPs and Party Spokespeople have responded to this trend, and are softening (or strengthening, depending on side) their languageor even actively campaigning on the issue.

But we have some ways to go before enough MPs are prepared to get up, stand up, and be counted with their votes to change the law.

Opting for a referendum instead, however, represents something of a 'softer' option. Putting forward a Private Member's Bill to give effect to or enact a referendum is viewed in a rather different light to acting directly to change the law.

After all, it's merely giving effect to the pre-standing Will of the People on the issue.

And popular opinion seems to be fairly squarely on the side of law reform.

This is particularly the case in the wake of the synthetic cannabinoid "dairy dak" debacle, which not only demonstrated that legitimate selling of drugs is within the realms of possibility (and, for that matter, that it's something the government's quite prepared to countenance) - but more importantly conclusively demonstrated to many New Zealanders that the continued illegality of regular weed is allowing far more damaging trades to flourish.

Numerous examples from the United States and further afield have also proven time and time again that successful drug law reform isn't just a pipe-dream, but instead a viable - even desirable - way forward.

The trouble is, in the absence of a mechanism to turn popular will into political reality, the feelings and opinions of the electorate on this matter remain impotent.

They're roadblocked by the seeming fear many politicians have of being seen to make a change.

A referendum is therefore the logical way forward, as once enacted it removes politicians from the process by allowing us to go around them in order to get our voices heard.

We finally get to have our say.

It's also the mechanism by which a number of US states successfully secured their own pathways to cannabis law reform both last year and earlier, proving (albeit in a number of foreign contexts) its efficacy as a change-vector for this issue.

Now to be fair, there are a number of potential issues and obstacles with pursuing this avenue to law-change here in New Zealand.

First and foremost is finding an MP or MPs prepared to stump up and sign their names to a Private Members' Bill. It doesn't matter whether the referendum process used is the Citizens Initiated Referendum one or a Parliamentary-initiated binding proposal. If we want our result to count like the Flag Referendum rather than being ignored like the Asset Sales Referendum, we need an enactment of Parliament to make it so.

And while I have no doubt whatsoever that there are more than a few MPs in Parliament right now who'd be prepared to support a cannabis referendum bill once it was already submitted, I regrettably suspect that there might be some difficulty to be had in finding an errant MP brave enough to sign their name to and put forward the bill in question.

The next obstacle will be ensuring sufficient MP support for the putative bill to make it through Parliament.

Assuming no abstentions (which reduce the numbers necessary for victory), this requires 61 votes.

This is a tall order, but not necessarily an insurmountable one. A clear and decisive majority of Parliamentarians, after all, voted for the Psychoactive Substances Act and its commitment to nominally evidence-based drug policy last term, while the number of staunch 'moral conservatives' in both National and Labour appears to have decreased somewhat in the interim.

So the obvious question is: "where to from here?"

At the moment, Concerned Citizens and cannabis crusaders need to be asking the strategic political questions.

What MPs to target for lobbying? What arguments to use in swaying swinging Parliamentarian consciences - and more importantly, the predominantly greying voters said politicians seem inordinately to listen to.

How, in a nutshell, do we turn the sadly extant quagmire of political intransigence on this issue into resolute and galvanized popular/parliamentary political action.

Because ultimately - whether you support a broader use of medicinal cannabis, less restrictive decriminalization, or full-blown legalization ... this is an idea whose time has come. And who can argue against the greater use of the fruits of democracy.

With the tool of the #Reeferendum, we finally have the ability to make meaningful progress on this issue.

Let's make the best possible use of this opportunity.