Democracy Reset

The TOP Democracy Reset Policy - it’s worth bragging about!

Aotearoa New Zealand has a proud history of enacting change. Suffragettes, nuclear free, gay marriage… we love to tell the world that we are a country that listens to its people. But do we really? Our youngest voters are the largest declining group in voter turn-out, and our democracy is just not working. ‘If you don’t vote, you can’t complain’ I hear you say. But who can blame people for their apathy towards democracy when election after election political parties “promise” to deliver solutions that never arrive? We have the world’s most unaffordable housing, environmental and economic decline, poverty and extreme hardship and unsustainable superannuation, and it is our young people who these issues will affect the most.

How do we restore the balance of power, to ensure our democracy truly is a government of the people by the people? There are a number of measures that TOP would advance immediately in order to bolster the performance of our democracy, namely:

  1. TOP supports the development of a codified written constitution. TOP believes that a formalised constitution can be a powerful tool in holding the government to account for our country's development. We are encouraged by the large numbers of people who, having become informed about the need for a constitution, agree that positive action is not only necessary but urgent. 
  2. Media plays a crucial role in an informed democracy. The cringey red vs. blue leader debates on TV do not count as true public interest journalism. TOP would sell TVNZ and institute a Digital Services Tax in order to set up a Public Journalism Fund as part of NZ on Air.
  3. There’s a strong case to suggest that the re-empowerment of citizens is required if we are to restore the performance of our democracy. This requires devolution of power. We need to shift power from the beehive to local governments and to the people.
  4. TOP advocates the strong use of deliberative democracy such as collaborative software, participatory budgeting and Citizens’ Assemblies for making important decisions that affect us all.
  5. We believe there is a more urgent need for evolving the public’s understanding of our history, including Te Tiriti O Waitangi and He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Niu Tīreni, and this is challenging ground, particularly for some Pākehā and recent immigrants.
  6. TOP will implement all the recommendations of the Electoral Commission’s 2012 Review of MMP.
  7. TOP will establish a Royal Commission into Electoral Funding and require that the Commission’s recommendations are implemented.
  8. TOP will protect the political independence and transparency of our Public Service advice. Our Public Service should serve the public - not just the Government of the day.

If you like the sound of any of this, then take a peek into the full detailed policy. We’ve worked hard to make sure we’ve covered off your questions thus far. The TOP Democracy Reset Policy is all about making sure the people representing us are compelled to serve our interests, and that we are all able to hold those people and government institutions to account. That is certainly a democratic system worth bragging to the world about.

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Page last updated on 8-Oct 2020


Because the composition of the Upper House does not reflect the political balance in the Lower House. It’s elected/appointed for a different term and its composition is not in the same proportions as the political balance of parliament. It could even have independent members appointed as well.

All democracies except Britain, New Zealand and Israel have written constitutions. Your sample of one is insignificant.

Because once ecosystems are destroyed they cannot be re-established and biodiversity is the key to resilience - of the planet and of the human race. Monocultures increase the risk dramatically of species being wiped out by ‘natural’ disasters. New Zealand has unique ecosystems that are not only necessary to sustain life but provide an important point of difference that can be used to generate income.

The TVNZ channels themselves have deteriorated markedly over recent years as they have come under competition from better quality products available from online and subscriber channels. The choices now are so diverse, with an enormous amount of content free from online competitors, that the business case for a State subsidised commercial channel has collapsed. What matters for taxpayer funding is New Zealand public-good broadcasting content. NZ on Air does this already and its role should be expanded to include news and journalism that does not have a corporate agenda. The channels for connecting with the audience are numerous.

Free to air broadcasting has been under increasing pressure in an increasingly crowded field and requires enormous economies of scale to compete with online streaming. That is most unlikely with the Government as owner.  As we've seen with the recent asset sales those companies have performed better out of Government hands. We'd expect the same from TVNZ, freeing up capital to invest in delivering public good content to New Zealanders.

RNZ would not be for sale as (a) isn’t funded on a commercial basis (advertising) and does not have a commercial bias and (b) radio stations are cheap, cheap, cheap to run to no issue. RNZ should be subject to the same ruler as any State funded public good broadcasting (& for that matter all govt depts) - independent with the highest standards of public interest to the fore.

We’re not advocating formation of a government media organization. We are selling TVNZ which is a government owned media organization funded by commercial revenues. There is little to no reason for government to own such an organization. On the other hand there is a role for a public good that promotes NZ content – that is NZ On Air – which can be distributed down any number of commercial channels, and also including free online. There is also a public good in the form of independent news and current affairs that is not tainted by agendas of its owners. Fox, Al Jazerra, RT, CNN are all examples of corporate media news gathering and packaging entities – as are Radio Network and Media Works in New Zealand.

All commercial entities compete to maximize “eyeballs” as this is the commercial imperative. Whether maximizing viewership of listenership is more successful if news is integrated with staff opinions is a commercial decision and a legitimate business strategy. But it is pollution or tainting, and the “news” then becomes less factual and less of a public good. Journalistic ethics would hold that a balanced presentation of truth is the ideal. In no way is that the agenda of audience-maximising commercial media.

Hence the need for the public good in this space. Radio NZ does a good job (of course it shouldn’t be above scrutiny either and at times presenter opinions do taint a balanced presentation here as well as the viewership imperative drives management). But when it’s taxpayer money involved the integrity of news and current affairs is paramount, no commercial tainting is acceptable.

The evidence is that NZ is almost unique getting rid of the necessary check and balance that an Upper House provides, and the protection it affords the sovereignty of parliament. Other democracies commonly have 2 house at both federal and state level. That is an enormous difference to the unbridled power our governments cabinet wields. In essence parliament is now a waste of time – Government MPs are purely there to provide the voting numbers. Opposition MPs have next to no role to play. There is a litany of legislation that would never have got through under a two House system because it breaches constitutional rights. The most dramatic was in 1975 with Muldoon bringing in NZ Super – a massive intergenerational transfer. I suggest you listen to the evidence I reference from Professor Jeremy Waldron as just one source.

No they would definitely be limited. Remember the role of this House or Tribunal is simply a check on and protection of Parliaments Sovereignty. Also I would expect the size of parliament could be reduced and lengthened by restoring the conventional, two house approach. I would guess a mix of elected and independent expert appointments would be best. Tightening up on the ability of MPs to force by-elections we suggest is also desirable, and maximum terms for all MPs as well. I would expect cost of political government to reduce (fewer elections).

Traditional TV channels are too expensive to run – leave it to the commercial sector to sort out. Instead have taxpayer funds applied only to producing independent, ethical content free of the propaganda elements nowadays common from all commercial outlets. That content can be tendered out down the various channels – but free down the cheaper ones (radio and online).

Working more slowly is deliberate as the policy description outlines. Unbridled power to Cabinet has resulted in rushed legislation that has violated peoples rights. If there’s gridlock then the public will be well aware of it – it knows its rights and the Upper House would be highlighting the problem. We are of the view it would make Cabinet far less willing to ride roughshod over rights – which we suggest is a good thing.

The issue with an independent civil service is to remove the political interference that is reducing transparency and removing ethical checks on policy. The argument that efficiency might be lost has to be adjudged against these objectives and efficiency loss dealt with as a separate issue – if indeed it does result.

Multicultural societies of course are a result of globalization, that has been occurring for many decades. Whether they lead to a reduction in democratic participation we have no idea, but of course the reality is that multiculturalism is our reality, it is impossible to remove so the question to that extent is a hypothetical. The focus needs to be on better democratic processes so that a multicultural society can include all citizens.