NZ First: Why the abortion decision needs a referendum

Opinion 08/08/2019

Since its inception New Zealand First has supported referenda for important, divisive, conscience issues facing our country. 

We believe there are times when the public should be consulted on policies which will change the social fabric of our country, rather than allowing them to be decided by temporarily empowered politicians.

There is no doubt that the abortion debate is one of these times. This is why New Zealand First believes that a referendum on legalising abortion should be held alongside the referenda on euthanasia and recreational cannabis. These conscience issues should be settled by seeking the opinion of our fellow New Zealanders. 

New Zealand First is the only party in Parliament that actively and consistently promotes referenda on conscience issues - not just the issues that suit us. And we will continue to do so. Our caucus will vote in referenda based on their conscience alongside every other registered voter.

Some political commentators seem to believe that our party position was some sort of last minute revelation. If they had bothered to pay the slightest bit of attention, they would know this has been our policy for more than quarter of a century. It is one of the party’s fifteen fundamental principles, dating back to 1993. We have campaigned and stated our stance on issues such as abortion many times. 

Conscience issues should be decided by the nation, not by Members of Parliament. This is even more important in an MMP environment where List MPs enter Parliament without having been directly voted into their position of representation. Who are MPs to think that their conscience holds any sort of moral mandate to decide key social issues affecting the future of five million other New Zealanders?  

New Zealand First’s decision to seek a referendum for conscience votes is about giving people the chance to have a direct and meaningful say in their country’s future.  What beggars belief is the fact that we have MPs that would argue against giving the people of New Zealand that rare chance to have their say. How self-important are they if they refuse to give the decision-making power on key social issues to the very people who will be affected by the outcome?

Politicians should not pick and choose referenda based on whether or not the public will support their views. Referenda should be used to ensure politicians are not out of touch with voters on serious, complex issues where vigorous public debate will result in a clearly mandated outcome. 

This has nothing to do with a lack of courage. It is about using common sense when holding the responsibility of the future of New Zealand’s social fabric in a vote, and trusting in the result. 

During the term of this Government, there have been only three pieces of proposed legislation that have resulted in literally thousands of emails, messages and letters being sent to every single sitting MP - pleading in equal measure to vote for or against the specific issue. The first was the legalisation of cannabis. The second was the legalisation of euthanasia. The third, and by far the largest wave of public engagement was, not surprisingly, the legalisation of abortion.

Parliament should not ignore the sheer number of people who want their views to be heard on these matters. The transparent way to do this is to allow them to vote. If we trust the nation to decide whether or not to legalise marijuana and euthanasia, then we simply must allow the nation to decide on abortion reform. 

Darroch Ball 

New Zealand First List MP