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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 19th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Recoverable Proxy

First draft: 20 November 2006
Last revised: 12 July 2013

This document is an attempt to define a more democratic political system which returns the ultimate power to the citizens of a country and effectively eliminates the current serial autocracy system under which New Zealand currently operates.

We've not so long ago, had an electoral reform, why suggest another?
The existing party-political system is fatally flawed from the perspective of providing democratic representation for the citizens of New Zealand.

While politicians will argue that voters get the chance to choose a new government every three years and that this is enough of a check to keep them from abusing their positions. Recent events have proven this to be patently untrue.

What's Wrong With the Current System?
At present we elect our parliamentary representitives every three years and it is the job of those representitives (our MPs) to run our country and make decisions on our behalf either as part of the government or opposition.

Unfortunately under the present system our elected representitives often find themselves serving two masters: the party to which they belong or the citizens of the electorate which elected them.

Even more worrying is the situation where an MP or party appears to place their own best interests ahead of those of the citizens of the country and we've seen too many instances of this, even since the introduction of MMP.

The problem is that once elected, our MPs, despite their claims to the contrary, are not accountable to the citizens of the country until the next election is held. Indeed, once elected, the government is effectively free to do whatever it chooses, claiming to have the mandate of the people even if that mandate actually no longer exists or if their actions are in direct contradiction to the platforms on which they ran for election. This is a serial autocracy.

A good example of this is the way that government has dismissed, out of hand, the overwhelming call (by way of a a huge majority in the referendum held on the matter) for a reduction in the number of MPs. They call themselves our representitives -- but only represent our wishes when it doesn't conflict with their own vested interests. That is not democracy.

In fact, nobody in their right mind would consider this to be a fair and democratic way to run a country but unfortunately, until now, it has been the only practical method of doing so. It would be economically and practically unrealistic to involve every voter in each and every decision made in the day-to-day running of the country. Because of this, we've had to put up with a far less than perfect system in the name of pragmatism.

What is Recoverable Proxy?
The recent arrival of ubiquitous technologies based on widespread communications networks have now made it possible for us to at last provide the citizens of the country with the checks and balances necessary to create a truly democratic parliamentary system.

To explain how Recoverable Proxy works we need to examine the existing system:

When voters elect an MP for a particular district, that MP is effectively given the proxy for all citizens in that district. If the electorate concerned had 35,000 registered voters then the MP for that region effectively represents those people in Parliament. To ensure even representation, electorates tend to have very similar populations even if this means that some are geograpically very large while others may only be a few square Kms in size.

The problem is that once your proxy is given to an MP, you can't recover it. You no longer have any real say in the running of the country. If you voted labour and your local MP turns out to be National - that's too bad.

MMP did go some way to addressing this problem through the introduction of list candidates, however, as we've seen with the events surrounding Ms Kopu, this is also not without the potential to create problems and adversely affect a voter's representation in parliament.

The concept behind a Recoverable Proxy system is that it allows all voters to recover their proxy at any time they choose. Once recovered, they can exercise their own vote within parliament, thus ensuring that the citizens of the country have a simple and easy method of over-riding any attempt by government to act against the wishes of those citizens.

One MP one vote or 35,000 votes?
Under Recoverable Proxy, each MP will no longer have a single vote in parliament. They will have a number of votes equal to the number of registered voters in the electorate they represent.

Under normal circumstances, when voting in the house they will exercise almost all the proxies that have vested them. In this way, the operation of parliament and the democratic system remains largely unaltered, albeit the total number of votes cast will be significantly higher than under the present scheme.

Should a particularly contentious bill, or matter of widespread national interest amongst the voters of the country be before parliament however, many voters may choose to recover their proxy and cast their own votes.

In such a situation, an MP representing an electorate of 35,000 voters may find that 20,000 of those voters have chosen to recover their proxy, leaving that MP with just 15,000 proxy-votes able to be cast. The 20,000 voters who recovered their proxies will be able to cast their own votes to be counted along-side the remaining proxies exercised by the MP.

A good example of when Recoverable Proxy might be useful is the issue of the TICS bill that proposes granting new powers to the GCSB so that it can spy on NZ citizens and residents.

Right now, public opinion (ie: voter opinion) is very much against the provisions in this bill (85% are opposed according to public-opinion polls) -- yet the government wishes to push ahead with this legislation -- in clear defiance of their obligation to *represent* those who elected them.

Under recoverable proxy, you, I, and anyone else who disagreed with the government line could recover our proxy and choose to use it vote against the passage of this new GCSB bill into law. In effect, we could restore the democratic representation the current system fails to provide.

Through this system, the voters of the country will have the democratic right to over-ride the government on any issue and we will have a truly democratic political system.

Of course in the vast majority of cases, voters will be more than happy to leave their proxy with their MP. Few citizens have the time or inclination to scrutinise everything that comes before parliament and it is unlikely that proxies will be recovered for anything other than voting on very important or contentious items.

This is the beauty of the proposed Recoverable Proxy system. It does not require people to exercise their proxy if they choose not to. In this regard, it is not a massive change to the current system, just a method of introducing checks, balances and accountability into a politican environment that is currently sorely lacking such things.

It leaves the day-to-day running of the country in the hands o those who have been elected (and are paid) to do so -- yet it ensures that these people no longer have unbridled power to make decisions against the will of the majority of voters.

In effect, it provides true democracy with minimal overhead.

How will it be implemented?
As mentioned above, we now have the technology to allow the introduction of a Recoverable Proxy system. Through already available technologies such as The Internet, bank ATMs or the telephone network it becomes a very easy and low-cost task to handle the recovery and exercising of proxies.

Almost everyone of voting age has an ATM card and the machines are very geographically widespread. These systems already provide a very high level of security and authentication - ideal for the voting process.

For those without access to an ATM, interactive voice response telephone systems, the same ones which already handle phone-banking and a plethora of TV dial-in polls would provide the same functionality. Finally, for those who prefer, the Net could be used to offer the same functionality, effectively empowering even those who may be out of the country on business or holiday to recover their proxy and cast their vote if they so choose.

Of course there will be a cost associated with the creation and operation of a central vote checking and clearing system but with the cost of the last frivolous Referendum placed at around $8 million, I think the cost of implementing a totally electronic alternative would be recovered within a very short space of time.

So what are the chances?
Given that there can be little argument the Recoverable Proxy system offers vastly improved democracy and that the technology is already available and in use for other things, what are the chances that we'll see it adopted?

Well, call me cynical but I suspect that we'll never see it implemented, simply because it asks our politicians to put their money where their mouth is. The political buzz-word of the 90's has been "accountability", however we've seen nothing but endless rhetoric and no real proof that our political masters have any intention of honouring their commitment to stand accountable for their actions.

Recoverable Proxy is the ultimate in political accountability, giving the citizens of the country the ability to remind politicians just who they work for and whose interests they should be placing first.

I suspect that many of today's politicians would simply find working under such a system to be totally untennable - they are far too used to considering accountability to be nothing more than a subject for the creation of endless rhetoric.

Could any of our existing MPs handle the move from being a master to being a servant of the citizens?
If our existing politicians aren't willing to embrace a Recoverable Proxy system, what does that say about their commitment to accountability and their claims to "serve" the public rather than their own self-interest?

Your input is requested
As you can see, this proposal is very simple and is more of an embryonic concept rather than a carefully thought out and detailed proposal. I therefore invite discussion on the concept and implementation of a Recoverable Proxy system. Please feel free to point out any flaws you can spot or provide any suggestions which might improve the system.


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