Death, drugs and your say on these big issues

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PART three of my thrilling trilogy, ‘the lead-up to the general election’, has me talking about
death and drugs, of course.

This is the discussion about the two referendums, or referenda (both are correct, I checked), that will be included in the 2020 general election.

There is no doubt referendums are attractive because they bring people closer to decision making, however the polarising ‘yes’ or ‘no’ can over-simplify a complex and often controversial topic.

Complex issues (don’t mention Brexit!) can be positioned as a referendum, but because of the design of the question, voters are often led to shortcutting the complexities, and referendums can lead to a lack of considered and thoughtful responses.

It turned out with Brexit, many voters didn’t know if they were voting on a complete withdrawal from the EU, or whether they were staying within the single market and customs union.

Only 16% said they felt they were suitably informed when they voted.

This became very clear over the course of the following years, when public surveys showed the public felt they were in the dark on what it all meant, even though they had strong feelings for, or against, leaving Europe.

Monumental questions are thrown at us and the best way we can form views is to discuss the devil in the detail with others — this is a form of deliberation.

After all, the end-of-life choice and the legalisation of cannabis are not as simple as a binary ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

An issue with our style of voting at the ballot box is that it’s an independent and private endeavour; we can tick the boxes without ever having had a conversation about the issues.

Ultimately, deliberative democracy recognises that, as social beings, we require others to help shape our views.

This is the idea we are more informed when we discuss issues with other people who are informed.

There is an opportunity tonight to make this happen.

Catalyst Trust has organised ‘Your Votes – 2020’, offering Queenstowners the opportunity to meet our five Southland parliamentary candidates and to hear about both referenda.

The candidates are Jon Mitchell (Labour), Joel Rowlands (TOP), David Kennedy (Greens), Judith Terrill (One) and Joseph Mooney (National).

We have four votes in our October 17 general election: party vote, electorate vote, the end-of-life choice and the legalisation of cannabis — an historic occasion!

‘Your Votes— 2020’ will be held in the Wakatipu High School hall from 6.30pm till 8.30pm tonight, with doors opening at 6pm.

Registration’s essential to ensure your seat and for contact tracing purposes.

You can then also submit questions for candidates or referenda speakers.

At the end of the day, citizens love to feel heard, and referenda, though a blunt instrument, allow for that.

The good thing about referenda is that as citizens we are more likely to be swayed by discussion than our political leaders are.

We are more likely to shift from a ‘no’ to a ‘yes’ or vice versa as we are not dependent on re-election or popularity, as they are.

This is what citizen participation and deliberation look like.

Keep an open mind, and see you there tonight!

Esther Whitehead is an advocate, adviser and writer on issues like social justice, diversity and inclusion and circular economy

  •  To register for Catalyst Trust’s ‘Your Votes – 2020’ event tonight, click here