Friday, September 15, 2017

Parliamentary notes from Australia and New Zealand

Australia is presently in the midst of a "postal survey" on whether Australia should allow same-sex marriage. All the usual horribleness that attends referendums (on anything) is coming out, even though the government found itself unable to have a binding referendum and the multi-million dollar survey is only "advisory." Parliament will still be able to do whatever it wants.

Most of the commentary I've seen from Australian sources seems to be mostly making cases for the  "Yes" or for the "No." The notion that it is crazy to put fundamental rights to a popular vote does not seem to have very much traction there.

It is evidence, I think, of how much the Charter has influenced perceptions in Canada. Because of the Charter, same sex marriage here was a rights question, determined by the courts, not by a popular vote. It could be argued, I think, that, even without a rights charter, the right to marry in Canada could have been put to the courts on a traditional common-law basis, requiring an interpretation of the meaning of the marriage clauses of the constitution.  But surely there would be a powerful kickback, politically as well as legally, if a government proposed a referendum on whether or not some minority should have rights or not. (I know, B.C. more or less tried that on aboriginal rights in the early 2000s -- but there was protest, and aboriginal rights law was going to prevail anyway.)

Long suffering followers of this blog will know I'm a parliamentary guy; I wish our legislatures worked better and did more. But on rights questions, I'm glad Canadians have rights, not referendums. In Australia, which does not have an equivalent of our Charter, marriage rights seem to be accepted as being a political question rather than one to be litigated.  Court challenges changed the process for the survey, but could not prevent it. The fundamental question about putting rights to a vote just doesn't get raised much, the coverage I've seen suggests. Polls suggest there is popular support for marriage equality, apparently, but it's hard to predict who will actually vote in a voluntary, non-binding postal survey. A fair amount of populist and Christianist nastiness seems to be emerging as the voting period continues.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, a new leader for the opposition Labour Party has transformed that country's politics, suddenly giving Labour a shot at winning the current election after years out of power.

The new leader, young and female, was selected just weeks ago by the Labour Party parliamentary caucus -- it took about an hour. She's not the kind of candidate who usually prevails in Canadian-type leadership contests.  But it seems the party caucus members, with their seats at stake, had a clear idea of who the party needed and made the right choice at precisely the right moment.

It really ought to make Canadians wonder about the limitless stupidity of these endless vote-buying leaderpaloozas that have recently kept first the Conservatives and now the NDP pretty much out of political contention for more than a year, that cost fortunes, that are of dubious legitimacy -- and generally pick the wrong person at the wrong time, anyway. Canadians are as much in a bubble about leadership processes as the Australians are about about the politicization of fundamental rights.

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