Speech on freedom of speech and electoral finance.
An address by Rt Hon Winston Peters to Nelson Grey Power
Friday 14 December 2007 at 1:30pm
Stoke Memorial Hall, 560 Main Road Stoke, Nelson
“What Price Democracy?”
Good afternoon – it is good to be back in Nelson.
Of late, there has been much said and written about democracy – our right to choose our governments – and our right to freedom of speech.
We regard these rights as sacred, but sadly, sometimes we take them for granted.
While we are a relatively small country, we a nonetheless a country built on great traditions and values.
These values have ensured that despite our relative size and isolation, or perhaps because of it, we often lead the world in the progress of democracy.
Just four years ago our parliament celebrated its 150th anniversary – one of the few democracies that can make such a claim.
Indeed, our first parliamentary elections were held in 1853 only 13 years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.
This is because New Zealand’s settlers resented the fact that they had no control over their own affairs and soon demanded self-government.
At first, not everyone had the right to vote. But over the next half century New Zealand was to become one of the most democratic nations in the world.
It is worth reviewing just what a proud tradition our democracy is built on.
In 1867 Parliament established four Maori seats in which all Maori men over 21 could vote for their own representatives.
Then in 1879, after much debate, the franchise was extended to all adult European men, regardless of whether they owned or rented property.
In 1889 plural voting was abolished, which confirmed the principle of ‘one man, one vote’.
In 1893 New Zealand led the world in the struggle for women’s rights ensuring the right to vote for all adult women.
By that time it was widely accepted that the franchise was a right of citizenship, and that all adult citizens should be able to take part in elections with few exceptions such as if you were in jail or adjudged insane.
It is interesting to note that opposition to electoral reform has always come from a small clique of wealthy elitists, who have always believed that money should be the perquisite to power.
Now the critical point here is that not all those who are wealthy hold such views – but there has always been a residual clique who have sought to restore the class system of a previous era.
So it was when New Zealand embarked on its latest electoral reform – the move to Mixed Member Proportional representation – MMP.
Opposition was led by a small, but powerful clique.