NZ’s bevy of referenda could intensify an already growing culture war


Next year New Zealand will hold public referenda to decide whether to legalise assisted suicide and recreational marijuana.

Separately, parliament is considering a bill that would decriminalise abortion.

Simultaneously tackling all three could “foster an already growing culture war in New Zealand,” said Bryce Edwards, a political commentator and lecturer at Victoria University in Wellington.

The New York times quote Edwards in an article that points out New Zealand appears to be going in the opposite direction to most other nation.

“While conservative populism is now ascendant in some of the world’s leading democracies, New Zealand is rushing in the opposite direction, taking on several liberal social issues all at once,” writes Charlotte Graham-McLay.

She thinks this “burst of democratic action” could push a generally conflict-averse New Zealand into uncomfortable territory.

“And it could overwhelm an election next year that will determine whether Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern remains in office.”

In the article, Edwards also says next year’s election could end up being one revolving less around economic issues and more about social and moral issues.

“That would be a shift in New Zealand, where election campaigns have long ceased being the province of personal morality debates.”

The government’s concerns about the quality of the looming public debate are evident.

Andrew Little, the minister of justice, has plans in place to combat misinformation and manipulation in any campaigns leading up to the referenda.

That includes a specialised team within the ministry of justice to direct people to information aimed to be as accurate and neutral as possible and to be on the look-out for any attempts to deliberately mislead the public.

Little said the Electoral Commission would look after the nuts and bolts of running the referendums.

The justice team would manage public information, websites, and respond to general queries.


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News category: New Zealand.

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