Dr Carwyn Jones of Ngāti Kahungunu has a referendum brain-wave too. (Photo: RNZ, Chevron Hassett)

Referendums are all the rage. Here’s Carwyn Jones with an idea for another one.


I see a lot of people are quite down on what they perceive as the anti-Māori, anti-queer, anti-poor people, anti-environment, pro-tobacco, pro-oil, pro-Merchant of Death policy programme of the new government.

Personally, I find these policies inspirational. In particular, I take great inspiration from the approach to laying the groundwork for a referendum on Treaty principles.

Because I have an idea for a referendum, too.

I think the time has come for us to have a referendum on whether the people of Epsom should be allowed to have an electorate MP. In fact, we’re well overdue for a national debate on this issue.

I’m sure that everyone would agree that the voters of Epsom haven’t really taken their civic duty seriously for some time.

Just look at the recent history.

Richard Worth (Epsom MP 1999-2005) resigned under police investigation. Rodney “Perk-buster” Hide (2005-2011) took his girlfriend on an overseas holiday at the taxpayer’s expense. John Banks (2011-2014) got into trouble over his relationship with international fraudster and internet nerd Kim Dotcom. And current MP David Seymour is, well, David Seymour.

Now, I’d be the first to admit that I don’t really know anything about Epsom, its people, its culture, its needs, hopes or aspirations. And if you think that I’ve ever done so much as to glance at a book on electoral law or political theory, I’m afraid you’d be sadly mistaken.

Frankly, I don’t want to know anything about any of these things. If Act’s proposed Treaty referendum has taught me one thing, it’s that facts and history and fundamental constitutional principles have no place in influencing the democratic will of the people.

And while this issue mightn’t affect my rights at all, I think it would be tantamount to apartheid if Epsom voters were the only ones who got to vote in a referendum on this issue. One person, one vote!

No doubt some people will suggest that this is a ridiculous exercise aimed purely at creating hostility towards the people of Epsom. But I think people will soon see that it would greatly enhance the mana of the electorate if the entire country is able to have its say on this issue. It would only be divisive if there were bad-faith actors trying to whip up fear using misinformation for their own political gain. And I can’t see that happening.

Look, we can either believe that the Electoral Act provides for the division of New Zealand into different electoral districts based on population size and some woolly notion of “community of interest” and taking into account ridiculous things like “topographical features” — or we can believe that the Electoral Act gives us all an equal right not to be subjected to the ravings of whatever joker the voters of Epsom choose to send to parliament.

We should not allow ourselves to be divided by mountain ranges. And I’m sure that, if Sir Edmund Hilary was alive today, he would support my proposal for a referendum.

Some people may claim that this would discriminate against the people of Epsom who may end up without a distinct voice in parliament to represent their particular interests. But having different communities of interests contributing to decision-making is the exact definition of co-governance. Which, as we all know, is bad.

Maybe not as bad as paying for tax cuts by banking on more people taking up smoking. But then, not many things are, I suppose.


Dr Carwyn Jones (Ngāti Kahungunu) is Pūkenga Matua (Lead Academic) of Ahunga Tikanga (Māori Laws and Philosophy) at Te Wānanga o Raukawa, and Honorary Adjunct Professor, Te Kawa a Māui (School of Māori Studies) at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington.

© E-Tangata, 2024

Thank you for reading E-Tangata. If you like our focus on Māori and Pasifika stories, interviews, and commentary, we need your help. Our content takes skill, long hours and hard work. But we're a small team and not-for-profit, so we need the support of our readers to keep going.

If you support our kaupapa and want to see us continue, please consider making a one-off donation or contributing $5 or $10 a month.