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Interview with the President of Citizens Initiated Referenda (CIR) Australia

CIR Australia is a not for profit, non-political organisation that is actively recruiting for members and supporters.

The following interview with the President of CIR, Mr Ron Evans, was conducted by David Astin and was originally published in Issue No. 17 (Summer 2008/09) of The Independent Australian magazine.

See also: "A New look at Citizens' Initiated Referenda in Australia and elsewhere" of 3 Sep 09. This article was originally posted as a comment to that article.

All About CIR Australia

Finally, some good news for supporters of democracy. A concerted effort has been launched Australia wide to educate, organise and promote Citizens Initiated Referendum (CIR), with the formation of CIR (Inc.) Australia. CIR is a process whereby ordinary citizens can compel their governments to hold a referendum on any issue that THEY feel is sufficiently important.

David Astin interviewed the President of CIR, Mr Ron Evans, about their aims.

D.A: So CIR Australia has been formed. Why?
R.E.: For many years there have been attempts to institute Citizens Initiative and Referendum, sometimes with an added rider of Recall, but they have all failed as they have been attached to small 'independent' political parties standing at elections with no real prospect of gaining political power. CIR Australia is different.

D.A.: How so?
R.E.: CIR Australia was formed by a group of people, most with over 20 years of campaigning for CIR in various forms in both State and Federal spheres. Their combined experience has led to the founding of CIR Australia as a completely independent organisation, beholden to no political party, Left, Right, or Middle. We consider ourselves to be a purely educational organisation. By joining CIR Australia, a person commits themselves to learning about CIR and helping to spread the word about how CIR can improve, not take over, our political landscape.

D.A.: Can you briefly explain how CIR could work in Australia?
R.E.: While not totally set in concrete our proposal at State level is as follows: (Federally, it may need a slight variation but basically the concept is the same)

1) With free legal help an individual or organisation word a petition and gather 400 bona fide signatures from the last election and present to the Electoral Commissioner for registration. A minimum of 12 petitioners are then appointed as custodians and promoters of the petition.

2) The promoters with help, then gather signatures of at least 2% of bona fide voters who voted at the last election over a period of, say, 12 months to demonstrate support.

3) Having gained the required number of signatures the petition is then presented to the Electoral Commissioner who certifies its qualifications. The petition is then presented to the Speaker of the House, and it is then deemed to be a call for referendum on the issue. If the government fails to act within, say, 6 months, then the matter will proceed to a vote of all electors.

The referendum will then be put to the people either Federally, State wide or through Local Council depending on the need and the issue. For example, fencing controls would not be considered a Federal issue, nor would immigration be considered a State concern.

D.A.: When would the referendum be held?
R.E.: There are two obvious choices here and it will be up to the government that installs CIR to choose. One is to have the referendum held in conjunction with a State or Federal election. This would save on costs, but would confuse the voters as to whether the question put is a politically party motivated issue. The other option would be to have a certain day, say the 21st of July, and have that as referendum day. Be there one or 10 referendum questions that need answering they could all be sorted in a couple of minutes on the appointed day each year.

D.A.: You mentioned cost. Surely holding a referendum is expensive?
R.E.: You would be surprised how LITTLE it costs to hold a referendum. Approximately $6.00 per person of voting age would cover all the expenditure. Isn't that worth having your say in the running of the country?

D.A.: Historically referenda get voted down?
R.E.: It is true that in Australia, where only the government can call for a referendum, it has held 38, only 8 of which have passed. When the issue was clear and was not tied to some nefarious means of giving the government of the day more power, referenda are passed overwhelmingly.

D.A.: What about overseas?
R.E.: In 1974, Italy held a referendum on the issue of divorce laws. While the people might have disapproved of divorce as such on moral or religious grounds, they nevertheless approved of it on the grounds of legal necessity.

In the last 100 years or so, the Swiss have voted on about 300 issues, approving of approximately 50% of issues placed before them.

In the United States of America, CIR, often called proposals, are held in conjunction with elections in 23 States and the District of Colombia and over 20 States are campaigning for its introduction.

Many other countries, including Spain and Austria, have the advantage of CIR to increase their populations involvement in the decision making of their governments. We deserve this too.

D.A.: Won't this tie us up year after year with endless referendums?
R.E.: Not really. If international experience is anything to go by, once all the major or contentious issues have been voted on and resolved, there will most likely be very few referendums required. However, the facility is there if needed.

D.A.: So what's the next step?
R.E.: We intend to advertise extensively around Australia to increase our membership. This will hopefully give us the funds to expand our educational efforts to inform the public and warn against the inevitable scare tactics that will be run by those who are happy with the status quo. We are beholden to no other group and our only funding comes from membership fees and donations. We want to expand throughout Australia, and commeth the day when CIR is installed around Australia; we will simply fade into the background, knowing that Australia has become a more democratic country, with the people in control of their own government and destiny. People should visit our website and find out for themselves how easy this improvement to our democratic system would be to initiate.

We need CIR now!

D.A.: Thank you Ronald. It looks like you might have some busy times ahead. I certainly wish you and the organisation all the best with your efforts. Let's hope that the people of Australia embrace CIR as a fitting addition to our system of government.

Postscript: How a CIR could end the criminalisation of abortion in Queenland

The Courier Mail story "Two thirds support abortion law change" of 15 Sep 09 caused me to write the following letter to that paper:

Dear Editor,

The solution to the lack of sufficient numbers in Parliament to have our abortion laws reformed is simple: Citizens' Initiated Referenda.

With CIR's the will of two thirds of Queenslanders, who support the legalisation of abortion ("Abortion support rising", 15 Sep), will quickly prevail.

When the referendum is held, Anna Bligh's asset fire sale legislation should also be voted upon.

James Sinnamon