An upper house?

The Opportunity Party policy on democracy proposes having an upper house.


2.: An Upper House

Correcting the concentration of power requires the resurrection of an Upper House that can consider legislation that parliament has passed and can ask it to reconsider, especially if it feels that constitutional rights are at risk. Typically in Western democracies the Upper House is not sovereign, it can only recommend, but in so doing it highlights to the public the risks that proposed legislation poses. That is, we find out before the damage is done.

New Zealand’s second chamber was abolished relatively recently (in 1950) and under our one House system we’ve seen the government of the day steadily moving power further and further away from parliament. Contrary to popular perception and what the constitution claims, parliament is no longer sovereign. Bringing New Zealand back to a two House system – which is the most common model internationally – will discourage the government of the day from cutting off debate on its legislative programme through measures such as urgency, supplementary order papers and closure motions.

Our view is that democracy in New Zealand has become authoritarian. In reality it’s the Executive or Cabinet that is sovereign nowadays, the other parliamentary members of the ruling party are simply voting fodder. The power of Cabinet to ramrod legislation through is without precedent in the Western world. There is no longer any sign of the “slow and steady forms that are necessary for good lawmaking” [i]

We have stripped layer after layer of safeguards away leaving us with virtually none of the checks and balances that prevent parliament legislating against the interests and possibly the constitutional rights of some members of our society. [ii] Our government’s Cabinet is able to fast track policy through without check. Even US Presidents have nowhere near as much power as that – they need approval of both Houses to legislate.

While voters feel increasingly disenfranchised, so are ordinary MPs. Parliament has become little more than a place for ritualistic statements of position of Government and Opposition – nothing more. Then once that say is had, closure is called and the legislation is passed. There is no real debate any longer – no debate that actually amends the proposal.

An Upper House would in effect, restore the sovereignty of Parliament and take sovereignty back from the Executive. The question of membership of the Upper House is beyond this paper but suffice to say it must be via a very different process than election to Parliament. Perhaps a mix of appointed and elected members would work best with a term of office that is differentiated from the 3 year political cycle. The role of this body is to independently consider legislation.

Indeed with this additional check in place, New Zealanders may be willing to grant politicians a 4 year term and reduce the huge costs associated with constant electioneering. Encouraging longer term thinking would be no bad thing for parliamentarians.

51 Comments

  1. Noel

     /  February 9, 2017

    Nah only have to look across the ditch to see the potential problems.
    Next someone will be advocating states instead of provinces.

  2. Geoffrey

     /  February 9, 2017

    Yeah, only have to look at some of the truly dumb and short-sighted legislation that has been dumped on a powerless electorate in recent years. Oh, and by the way, let’s ignore the “States” red herring.

  3. Moud Mouth Morgan is publicly despised . Its good that he promotes this elitist racist Waitangi garbage ,. Watch him suck some life out of the left in the coming general election.

  4. “Indeed with this additional check in place, New Zealanders may be willing to grant politicians a 4 year term and reduce the huge costs associated with constant electioneering. Encouraging longer term thinking would be no bad thing for parliamentarians.”

    And lets face it, the costs are INCREDIBLY HUGE! They extend to practically all our so-called legislation [of note] being, in reality, little more than electioneering – vote winning or vote buying – in addition to the financial cost of elections …. to say nothing of the implication that elections are increasingly ‘purchasable’ …

    So anything that improves the situation has got to be worth looking at. A codified Constitution along with a 4 year Parliamentary term PLUS an Upper House elected & appointed every 5 years perhaps? This could be the BEGINNING of necessary improvements to our so-called democracy …

    However, if all an Upper House achieves is a minor improvement of “safeguards” while it simultaneously further entrenches the Westminster system, then we will have achieved little of meaning in regard to our unique and remarkable South Pacific nationhood, our extraordinary [traditional] bicultural ‘partnership’ in [contemporary] multiculturalism …

    Even if an Upper House was to be 50% Maori representatives, appointed &/or elected, it would hardly constitute true ‘power sharing’, which is the way things are solidly trending IMHO …

    Dr Carwyn Jones argues strongly for ‘A Constitution Sourced in Two Streams’ …

    ” … a constitution based, amongst other things, on Te Tiriti o Waitangi, as opposed to looking to find a place for the Treaty within current constitutional arrangements.

    Giving effect to this will require a shift in terms of our governmental and legal culture to recognize that Māori legal and political thought should also inform our constitutional arrangements.”

    http://constitutionaotearoa.org.nz/the-conversation/treaty-jones/

    In Jones essay is a link to Matike Mai Aotearoa, containing concepts of power sharing that I believe are firmly and rapidly gaining ground …

    • Another factor is the ‘hidden clause’ in voluminous so-called ‘tidying-up legislation’ …

    • Geoffrey

       /  February 9, 2017

      I wonder if the “solidly trending” to which you refer is simply an expression of your wishes. I agree that there has been a great deal of movement in that direction within the circles that have been captured by Maori separatist interests. However, IMHO the majority of the electorate have had enough of it and unelected “representation” is something that will soon be a thing of the past.

      • I find little of substance to reply to Geoffrey. Most people’s ‘everything’ is simply an expression of their wishes. A way-out of Right Field example would be Kiwi FrontLine’s assertion that 80+% of the population do not want “separatist and race-based politics”. I wonder how they surveyed the entire population to arrive at this figure …?

        Actually, I wonder where they got and where you get the idea that Maori are the separatists? Seems like an utterly incredible, absurdly ridiculous conclusion to draw from any reading of NZ History except perhaps the Moonie version …

        The Maori Parliament arose only after complete exclusion from the first colonial ‘settler’ government …

        “captured by Maori separatist interests” is merely a pathetic slight of derision on my and many other Pakeha people’s ability to think freely, exercise empathy and compassion and draw our own conclusions. There should be a name for it … quasi-ad-hom or something?

        And your “IMHO the majority of the electorate have had enough of it” sounds exactly like a simple expression of your own wishes … the very thing you begin by accusing me of …

        Jones is simply asking us to consider the idea that ‘mandates’ come in different forms from our ‘elected’ ones … e.g. elected internally within hapu iwi …

        • Geoffrey

           /  February 9, 2017

          Full marks for the rant and the smoke screen! Well done you..
          However, screening the insidious thrust towards a divided nation behind a barrage of unfounded assertion does not alter the fact: it just renders it less evident.

          • We have absolutely no need for a thrust toward a “divided nation” Geoffrey, we are a divided nation and have been all along …

            Only cocooned, wishful thinking Pakeha ever thought otherwise.

            Very sorry that “one people” and “assimilation” didn’t quite work but there you go, them’s the breaks …

            Now we’re on a road of “equalness within diversity” [or similar] because “He iwi kotahi tatou” wasn’t a pledge, it was a damned lie!

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  February 9, 2017

              Oh what tosh, PZ. Here we are in Russell surrounded by diversity. The pakeha you talk of come from every corner of the globe. The Maori you talk of come from every part of this country and many are married or partnered with the pakeha who come from every corner of the globe and/or have them as their ancestors dating back very many generations..

              But we remain one nation, not a divided nation. Those who wish to create divisions to draw privilege from them are a disrespected and small minority.

            • You’re projecting your own limited experience onto the whole world again Alan and calling it “universal truth” …

              Those who wish to acknowledge differences and draw equalness in diversity from them are the most respected, and will prevail IMHO.

              Privilege is relative to what you have, like dominant-culture advantages, or what’s [attempted to have] been taken away from you, like your language, customs, culture and land …

              Your cultural nest-egg or deficit … you might say …

              Maori aren’t being “given things” … they’re having things “returned to them” …

              When we’re no longer divided by our differences – regardless of mixed blood [because “the great big melting pot” was just another pop-myth] – but fully celebrate them – all equally human but different – then we’ll truly be able to call ourselves one nation …

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  February 9, 2017

              I’m not prepared to wait for every disaffected nutter’s permission to call ourselves one nation, PZ.

  5. Alan Wilkinson

     /  February 9, 2017

    The world has enough windbags without creating another gas chamber.

    The biggest check on executive power is MMP since most Governments are minorities here. I see little evidence of abuse of executive power and you could argue the exact opposite, that in fact the Government has been hamstrung and prevented from acting more strongly when it should have.

    If there are any reforms to be had other than tweaking MMP a little they should be to implement binding citizens initiated referenda. Far more cost effective than a second chamber.

    • Yes, we can always revert to the tyranny of the majority Alan … its ruled Maori for 150-odd years …

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  February 9, 2017

        Longer than that, PZ. It is the essence of the communal over the individual that you love.

        • No Alan, the essence of what I love is a balance of communal AND individual …

          Presently the balance is undone … Look at your own statements above, you want the rule of the communal majority by binding referenda, yet you deride the communal over individual because you ‘think’ I love it … [your perception = objective truth, there’s a name for this] and you generally promote the rights of the individual above anything else …

          Fat irony meets even fatter hyprocrisy …

    • Jeeves

       /  February 9, 2017

      AW- I largely agree with MMP and how it works. I think we should completely dispense with list MPs and each party whip should hold a fistful of chits representing the empty seats. On matters of votes of conscience- only elected MPs get to vote, and the whip votes with the majority of the party’s conscience vote. No upper house but we need a codified Constitution. NO citizen initiated referenda which are binding!!! Anybody remember the Firefighters one??
      The language in it was meaningless, even some of the binding referenda we’ve had have been quite ambiguous.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  February 9, 2017

        I would like to see a balance in which the constitution protects the individual from the majority and BCIR protects the majority from elites or minorities.

        Sadly in the present state of politics, creating a constitution would be a disaster that would enshrine division and privilege.

        • No need to enshrine division, it’s already enshrined … Natural, normal conflict and dispute is seen as ‘division’.

          In this area of human relations, “unity” is a fairy tale, although consensus agreement isn’t.

          Privilege has a way to go before it strikes a balance or dynamic equilibrium.
          Things presently look unfair to those who have been so very privileged in wishful thinking cocoons …

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  February 9, 2017

        I meant to add that BCIR would be educational and the public would soon learn
        a) to use them properly, and
        b) that voting irresponsibly has consequences.

        • Alan, BCIR would almost certainly be used by a self-identified, highly publicized, widely promoted and financially “incentivized” minority masquerading as the [inevitably] conservative ‘majority’ to viciously stamp their authority upon anyone they deemed ‘threatening’ “elites or minorities” … evidence the Peter Shirtcliffe campaign against MMP …

          Give you one guess who “elites and minorities” would mostly be …?
          Attack dog owners …? Yeah …………… Right.

          That’s why you people want to spend other peoples’ money on entrenching BCIR …

          It’s already happening with the influence of ‘non-partisan’ think tanks like NZ Inititative, who are little more than corporate big business leaders lobbying to retain their privilege and the status quo which embeds it into our FIIRE economy …

          Whether its an Upper House or not, what we need are FIIRE fighters!

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  February 9, 2017

          I’m sure it would be no less educational for you, PZ. How has it worked out in Switzerland, or in California if you prefer a Lefty example?

          • Switzerland where women received the franchise in a referenda only men were entitled to vote in around 1971!? Great example Alan …

            As for California … I don’t know … got a link? Is that the State of the Union which is discussing seceding from the Union?

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  February 9, 2017

              Didn’t seem to do Switzerland any harm at all, PZ. No evidence of the oppressed women folk flooding down the mountains into liberated France, Germany and Italy.

              California has a secession poll lobby but it isn’t new and won’t go anywhere. It would be a disaster for the US Democrats if it did just as a Scottish secession would be a disaster for UK Labour.

            • “Didn’t seem to do Switzerland any harm at all, PZ.”

              Honestly Alan, that is a truly stupid thing to say. I feel like retorting, “Behave like a Troll and I’ll treat you like one” …. Honestly!

              We have NO IDEA, and we NEVER WILL, what Switzerland would have been like had it not been a patrician democracy, and had universal suffrage been granted pre-1959, 1971 and, in the last Canton to do so, pre-1990 …

              I could just as easily say, “Didn’t seem to do Switzerland any GOOD either Alan” …

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switzerland#Modern_history

            • Successfully avoiding the Upper House topic though, aren’t we …?

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  February 9, 2017

              I asked how it worked out and you haven’t managed to show any harm from the many, many binding referenda Switzerland has held despite your allegation it would be monopolised by a privileged minority.

            • Let’s call this one off Alan … I’ve posted Wiki’s history of Switzerland … I’m not doing vast research in response to this baiting …

              One notable harm was the denial of human rights to women. Slavery was also ostensibly “successful” …

              End of this thread of this topic for me.

            • Missy

               /  February 10, 2017

              “…. just as a Scottish secession would be a disaster for UK Labour.”

              Are you making the assumption they can return from the disaster of 2015, where UK Labour won only 1 seat in Scotland?

              To be fair I doubt Scottish secession will make much difference, this was discussed last week on a political show, and it came up how without Scotland there would not be a Labour Government, but one of the guests said that since WWII only one Labour Government would have not happened because of Scotland. Apparently Scotland has very little influence on the Westminster election outcomes in terms of which party will govern, I was told it is only twice since 1945 that the Scottish seats determined the eventual Government.

      • Jeeves, I certainly agree that the language of referenda can be “quite ambiguous”. It has been subject to the same degradation of language as I described above over the last 30+ years … along with the process of government initiated referenda as demonstrated in the Flag Debacle …

        Language degradation is essentially the subtle takeover and commodification of language – language for hire and sale – influence and manipulation – along with the commodification of everything else … Market Society replaces Market Economy …

        A codified Constitution incorporating a Treaty Clause that simply maintains the Westminster status-quo will only extend the injustices for another 200 years …

        Something must be done before 2040 IMHO … and we now have the 1940 Centennary to tell us more-or-less how NOT TO DO IT …

  6. Zedd

     /  February 9, 2017

    I think a ‘senate or upper house’ is what NZ parliament needs.. to stop smug a Govt. just ramming through their legislation, with little debate & no further control; eg. the last 8 years, under this ‘Mob’ :/

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  February 9, 2017

      What legislation do you think is bad and has been rammed through with little debate in the last 8 years?

      • Zedd

         /  February 9, 2017

        most of it…. GST increase (that was said.. would not occur), meanwhile; tax cuts for top 10%, asset sales; power companies, flag referendum ($26mil) etc. etc.

        meanwhile blaming everything on ChCh quakes, GFC & Helen’s previous Govt.

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  February 9, 2017

          All of those things were debated to the nth degree. What are you talking about?

          • Zedd

             /  February 9, 2017

            by ‘nth degree’.. do you mean “I move that the question be now put” (natz whip, at earliest opportunity). Party vote; 61-60.. passed, end of debate

            Alan; I watch parliament TV regularly. i may have a ‘lefty slant’ on these things.. BUT I dont just make them up, as one commenter in here, has often suggested.. (no name mentioned) 😦

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  February 9, 2017

              To take the first one at random:
              http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10591546
              The proposed increase was studied by a working group who reported in August 2009, was flagged by the Government in February 2010, was announced in the June Budget and implemented later that year.

              There was a huge amount of examination and debate. Nor was it a bad change or one that has had to be modified since.

            • Zedd

               /  February 9, 2017

              Alan; to my ‘leftie’ way of thinking, the real debate, occurs during the committee stages (not the just 1-3 reading speeches). If you have actually taken notice, you will have seen that ‘Team Key’ rarely made more than a few ‘contributions’ before the whip called for it to end (as I said above.. ‘I move the question be now put’).

              So much for ‘Westminster-style Democracy’ !! :9

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  February 9, 2017

              So why are you talking about the full House debates rather than the committee work? And what difference would an upper house make to the committee work?

        • Zedd

           /  February 9, 2017

          btw; I forgot to add these 2 issues; Charter schools & private prisons; how are they going ??
          *declining rolls/blown out budgets & fight clubs, so I hear

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  February 9, 2017

            Got any factual comparisons with the public versions, Zedd?

            • Zedd

               /  February 9, 2017

              Go on Alan.. tell us its all ‘hype & B-S’ from the ‘Leftie media/commentators’… ho ho hum 🙂

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  February 9, 2017

              In the absence of facts no need to, Zedd.

            • Zedd

               /  February 9, 2017

              @AW

              Touche Sir.. spoken like a staunch ‘Rightie’.. “WE KNOW BEST.. everyone else is just plain WRONG !!”
              .. regardless of anything, actually happening in reality… 😀

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  February 9, 2017

              Asking for evidence equates to saying everyone else is plain wrong?

              Blame my scientific training not politics for that, Zedd.

            • Gezza

               /  February 10, 2017

              Your “scientific training” is swirched on & off as it suits you. ‘Loony lefty’ is an extremely scientific decscriptor, eh.

  7. Kitty Catkin

     /  February 9, 2017

    One obvious objection is our small size.

    No prizes for guessing who’d run the Upper Chamber.

    • PDB

       /  February 9, 2017

      Don’t be so cynical Kitty – it would be run by an independent body with a left-wing slant.

    • Our small size doesn’t prevent us having a big lower house Kitty …

      If politicians had their way, as they do with the Governor General, the Upper House would be run by them, the politicians, and would simply rubber stamp whatever they do …

      Another layer of authoritarian goverment.

      But put me out of my misery Kitty … Say it … Who would run the Upper Chamber?
      Who do you mean?

  8. Alan Wilkinson

     /  February 9, 2017

    Morgan must be a student of elitist absurdity. The solution for voters feeling disenfranchised is to create an unelected superior level of Parliament. A Tui Billboard if ever I saw one.

    It is hard to judge whether this proposal is more mad than incompetent, and sadly that seems true of most of the Morgan Foundation’s activities.

  9. No problem with this if it’s needed to control legislation formation process. Another thing, don’t think Gareth Morgan’s efforts are going to drain the left of anything. The way that English is responding to social media enquiries, means hes doing more damage to right wing efforts to retain power, than anything else. As for Waitangi elitism assertion, interesting spin on an important piece of Aotearoa New Zealand history being enacted…