Waka jumping bill and integrity

NZ First negotiated a contentious ‘waka jumping’ bill (called the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill) with Labour in their coalition agreement. All it stated was:

Democracy

  • Introduce and pass a ‘Waka Jumping’ Bill.

It isn’t on Labour’s “action in our first 100 days” list but they seem to be treating it as a priority, with legislation being introduced amidst the pre-Christmas rush last week.

However NZ First and Labour need a third party to pass the bill, and National aren’t happy with it.

Stuff: National: Waka jumping bill ‘an affront to democracy’

The Labour-led Government introduced the Election (Integrity) Amendment Bill to Parliament last week, part of a promise made by Labour to NZ First during coalition negotiations.

Waka jumping bills have their genesis in the collapse of the NZ First/National coalition in the late 1990s, when several NZ First MPs broke away from the party in order to keep the National government in power.

Labour passed a waka jumping law in 2001, but set it to expire by 2005.

National’s Justice spokeswoman Amy Adams says a new waka jumping bill will make MPs more accountable to their leaders than to voters.

Waka-jumping bills penalise or disallow candidates who were voted in as a representative of one party “jumping” between parties.

The bill under consideration allows MPs or their leaders to write to the speaker explaining that an MP is leaving a party.

If the MP is a list MP they would be forced to resign from Parliament and replaced by the next person on the list. If the MP was a local MP a by-election would be held in which the MP could stand for a different party.

This sounds reasonable to me.

List MPs get into Parliament through their party vote, so it seems logical to expect them to stay with that party as an MP. It seems ludicrous for an MP to become a list MP of one party and then to leave the party and join another, or to set up their own party.

Most electorate MPs are largely successful because of the party they are standing for. Under MMP there has never been an electorate MP elected from a party that isn’t already in Parliament. So if an electorate MP wants to leave the party they were elected with it makes sense for them to put their switch to the voters in a by-election.

But there are dangers with a party abusing this, as Brendan Horan found out in 2012 when Winston Peters dumped him from the party after “receiving substantive material that caused him to lose confidence” in Horan, who only found out after an announcement by Peters in Parliament. So Horan lost his seat.

Ironically Horan claimed his phone records had been leaked to the media – Peters has a long history of breaching privacy and making accusations under the legal protection of Parliament, but making a fuss when his privacy is breached, to the extent he is currently taking nine MPs, party staff and journalists to court alleging a leak.

In Horan’s case Peters made a complaint to the Serious Fraud Office, but Horan was eventually (in 2016) cleared by the police.

Back to the waka jumping bill. It needs Green Party support – and the Greens have been long time opponents of waka jumping legislation.

The Green Party is breaking its long-standing opposition to waka jumping legislation after getting several concessions from Justice Minister Andrew Little.

Green Party leader James Shaw said Little worked with the party to get the legislation to a point that the Greens were comfortable voting for it and ensuring it goes to select committee.

Not only is this a major change in position for the Greens, the party was embarrassed after an internal email was obtained by media.

Last month Green MP Golriz Ghahraman came under fire from political parties after Stuff obtained an internal email where she suggested some horse trading with Labour to acknowledge the fact they were changing their position on the bill.

Ghahraman had suggested the Greens demand a national “Parihaka Day” in return for their support.

National’s Adams has blasted the legislation:

“Last week the Coalition introduced what is colloquially known as ‘Waka Jumping’ legislation. It might be more accurately called the ‘Winston Peters Self Preservation Bill’ as it was clearly his bottom line for entry into the Coalition.”

“The Bill would effectively prevent individual Members of Parliament from speaking out on points of principle and policy, and ensuring the voices of their communities are heard. Worse still, it would enable party leaders to advise the Speaker that a Caucus member isn’t acting as the leader would want and then move to force that member out of Parliament.”

“This makes individual MPs more answerable to their party leader than to the voters that elected them. Allowing party leaders to overrule the wishes of voters is fundamentally wrong.”

Adams said the bill simply aimed to keep factions within the coalition parties from speaking out about Government policy.

“Overriding democracy to entrench your own political position is an abuse of power of the worst kind.”

The Greens, normally staunch on democratic principles, are finding other principles with which to support the bill.

Shaw said while the Greens have traditionally opposed this sort of legislation, the MMP environment meant proportionality had increased as an “important principle in our Parliament”.

“It wasn’t on our list and of course we have opposed it in the past, but I think with the changes to the bill that have been made we’re preserving the principles of proportionality, which is important.”

The bill would allow proportionality to be maintained.

But does it protect list MPs from unscrupulous party leaders? There is an important principle there too.

The bill for Winston is ironically called the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill

This bill amends the Electoral Act 1993 in order to enhance public confidence in the integrity of the electoral system by upholding the proportionality of political party representation in Parliament as determined by electors.

The Bill:

So a party leader can

…state that the parliamentary leader reasonably believes that the member of Parliament concerned has acted in a way that has distorted, and is likely to continue to distort, the proportionality of political party representation in Parliament as determined at the last general election;

They do need party caucus support:

after consideration of the conduct of the member and his or her response (if any) by the parliamentary members of the political party for which the member was elected, the parliamentary leader of that party confirms that at least two-thirds of the parliamentary members of that party agree that written notice should be given by the parliamentary leader  under section 55A(3)(b);

They must also comply with party rules – but what about a party in which the leader makes the rules?

And what about a party leader who threatens an MP with “ceasing to be parliamentary member of political party” unless the toe a particular line? Like not challenging the party leader?

NZH reported that Greens got just one concession: Greens win extra safeguard in waka-jumping bill

The Green Party would need the support of at least 75 per cent of its party members to expel an MP under a new waka-jumping bill that was introduced to Parliament yesterday.

The 75% must be a Green party rule, because the bill requires only two thirds MP support.

The Greens successfully lobbied for an extra safeguard, which is the only notable difference to the 2001 law – any decision to expel an MP from a party would have to comply with the rules of that party.

That seems like a virtually inconsequential safeguard, as the Greens have no control over rules of other parties.

What if other party MPs are also threatened that if they don’t support the expulsion the same thing could happen to them?

Should any expulsion be subject to party leaders proving the claims, or police investigations proving allegations made about the MP being chucked out of the waka?

Perhaps there should be another amendment – call it the Party Leader Integrity Amendment Bill.

But party leader integrity might be a sensitive thing given Peters’ past record, and the Green capitulation over the waka jumping bill.

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24 Comments

  1. Ray

     /  December 19, 2017

    It seems Greens not only share the “G” of Groucho Marx name?

    “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well I have others.”

  2. Blazer

     /  December 19, 2017

    People used to look to their P.M…for integrity. Key made a mockery of that. Ardern will restore. .it.

  3. Ray

     /  December 19, 2017

    Are you stalking me Blazer, or is it just a coincidence that you are commenting after me.

  4. adamsmith1922

     /  December 19, 2017

    This bill is a disgrace. The Greens by agreeing to support this bill are conniving to further entrench the power of Party leaders over that of voters. More specifically it enables Peters domination of this government.

  5. Gezza

     /  December 19, 2017

    I’m in favour of this bill. To me it’s a pretty straightforward matter. Whether an electorate MP or a list MP you can’t tell if they were voted into Parliament because electors wanted them there as individuals they felt would represent them best or because they were members of a Party whose policies, or leader, or whatever, they felt would be the best (or the least worst) government or PM.

    Whether they voluntarily leave a party or get expelled by a leader and/or whatever proportion of party members, or whatever decision-making process to divorce an MP I can’t see that it really matters. If you disagree strongly with a party policy or direction & the party shits on you, you stood for the wrong party.

    Put yourself up for re-election in a by-election. Either as an independent or as a member of another party you’ve now joined. You’ve changed the situation. Let the voters decide if the majority still want you there as an individual or whether they want another individual who represents a Party.

    Either that, or toe the Party line until the next General Election. I don’t see this situation as being that much different from sticking it out in a job with a company or organisation you don’t like until you find another one that suits you better.

    • Blazer

       /  December 19, 2017

      Dead right on this one. .Gezza.

    • High Flying Duck

       /  December 19, 2017

      I agree – hard to find sympathy for MP’s voted in on a party platform who then change tack.
      There are issues over the party leader’s power to shunt MP’s purely on their own say-so, but the caucus agreement requirement mitigates that at least a little.
      It is really only NZF where there is any issue. Winston will have entrenched his power over his MP’s even more.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  December 19, 2017

        If someone votes for a candidate as a list MP, they are voting for that party, not the individual. If they then change party, they have stolen the votes of those who voted for them to make the numbers of the X Party, not the Y Party.

  6. Chuck Bird

     /  December 19, 2017

    Any changes to electoral law should require a binding referendum. Otherwise the party or parties in power can change the law to help stay in power.

    • Gezza

       /  December 19, 2017

      I can go with that.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  December 19, 2017

        In this case, though, if a person finds that they cannot go along with being an MP for X Party, the X Party will still have the same number of MPs because the next in line will take their place. I don’t see any need for an expensive referendum in this case because nothing is changing and nobody will have an extra MP.

  7. duperez

     /  December 19, 2017

    The Bill is obviously great for the humour it introduces in the busy, stressful pre-christmas period.

    Having individual Members of Parliament speaking out on points of principle and ensuring the voices of communities are heard is suddenly important.

    Individual MPs being more answerable to their party leader than to the voters party leaders overruling the wishes of voters is suddenly fundamentally wrong.

    And politicians overriding democracy to entrench their own political position is now an abuse of power of the worst kind.

    You gotta laugh at the hide of some people.

  8. Alan Wilkinson

     /  December 19, 2017

    I don’t believe an electorate MP should hold office at the pleasure of his party. Only the voters should be able to recall him/her for a re-election, not the party or its leader. Very bad law.

    • Gezza

       /  December 19, 2017

      Unfortunately you’re wrong, as I have explained above, where you incorrectly state I am wrong, because the voters voted them into Government as representatives of a Party with policies and/or a leader they expected them to follow, & they are no longer members of that Party or humble followers of that leader. If they stood as independents then the situation would not arise.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  December 19, 2017

        No, the electors are entitled to ask for a recall if they think the MP is failing to represent them, not the party or the leader. If they don’t want a by-election there shouldn’t be one. You are wrong quite again.

        • Gezza

           /  December 19, 2017

          Can you please give me a link to tbe legislation that states this & the relevant section number please, Sir Alan?

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  December 19, 2017

            Hold on. Just drafting it now. Something to do with the Magna Carta. It says the voters elect their MP. The leader of the MP’s party does not.

            • Gezza

               /  December 19, 2017

              Righto. Good man.

              It needs to cover the situation where the MP represented (advertised as a member of) a party when standing for the electorate, & the need to poll them all to find out whether they voted for the Party, the Candidate as a individual, or both – and whether they now wish to reconsider their vote because the circumstances have now changed.

              It just needs to ask only the ones who voted for the MP to return a form advising whether they still wish that MP to be their MP, or they would like by-election.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  December 19, 2017

              If 10% of the electorate petition the party leader he may approve a recall and byelection.

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