Nick Smith suggests electoral reform

Nelson MP Nick Smith covered a range of topics in his 24th annual speech to Nelson West Rotary, including suggested electoral reform. Smith is National’s spokesperson on electoral reform – but his suggestions are not National policy. This was reported on by Stuff:

Entrench the entire Electoral Act so any change would require a 75 per cent majority in Parliament or a referendum.

“It is an abuse of power for parties in Government to amend the electoral law so as to help them win the next election. Our system is particularly vulnerable to the scrum being screwed this way having no second house or constitution and change being possible with a simple majority.”

There were six entrenched provisions out of 315 in the act covering aspects such as the three-year term and the voting age of 18 but hundreds of others were open to amendment by a simple majority, he said. The entrenchment clause itself could be repealed by a simple majority.

It seems to make sense to require more than a bare majority for amending electoral law, to avoid changes of convenience for the government of that day which tends to have not much more than a 50% majority.

Ban all foreign donations to parties and candidates

Seems sensible – but there is a risk that donors and parties would find a way around it.

Defer the re-drawing of electoral boundaries due to the failed census

This probably should happen. Re-drawing boundaries without reliable up to date information seems to be a bad idea.

Extend the Electoral Commission’s role to local elections

Currently each local body manages their own elections. Some consistency might help – but what if people in different parts of the country want different things, like different voting systems?

A referendum on a four-year term.

The problem with our current short term of three years is that governments spend their first year getting a handle on the job, a year doing it and then the third trying to get re-elected. It would be logical to shift local elections to a four-year timetable two years through each Parliamentary cycle to keep a healthy separation of local and national elections.

Is it a problem? Perhaps for parties who get into government and want to do more then the three year cycle allows – but is this a good thing for the public?

Graeme Edgeler on A four-year parliamentary term? (written in 2013 but still relevant):

The strongest argument I have seen is that a longer term would enable governments to do unpopular but (objectively?) good things, in the hope that short-term pain may have subsided in time for the election. There are obvious flaws with this analysis.

This is a democracy, and politicians should seek mandates for their actions. And I simply do not accept that the vast majority of voters are unable to make tough choices if they are fairly presented to us; sometimes, others may not like the choices we make, but they are ours to make. And as unpopular as we are now told Roger Douglas’s reforms starting in 1984 were, the Government he was a part of was re-elected in 1987. I don’t really see that countries with longer terms are doing all that much ‘better’ that we are in this regard. The ability of economies in Europe to take ‘tough choices’ arising from the Eurozone crisis seems entirely unrelated to their electoral calendar.

We are being asked to relinquish a very real measure of our democratic control for the vague promise of a better tomorrow. If someone want to make the case – with actual evidence – please do. Do democracies with longer terms actually have better long-term planning? What reason is there to believe that a four-year term will actually enable us to ‘fix’ anything that might be ‘broken’ with our system?

And just because our three-year term is somewhat of an international outlier does not mean we should leap from the bridge that every other country has. Differences in the New Zealand political system strongly tell in favour of a shorter term.

The push for a four-year term has failed at the ballot box twice. I don’t really remember the vote being held on either occasion, but it seems to me that those pushing change failed to convince enough people it was actually a good idea. It’s time for those who want this to actually convince a good sized-majority of everyone else that they are right.

Like us Australia is supposed to have 3 year terms. I’m not sure that Australians would be keen on giving their governments a longer shot at stuffing things up.

The US has four year terms for president, but seem to be keen on shortening that by impeachment. The rest of their electoral system is complicated.

The UK has a five year term, unless a Prime Minister has a brain fart and calls an early election as happened in 2017, leading to the current Brexit mess.

I’d like to see far more compelling reasons for changing from three to four years here, from people other than politicians wanting power for longer.

David Farrar has posted on Smith’s proposals: Five electoral reform ides from Nick Smith

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23 Comments

  1. Ray

     /  28th January 2019

    The politicians have tried how many times to go for a longer term, twice in my voting life and have been turned down pretty emphatically both times, just let it go fools, the people believe in democracy, the pollies, not so much.

    Reply
  2. PartisanZ

     /  28th January 2019

    Wow, he’s talking aspects of Constitutional reform! Effectively its ‘codification’ and entrenchment … He mustn’t care too much what the Party thinks either … or else its Party PR?

    Smith says nothing about the size of donations … which apparently National raised the upper limit of just prior to last election? Needs looking into …

    I’m all for Local Body politics becoming freer and more diverse. A courageous Council might even try-out some form of more direct democracy … with online voting … or live stream and interactive Council meetings … new standing orders allowing expert ‘facilitation’ of meetings … All the things our Central Govt will eventually need to look at to ‘renew’ itself, remain relevant and retrieve lost engagement …

    Extending the term is on everyone’s list of Constitutional reform …

    Reply
  3. Gerrit

     /  28th January 2019

    Leave the three year term. There is absolute no reason why the first year is a “getting a handle on the job”.

    When in opposition in the year before the election should be planning to be in government (after all that is the aim of competing in an election), The “getting a handle on the job” should be in place the day after the election results are known and the party apparatus is ready to hit the ground running.

    Now the vagaries of an election under MMP means political parties don’t know how to slice the bread as yet. Neither will they have a list of all successful party affiliated MP’s to choose a cabinet from.

    However the ground work should be covered.

    There is no reason that Labour, this time around, needed to be so disjointed.

    Maybe part of the reforms should be that all documents relating to coalition deals under MMP are made public?

    So the voters get to see what the “job” is going to present and the “getting a handle on it” will actually accomplish?

    More open and transparent government?

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  28th January 2019

      When in opposition in the year before the election should be planning to be in government (after all that is the aim of competing in an election), The “getting a handle on the job” should be in place the day after the election results are known and the party apparatus is ready to hit the ground running.

      Great in theory but it’s not really possible or practical when in Opposition to be completely set up, ready to go, and able to hit the ground running when you get the shock of your life like the Labour component of the current administration did and find yourself in government, being led around by the nose by a Septugenarian, fronted by someone gabby who’d only ever crashed a tractor as anything of note before, and only then finding out exactly what the state of the union is.

      There’s very little useful information you can get out of govenment departments and their operations which you need to get a very good handle on before you can safely start running policies past them and having them carefully assessed, costed & operationalised, if you are making major changes.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  28th January 2019

        That said, Phil Twyford and Andrew Little should have had a better handle on the housing situation. Andy Little might do some good in a couple of his portfolios but Phil is so lacking in RAM he needs to be elbowed out into just making caucus tea and coffee, & running errands, or something, I dunno. They gotta get housing away from him. He’s a doofus.

        Reply
        • Duker

           /  28th January 2019

          Do you really think the Minister has builders in his office to sumit plans, goes around the country looking at sites to buy.
          They had to create a public service branch to do all that, which is why most new builds were consented or in final stages.
          The reality is that the building sector was only doing 5% of its output for the bottom of the market and that hasnt changed in ayear.
          This year the build will scale up again,

          Reply
          • Gezza

             /  28th January 2019

            Do you really think the Minister has builders in his office to sumit plans, goes around the country looking at sites to buy.
            No. I don’t think the beggar even knew any builders and had to be shown how to use a nail gun and which was the doorway out when he visited a couple of sites where the frames were up.

            They had to create a public service branch to do all that, which is why most new builds were consented or in final stages.
            Nobody with any sense wants to be the boss of that, if they have to work with Phil; that seems to be the situation there at the moment.

            The reality is that the building sector was only doing 5% of its output for the bottom of the market and that hasnt changed in a year. This year the build will scale up again.
            It’d bloody have to. With him as the Minister good luck with that.

            Reply
            • Duker

               /  28th January 2019

              And Judith – 3 cars crushed- Collins has any better skills. Oh yes , shes done conveyancing so was the obvious one in national to take on the role.

              And if you had worked in building , you would know that personality clashes happen all the time, from construction site upwards.
              Twyford says he has found out that firts home buyers dont like buying off the plan but prefer to walk througha new build. So who ever suggested that selling of the plan was a good idea…well had no idea of first home buyers

              Just ask Fletcher Building with 30 or more years experience how easy it all is .
              Im sure your last experience with ‘construction’ was a wooden pencil case in high school

            • Duker

               /  28th January 2019

              “MHUD chief executive Andrew Crisp said he had received complaints from “employees, contractors, and stakeholders” about Mr Barclay’s “leadership behaviour” and treatment of others.”

              The penny has dropped now…

            • Gezza

               /  28th January 2019

              Well, we’ll see. He’s doing them for constructive dismissal. I wonder who appointed him.

  4. Duker

     /  28th January 2019

    Smith ‘notes’ the times previous partys had changed the law for their own purposes- when national supported a ‘members bill’ to take away votes from prisoners and when in the late 1940s when labour introduced a ‘representation commission’ like we have now.

    One of these 2 things is not like the other.

    he also alludes to a possible change to minimum party votes from 5% to 4% this year ….this is what he is really trying to stop. saying its partisan…. which it is …but also recommended by the previous commission on electoral reform.

    I think 4% of votes is around the same number as 5% was back in 1996. It shouldnt be a fixed % but more a number related to the quota say of 3 or 4 Mps in parliament

    Reply
  5. Gerrit

     /  28th January 2019

    Sadly there is not a suggestion to limit parliamentary terms to at maximum 4.

    Too many serial parliamentarians that are past their effective use by date in terms of relate ability to how general public thinks or what their needs are.

    Included in that is Smith.

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  28th January 2019

      Smitty is the ‘last of the Mohicans’….someone tell him…no matter how long he hangs around….NO knighthood.

      Reply
  6. Patzcuaro

     /  28th January 2019

    Slightly off topic but worth a post

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  28th January 2019

      the caricatures are excellent.

      Reply
    • Duker

       /  28th January 2019

      Bennett may be the ONLY Mp in national who has been part of a ‘drug subculture’ when young.
      National is doing this in opposition because its big donors are very conservative regarding drug reform.
      With English in charge Shane Reti would never been allowed to indroduce any bill on changing drug laws.

      Reply
  1. Nick Smith suggests electoral reform — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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