Do we really need fewer MPs?

ACT have announced policy that would reduce the number of MPs from 120 to 100, and reduce the number of electorates. Are the targeting the real problems?

Our system of MMP was introduced in 1994 after a referendum supporting it in 1993. The system was reviewed in 2012 but the size of parliament was excluded from this.

In the last non-MMP election there were 99 electorate seats. In the first MMP election in 1996 there were 120 seats – the number was increased so that the reduced number of electorates didn’t get too big, and there were sufficient list seats to ensure reasonable proportionality. The number of seats varies slightly, and has ranged from 120 to 122 under MMP.

Estimated population of New Zealand:

  • 1996:  3,762,300
  • 2018:  4,749,598

Number of voters:

  • 1996:  2,418,587 – votes per electorate 20,155
  • 2017:  3,298,009 – votes per electorate 27,483

Number of eligible voters:

  • 1996:  2,739,057 – eligible voters per 120 electorates 22,825
  • 2017:  4,174,167 – eligible voters per 120 electorates 34,785

These numbers are calculated over all 120 electorates.

Comparisons if we had a 100 MP parliament:

  • 1996: eligible voters per 100 electorates 27,391
  • 2017: eligible voters per 120 electorates 41,742

So that means a significant reduction in voter power.

There are other and probably better ways of decreasing the cost of democracy without reducing the value of votes.  ACT addresses one of these:

“It will also restrict the number of high-paid Ministers to 20. Our Executive is far too big – currently standing at 31 people.

“Almost half of the Government MPs hold a position in the Executive. We have too many pointless ministerial portfolios. They are not improving the lives of New Zealanders and this bill will do away with them.

It is often claimed that every government has a handful of very good ministers, and the rest middling to mediocre. The number of Ministers and Ministries is a valid target for better efficiency and performance.

What about the number of MP support staff – advisers and PR staff. MPs need help with good advice, but the overhead of spin doctors deserves scrutiny. The number of ex journalists who are now employed in Parliament is probably significantly greater than the number of active press gallery journalists.

Also worth considering are number of paid members of working groups and inquiries, and paid consultants.

What about other elected bodies like DHBs? Merging some of them would reduce health sector overheads.

Councils? Would we be better off with fewer councils, or at least fewer councillors? A smaller number of full time councillors may be able to do a better job. Most people voting in local body elections don’t know most councillors.

It may seem like political sense for ACT to focus on a simple populist policy like cutting MP numbers, but it may not give us better democracy. It would certainly dilute our vote.

It’s easy to diss MPs and demand we have fewer, but reducing the number of them may simply increase the number of bureaucrats, advisers and consultants.

At least with MPs voters have a three yearly option to vote them out.

Voters have no power over non-MPs who are mostly faceless, unknown. They would have more power if we cut the number of MPs, and we the people would have less.

See:

The Government must ensure that its decision to remove the cap on public service numbers will not see bureaucracy spiral out of control as it did under the last Labour Government, National’s State Services spokesperson Nick Smith says.

“Between 2003 and 2008 under Labour, public service expenditure grew by 50 per cent with no improvement in outcomes for New Zealanders.

“Today’s announcement carries the risk that we’ll see another blowout of the public service and taxpayers’ money will again be frittered away on pointless bureaucracy.

“It comes at a time when the Government has outsourced most of its work to 122 working groups which could cost up to $1 million each.

Shane Jones wants to shit kick through bureaucratic brick walls

Shane Jones is promoting more power for politicians over public servants, and has claimed it takes too long to have funding allocated to projects. This is a bit scary given the amount of money he has to hand out to the regions, but it is on his personal wish list and he didn’t speak on behalf of the Government.

Stuff: NZ First’s Shane Jones wants ministers to have more power over public sector

Cabinet Minister Shane Jones, says he would like to “soften that line” between governance and the bureaucracy, including allowing ministers to appoint top officials.

In an interview on the provincial growth fund Jones, the Regional Development Minister railed against a bureaucratic system he characterised as a “treacle-riddled”, slowing down process around funding economic projects, without evidence of improved efficiency.

This is scary given Jones’ short record to date in proposing funds for shaky projects and then claiming he forgot about getting advice pointing out serious shortcomings.  See Shane Jones ‘genuinely forgot’, Sage ‘memory let her down’.

“I’m looking forward to fighting an election to change the way that politicians relate to the bureaucracy,” Jones said.

“I know we have this separation of governance and the bureaucracy, but I’m really attracted to the idea where the Aussies have softened that line, and key ministers bring in their s…-kickers to get things done. That’s always been my preference.”

I’m sure a number of ministers would like to shit kick their policies through bureaucratic brick walls, but there are good reasons to have some checks on impatient and extravagant politicians.

Jones said his comments were not Government policy and were “not consistent with the State Services Act” but were ones he would like to campaign on in the future.

Campaigning on bureaucrat bashing may win some votes from the plebs, but it should meet resistance from Parliamentary voters.

Among other things the State Sector Act gives the State Services Commissioner the power over chief executive appointments, without influence from the Beehive, at least in theory.

Unlike many other countries, public servants are required to act in a politically neutral way.

The Public Services Association warned in December that the influence of ministerial advisors, Beehive staff which are appointed to serve the interests of their minister, are undermining this neutrality.

This aim at public service neutrality may be flawed but it is very important in New Zealand. Giving more power to ministers, unfettered by public servants, would be a big risk as we don’t have checks and balances that other countries have – no Lords and no Senate to oversee Parliament.

A much more powerful Jones in charge is something we should be very wary of.

Jones followed up the interview on Facebook:

“Surely I’m not the only one who would like to see less bureaucracy in this country? Meeting high governance and probity standards should not come at the expense of efficiency and pace in my books”.

He wants to have the power to push through what he wants at the expense of probity standards?

That should be a worry with any Minister. Especially so of Jones given his record to date.

Allowing Ministers to shit kick through the bureaucracy would be a very risky removal of one of the few means of checks and balances we have.

Councillor critical of bureaucracy and politicisation

A long serving councillor has announced that he won’t stand again this year, but has blasted growing council bureaucracy, and the politicisation of councils.

His criticisms apply across the country.

ODT: Council role loses lustre for some

Long-serving Dunedin city councillor John Bezett has fired parting shots at the growing bureaucracy and politicisation of the council, yesterday announcing his intention to stand down at the coming election.

Cr Bezett, who in ending a 30-year involvement in local body politics, said the role was no longer “fun”.

He bemoaned the increasingly-obvious political ideologies of some councillors, the intensified bureaucracy of local government and the workload of councillors.

“It’s got quite political. It’s something that I just don’t like at all. If you are a Dunedin city councillor, I think you should be looking after the city and not have an allegiance to a political party.”

Labour considered becoming openly involved in local Dunedin politics but backed off. The Greens are promoting a mayoral candidate – see Green candidate proposes local currency – along with  very Green sounding policies. The council is already quite green leaning, with cycleways and anti-oil priorities.

He also took aim at the expectations of central government which had increased the workload of councillors.

“There seems to be an endless commitment to submit on the select committee work they are doing in central government.

“There’s endless consultation and I find for someone to be an effective councillor they have to be totally involved in that and I can’t because I haven’t got the time. Not only that, but I don’t want to be totally involved … the role has changed and there’s no fun in it anymore.

“I have had a really good run and I have thoroughly enjoyed it but the fun has gone out of it for me and I’m going to go do other things,” he said.

He advised anyone considering standing for council to be prepared to treat it as a full-time job.

“Today, to be an effective councillor, I think you have to be a full-time councillor and I have never wanted to be a full-time councillor.”

So there’s a need for professional councillors but not for career politicians.

And ‘the people’ are becoming increasingly fed up with bureaucracy. It is justifiably blamed for being a significant factor in the current housing problems.

The NIMBYs have become adept at manipulating bureaucracy to stifle development.

And the career politicians have become adept at misusing democracy to push their party policies, claiming they have majority support through manipulation of consulting processes.

The best way of combating bureaucracy and politicisation  is for strong independent candidates to stand, but council is not a very attractive option for successful people.

Farrar on why Brexit won

David Farrar makes good points (despite the hammering he gets from the left he is still an astute political observer) about why he thinks the Brexit vote won in the UK in  Three reasons Brexit won

1. Democracy

The EU overall has been a force for good with many benefits for many people. However it is not what most would regard as a democratic government. The heart of democracy is that the people can sack a Government they have got weary of.  There was no real way for the people of Europe or the UK to sack the EU Government when they think it has got it wrong and needs to go. Without such a pressure release valve, discontent grows and grows.

The concept of an EU is good. The structure of the EU is bad. It may have worked when they had nine members, but not for 28.

A particularly good  point. Voters in the UK or any other member country can’t kick out the EU governors if they don’t like what they are doing.

2. Borders

The whole point of nation states is to have control of your borders and your population.  This is not racist or xenophobic. The elites who think it is, are out of step. You can be pro-immigration, but against uncontrolled immigration.

The UK as part of the EU has almost no control over who can live and work in the UK. 500 million people in the EU all have the right to move to the UK and work there if they wish to. Of course it also gives UK people the right to work and live in the EU – and that was a great right for many UK citizens.

Immigration – and a lack of control over it – has become very contentious.

3. EU regulations

A decade ago most of the angst against the EU was the endless regulations coming from Brussels that were ridiculed and resented. However I think this was a minor factor when it came to the vote. The Tories in 2005 campaigned on these, and lost. While people agreed with them, they didn’t think it was as important as issue as the economy, the NHS, schools etc. For the hard core activists, this was red meat, but less important to the majority of the public.

The bigger the governing body the bigger the bureaucracy.