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 The entrenchment clause itself could be repealed by a simple majority.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