Greens appear to have lied over their waka jumping bill support

A leaked document shows that the Greens in parliament have been gar from open and honest about their support of Winston’s waka jumping bill.

Why? Are they Winton’s wimps? Or are they trying to hide a secret deal? I’m not sure which would be worse for their reputation.

The Greens copped a lot of flak last week when they announced they would vote for the ‘waka jumping’ bill despite opposing it. They have opposed this sort of party leader power over MPs since they have been a party just about. Rod Donald was strongly opposed to a similar bill, Jeanette Fitzsimon is against the current one.

And it looks even worse for the current Parliamentary Green position – it looks like they have been dishonest about their responsibilities under their confidence and supply agreement.

Bryce Edwards:  A bad bill for democracy

A leaked Green Party caucus document from January, titled “Advice to caucus – Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill”:

In particular, the so-called “waka-jumping bill” has turned out to exemplify the worst ways of progressing policy. And the Greens have been at the forefront of this awfulness. They’ve been tricky throughout the whole debate over the waka-jumping bill, giving inconsistent and opaque explanations for their role in progressing the legislation.

The Greens have never been willing to front up over how they were going to deal with this contentious bill. First, when the coalition was formed, we were told by co-leader James Shaw that his party wouldn’t vote for any policies that they disagreed with. The Greens later changed this to say that they would support the waka-jumping bill through the first stages of the legislation, but wouldn’t guarantee that they would vote for it in the end.

Then last week the party finally revealed that they would indeed vote for the legislation, even though they still opposed it. They justified this capitulation with the notion that their hands were tied by the coalition agreement that they signed up to with the Labour Party – especially the part in which they promised to deal in “good faith” with Labour to fulfil coalition agreements with New Zealand First.

It turns out that the Greens have always known that there is nothing in the coalition agreement they signed with Labour that obliges them to vote for the waka-jumping bill. A leaked Green Party caucus document from January, titled “Advice to caucus – Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill”, reports on official advice informing the Greens that there is nothing in their coalition agreement that binds them to provide support.

The fact that the Greens have tried to tell the public the opposite therefore raises some big questions about why they’ve mislead the public on this, and what the real reasons are for their U-turn on the bill.

This is more damaging to Green Party integrity than their ‘oppose but will vote for’ announcement.

It looks like the lied, or at least deliberately misled, about their responsibility in Government.

So why have the Greens been so slippery and dishonest about this?

One must wonder what bigger embarrassment they are trying to hide.

Are they Winston’s wimps?

Or is there some so of secret deal they are trying to keep secret?

Either way, this looks very murky for the Greens.

Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill

Peters is dumping on the Greens’ cannabis bill. They owe him nothing.

Peters defends his waka jumping bill

The Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill (aka ‘waka jumping bill’ or ‘party hopping bill’) has been criticised as being anti-democratic and giving too much power to party leaders. See:

It is a Government bill as a result of a coalition agreement between Labour and NZ First, with the initial support at least of the Greens, who had previously strongly opposed this sort of legislation.

In response to criticisms Winston Peters has come out in defence of his bill. Stuff – Winston Peters: ‘Waka-jumping’ bill makes our democracy more responsive to MMP

When voters go to the ballot box every three years they are choosing between alternative political directions for the country as a whole, expressed through their party preferences.

Under the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system, the party vote determines the overall distribution of parliamentary seats and then parties seek to form a government that reflects those preferences to offer purposeful and stable leadership.

Next to the voters themselves, political parties are the linchpin of our democratic system. They are democracy’s gatekeepers by recruiting parliament’s representatives. Parties then supply Cabinet members, making it essentially party government. It is recognised that MPs are expected to follow the collective opinion of their party colleagues.

In New Zealand this has been the general custom, but is it really a linchpin of our democratic system? Democracies in other countries, such as the UK and the US, operate without strict adherence to following party dictates.

Party discipline is therefore acknowledged as a guarantee of the voter’s choice.

Who acknowledges that?

Peters (like anyone) cannot know what voters want when they vote for a particular party. Somewhat ironically I think that quite a few NZ First voters are choosing Peters as an individual because he promotes himself as a maverick, not as a strictly conventional politician.

What if a party doesn’t do what they promised during an election campaign? NZ First has already reneged on some of their promises, so voters have no guarantee of getting what they thought they were voting for.

What if, for example, a New Zealand First MP voted in Parliament for what they promised rather than what Peters had u-turned on for political convenience? The waka jumping bill would potentially give Peters the power to throw that MP out of the party and out of Parliament.

It is also necessary to ensure that the party delivers on its commitments commensurate with its party-vote share and its strategic location inside any governing arrangements.

What about commitments made to voters?

Peters appears to be putting precedence on enabling party leaders to wheel and deal as they please once they get power, regardless of what voters actually wanted.

Given these verities, why should the individual will of one disgruntled Member of Parliament subvert the general will of voters expressed on election day?

Verity: a true principle or belief, especially one of fundamental importance

Why should the will of one party leader be able to put aside the wishes of voters as soon as the election is over in order to negotiate a position of power for themselves in Government?

The people are sovereign so except in the rarest of circumstances New Zealand First believes it shouldn’t, which is why the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill forms an important part of the democratic improvements set out in the Coalition Agreement.

The people are sovereign? The people had no say in the coalition negotiations. How many of ‘the people’ support the waka jumping bill? Has Peters bothered to find out?

So electoral integrity and legal integrity are questionable claims from Peters.

The so-called ‘waka-jumping’ bill protects the uppermost value in a proportional electoral system, namely proportionality, and we believe that decision should always be the preserve of voters, not politicians.

Except the bill would give a party leader (a politician) more power, and the voters nothing.

The bill does not, as claimed, give too much power to party leaders to get their MPs to bend to their will. There are protections built in to the bill and any party leader who does not have good reason for initiating action against one of their members or who does not understand or follow party principles of natural justice will pay a steep political price for it, whether with their own colleagues or the voters.

Party principles of natural justice? In 2011 people voted for the NZ First list that included Brendon Horan, who became an MP. In 2012 Peters expelled Horan from the party, claiming “substantive material” that caused him to ‘lose confidence’ in Horan.

In 2014 the executor of the Horan’s mother’s estate said they had found no evidence to support claims about Horan.

A police investigation subsequently cleared Horan: “There has been a comprehensive investigation by the Western Bay of Plenty criminal investigation branch into these allegations over the last two years, including a review of the file by senior detectives. After consideration of all relevant information and the Solicitor General’s prosecution guidelines, police have determined that there is insufficient evidence to charge any person with a criminal offence.”

See Former NZ First MP Brendan Horan cleared by police after Winston Peters complaint

But Peters had claimed he had evidence and judged and politically executed Horan.

New Zealand First considers it patronising and an insult to suggest that in these circumstances voters can’t discriminate between the principled actions of an electorate MP standing up to a wayward party and its leader or a more mundane expression of flawed character.

What if the flawed character is a party leader?

The Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill is one of several democratic reforms the coalition sees as making our democracy more responsive to MMP. The new seating arrangement inside Parliament is another example of our better reflecting the collaborative nature of the new coalition.

That reflects the power of the Cabinet. It reflects collaboration between parties in Government, responsive to their own power, and not responsive to the people.

New Zealand First believes that democracy works best when people claim it as their own, so no apology is offered for reinforcing the centrality of proportionality to help achieve that worthy goal.

Peters would have done far more for ‘reinforcing the centrality of proportionality’ if he had negotiated a bill that substantially reduced the threshold, which is the biggest impediment to proportionality by far.

Instead Peters has put forward a bill that claims more power as his own, and the people remain powerless to stop him doing as he pleases as soon as the election is over.

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.