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 The entrenchment clause itself could be repealed by a simple majority.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

How important is length of term for democracy?

There have now been a number of propenents for and against four year parliamentary terms.

Graeme Edgler makes a good point in A four-year parliamentary term? – those who want a four year term should prove the need for change.

It’s time for those who want this to actually convince a good sized-majority of everyone else that they are right. Start with me.

I’m not convinced either way yet.

And Bryce Edwards comes out against a change in We need more democracy not less – arguments against a 4-year term.

If we extend the parliamentary term from the current three years to four years, then quite simply the public has less say over how the country is run.

Yes, if nothing else changes. But hw important is the length of term for democracy?

But I don’t think the number of elections matters that much. The vast majority of people get mildly interested at each election and mostly try to avoid politics between elections.

I don’t think most people would notice or care if the term changed by a year.

I think it’s far more important is having more people interested and involved in political processes. And having better political processes available between elections.

So how can we improve our democracy? Maybe if politicians want to talk us into lengthening the term to four years they should be offering us something substantial to allow us much more say (and more effective say) between elections.

Metiria clarifies position on four year term

Metiria Turei has responded to a query on the Green Party position on parliamentary terms.

We don’t have a policy on it which is one reason we think it’s fit for a referendum. I talk to many many business and community organisations whose greatest problem is radical shifts in policy. It leads to deep instability and makes planning very difficult.

One of the benefits of a four year term is longer periods of policy implementation and greater stability for those who are affected.

On the other hand, radical governments will still behave appallingly so there is no guarantee and of course, its longer before such a government can be voted out. There are good and bad aspects to the current three year and the suggested four year terms. Its always good to discuss it.

I agree it is worth seriously discussing. There are always pros and cons, it’s a matter of weighing them up. This should happen via the constitutional review that’s under way.

And once discussed the final decision should go to the people via a referendum.

Green conflict over four year term?

‘James Henderson’ has posted Against a four year term at The Standard.

Key and Shearer want 4 year terms of parliament.

Regular opportunities to vote the bastards out is all we have.

That’s why Kiwis rejected a change to a four year term by a margin of more than two to one when the question was put to us in referenda in 1967 and 1990. That’s why we would reject it again. Indeed, both the public’s adoption to MMP in the 1990s and our strong decision to retain it in 2011 show that we want more controls on the power of government, not less.

(** And with both National and Labour having put themselves on the wrong side of public opinion on this, if there is a referendum in 2014 on a four year term, there’s big opportunities for parties that support a three year term.)

It is correct that the 1990 referendum rejected four year terms. But that was 23 years ago, and as a Herald editorial Four year term better for country says.

Voters were in no mood to give the Executive more time to push through radical and unpopular reforms. Bruised by the Douglas-ite mantra that there was no alternative, the public chose what appeared to be one of its few remaining sanctions – the three-yearly chance to cry “enough”.

The referendum defeat for the four-year term preceded the adoption of the new MMP electoral system, which took effect at the 1996 election.

And ‘James Henderson’, who some believe is a Green Party author, appears to be at odds with Metiria Turei. As reported in the Herald’s Key pushes for four-year terms:

And Greens co-leader Metiria Turei says she thinks the public would support the move.

“Most of the public agree it’s better for governments to have more time to implement policy rather than going from election to election.”

When Turei said that on Waitangi Day I don’t know what she based her claim on, but a Stuff poll suggests she could be right, currently showing:

Should Parliament have a four-year term?

Yes: 1230 votes, 67.4%

No: 596 votes, 32.6%

Total 1826 votes

Turei obviously speaks for the Green Party. Who does ‘James Henderson’ speak for? He has effectively said that Turei has put herself “on the wrong side of public opinion on this“, contradicting what she said at Waitangi.

Wayne Mapp on four year terms

Wayne Mapp (National North Shore MP 1996-2011) has posted a comment at Kiwiblog on four year parliamentary terms.

MMP is the main reason for 4 years. Coalition politics means everything is a bit slower than with FPP. A lot of people would say that was a good thing, but it does take longer to action a government programme. Compare how long the MOM is taking compared to the privatisations of 1987 to 1990.

I think the public understands this longer cycle with more political games because of the number of parties under MMP, so might give 4 years a shot, whereas they would not do so with FPP.

It should definitely go to a referendum, simply because it has in the past, just as do changes to the electoral system. These are the big constitutional issues where the public expect to be able to decide, not MP’s.

I expect the usual term of govt would become 8 years, not the current 9. I think two term govts would be better than three term govts. They would be more focused.

The usual third term is a mess, or at least they has been under the three govts that made three terms since 1975. Think of Muldoon 1981 to 1984, Bolger/Shipley 1996 to 1999 and Clark 2005 to 2008. In all cases the third term was the worst.

Valid points.

Four year term supported by most party leaders

At Waitangi today John Key floated the idea of a four year term. It’s obviously not new but it gave media the opportunity to check it out with other parties in attendance.

Key pushes for four-year terms

The Prime Minister is using his spotlight at Waitangi to push the idea of a fixed four-year term for the Government, and he’s got support from his political opponents.

The crowds at Waitangi are a good sounding board for politicians, so John Key’s using the event to push the boat out on this pet project of his – extending the Government’s reign to four years, with a fixed date.

“I think it makes a lot more sense to know when the date is and it makes a lot more sense to have it for four years,” he says.

But Mr Key would need either 75 percent support from MPs or the majority in a referendum.

Support from MPs would be easiest.

Opposition leader David Shearer says he agrees with the idea.

“In many ways it’s a very short period of time,” he says. “It’s too long in opposition I have to say!”

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples seems in favour.

“That’s probably a good idea too. You just seem to get started and bang, it’s election time,” he says.

And Greens co-leader Metiria Turei says she thinks the public would support the move.

“Most of the public agree it’s better for governments to have more time to implement policy rather than going from election to election.”

I don’t think Turei is correct on public agreement unless she knows something that’s not public knowledge. In 1990 69% opted to stick with three years.

Peter Dunne is definitely in favour, I asked him and he replied:

Yes, I do and the fixed Election Day

If their parties followed their lead that’s well over 75% (National plus Labour would be enough).

3News also asked Hone Harawira:

However Mana leader Hone Harawira isn’t convinced.

“As long as I’m not in Government I think it’s a ratshit idea,” he says.

That just leaves Winston and NZ First, but the numbers look favourable for four years.

But it looks like if this went to parliament it would stand a good chance of succeeding.

I also agree, three years seems too short for a Government. The first year is generally settling in and getting up to speed on policies and portfolios, and gathering information. Year two is cram time for implementing as much as possible. And year three is dominated by the election. A second middle year would make a big difference.

A common preference amongst the public is that the shorter the better in case the don’t like who is in Government. But it’s rare to have a one term government.

It can be presumed that a longer term would increase the chance of being rejected at the first re-election attempt, so four years would be shorter than six (two terms).

And it would be much harder to stay for a third term, so eight years is shorter than nine.

How likely and how soon? From NZ Herald’s Leaders support four year term:

The review began in 2010 and is being led by Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples who have appointed an advisory panel to consider it. However, there is no report date, and Mr English told iwi leaders at Waitangi that “it will take as long as it takes”.

He said it would be some time before any recommendations were made – and even then the Government might not act on them if it could not secure widespread agreement.

Don’t hold your breath.