The most damaging effects of the waka jumping law will be invisible and immeasurable

It is difficult to know what the effect of the ironically named Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill that passed it’s final vote in Parliament this week. We may never know for sure.

We do know that it has made Labour look like Winston’s patsies, especially Andrew Little who had to front the bill as it went through Parliament. And it showed the Greens as far less principled than they had made out for so long while out of government – this could be damaging to them in the next election.

However Audrey Young says that the most damaging effects will be “invisible and immeasurable” in Winston Peters wastes hard-won power on wretched law.

…the party-hopping bill passed in Parliament ahead of the party’s convention can barely be called an achievement, let alone qualify as a proud one.

It has been Parliament at its worst – indulging a powerful politician with an obsession with defectors.

The law is a fetter on dissent, and Peters’ decision to demand its passage as the price of power stands in contradiction to his own history as a dissenter and maverick.

The law will enable a caucus to fire a duly elected MP not just from the caucus but from Parliament if they decide that MP no longer properly represents the party.

The hypocrisy is galling. Peters built New Zealand First on party-hoppers such as Michael Laws, Peter McCardle and Jack Elder.

In those days, Peters was upholding the freedom of any MP to leave a party without having to leave Parliament if their conscience demanded it.

Self-interested hypocrisy is nothing new for Peters.

It was only when party-hoppers left New Zealand First rather than joined it that the notion became objectionable, to Peters. It was only after MMP that what the voters decided on election day suddenly became sacred to Peters.

Essentially, the new party-hopping law is based on self-interest disguised as principle.

It is a draconian solution to a problem of defection that has not existed since those formative days of MMP.

And Labour and the Greens went along with this and enabled it.

New Zealand First did not campaign on party-hopping at all last election but then put it up as a bottom line in coalition talks, while the vast number of bottom lines actually enunciated by Peters in the campaign were surrendered in the horse-trading of coalition talks.

The law does not have the true support of the majority of the House but the Greens have been blackmailed into supporting it against the alternative – a toxic relationship with Peters.

Electoral law changes should have wide support of any Parliament but the law was railroaded through by a party with 7 per cent of the vote because it held the balance of power at the election.

Will Greens learn from being backed into a corner by Peters and then painting themselves in? They could perhaps gain back some of their credibility on being principled it they  don’t campaign next election on a status quo governing arrangement leaving Peters in a dog wagging position.

The most pernicious effect of the new law is not the actual expulsion of an MP from Parliament. Rather, it is the chilling effect it will have on strong, independent thought and voice of MPs within parties and within Parliament. In turn that will have an impact on the selection of MPs.

The most damaging effects of the law will be invisible and immeasurable.

It was the impact on dissent that drew the harshest criticism from Green luminaries Jeanette Fitzsimons and Keith Locke.

Did Green support of this bill go to party membership for a decision? They used to claim that their membership played a part in any important decisions. Surely they must have done that, especially given that it was a change to electoral law, and it had an obvious impact on the party ethos and integrity.

It has been sad to see a raft of new Labour MPs kowtowing to Peters to convince themselves that the law will enhance democracy when it is really a management tool for Peters to keep potentially difficult MPs in check.

One could wonder what threats or promises were made between Peters and Labour and Green leaderships to make both parties roll over on this for Peters.

Dissent has been a strong theme throughout Peters’ career.

He talked about in his maiden speech in 1979 when he lambasted people whom he saw as destructive critics who criticised for the sake of it: “Opposition, criticism and dissent are worthy pursuits when combined with a sense of responsibility. They have a purifying effect on society. Areas in need of urgent attention can be identified and courses of action may be initiated. However embarrassing to community or national leaders, the results are enormously beneficial to the total well-being of the community. The critic I am [condemning] has no such goals. He sets out to exploit every tremor and spasm in society, the economy or race relations, seeking to use every such event as a vehicle to project his own public personality.”

An unkind person might say that Peters has gained power in New Zealand politics by becoming the sort of critic he so despised in his maiden speech.

It is a remarkable achievement to have built a party, and sustained it, and to be at the peak of his political power when most people his age are checking out retirement villages.

It is also remarkable that Peters should be wasting that power on such a wretched law.

And that Labour and especially the Greens have wasted their integrity by enabling the wretched law to pass with barely a whimper.

 

 

 

 

Greens may have to support waka jumping bill

The Greens have long been staunchly opposed to the waka jumping (party hopping) legislation, but due to their confidence and supply agreement commitments they may be obliged to back the bill prompted by NZ First. They have been caught out because NZ First did not campaign on this policy (voters would have good cause to question NZ First sneaking this policy in after the election).

From the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement:

Democracy

• Introduce and pass a ‘Waka Jumping’ Bill.

 

NZH: Green Party may have to support waka-jumping bill

The bill, which would ensure Parliament’s proportionality in the event that an MP leaves or is ejected from a party, is part of the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement – but needs the support of the Green Party to pass into law.

Young Greens co-convenor Max Tweedie, in a Facebook post last week following a call with the party executive that was screen-shot and posted to reddit, said that the party had no choice but to support the bill.

“James [Shaw] has explained why the Greens are supporting the waka-jumping bill,” Tweedie wrote.

“NZF and Labour, and the Greens and Labour, conducted blind negotiations for the agreement. Labour requested a list of NZF policies that we don’t support, and while we went through, we didn’t even think of the waka-jumping bill.

“As a result, because of the agreements between us, we have to support the bill because our opposition wasn’t flagged.”

A spokesperson for the Greens confirmed that the party did not raise it as an issue during coalition talks with Labour because NZ First had not campaigned on it.

“We looked at the policies that parties ran on during the 2017 campaign. Waka-jumping wasn’t one of them. We are now managing this issue within the Green Party.”

The spokesperson would not say whether the party had to support the bill beyond the select committee, where the Greens hope the bill will be improved.

The Greens have vehemently opposed similar legislation in the past, and co-leader James Shaw has sought to appease the membership by saying that the party’s ongoing support for the bill is not guaranteed.

From the Labour-Green confidence and supply agreement:

Relationship to other agreements

Both parties to this agreement recognise that Labour will be working with other parties both in terms of
coalitions and confidence and supply arrangements.

Labour agrees that it will not enter into any other relationship agreement which is inconsistent with this
agreement and the Green Party and Labour agree that they will each act in good faith to allow all such
agreements to be complied with.

That seems to oblige the Greens to enable the Labour-NZ First agreement to be complied with. That means voting enabling the waka jumping legislation.

Some Greens are not happy.

It would be dishonourable of the Greens not to support the bill too. Caught between the two with no tidy solution – but expect an amendment to the bill that the Greens claim make it ok for them to support it.

This is another challenge of being in Government, especially as the junior of three parties.

 

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 “abhorrent in a parliamentary democracy”

Former Green MP Keith Locke on the ‘party hopping bill’ – “The idea that individual MPs should be legally restrained in what they say is abhorrent in a parliamentary democracy.on the proposed.

NZ Herald: Party-hopping bill is a restraint on MPs’ freedom of speech

The bill before Parliament to stop party-hopping has been misnamed. The Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill should be called the Party Conformity Bill because it threatens MPs with ejection from Parliament if they don’t conform to party dictates.

Winston Peters has ejected MPs from the party in the past, and this is suspected to be because they don’t conform to his dictates. He is often claimed to effectively be the party.

The Bill is before Parliament due to a coalition agreement between NZ First and Labour: “Introduce and pass a ‘Waka Jumping’ Bill”.

A coalition agreement between two parties without a majority can’t guarantee it will be passed in Parliament. Greens or National will have to also support it.

Personal political integrity will be constrained, except on a few selected “conscience” issues, like the assisted dying legislation, where MPs are free to vote as they want.

The bill contravenes the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provisions guaranteeing freedom of speech. The idea that individual MPs should be legally restrained in what they say is abhorrent in a parliamentary democracy.

It also runs counter to the spirit of parliamentary privilege, which gives MPs more freedom than the rest of us to say what they want, without the danger of libel suits, when speaking in the chamber.

No other Western democracy has laws to stop party-hopping. In fact West Germany has a constitutional provision that once elected MPs are “representatives of the whole people, not bound by orders and instructions, and subject only to their conscience”.

It is common in the British Parliament to see MPs “crossing the floor” and it can serve a useful function.

Under our proportional system parties rise and fall, often helped by rebels from other parties. In fact, each of the smaller parties which have won seats in our MMP Parliaments have initially been led by rebel MPs from existing parliamentary parties.

Before MMP (and since for electorate MPs) an MP could resign from Parliament, then stand as an independent or under another party in a by-election. This can still happen for electorate MPs, but it can’t be done by list MPs.

MPs in a list only party (currently NZ First and Greens) can only wait until the next general election.

Former Labour MP Richard Prebble was not an MP when he became Act leader but the other rebel MPs setting up new parties were all sitting in Parliament at the time.

  • Jim Anderton left Labour mid-term to set up NewLabour (which later merged into the Alliance).
  • Peter Dunne split from Labour to form Future NZ (which later became United).
  • Tariana Turia went from Labour to the Maori Party.
  • Winston Peters went from National to found NZ First.
  • Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons left the Alliance for the Greens.
  • Hone Harawira exited the Maori Party for Mana.

Splitting from a party to form another has been quite common, and has added substantially to the diversity of Parliament.

Resorting to legislation to get rid of an MP potentially involves the courts, which are not equipped to handle political or process disputes within parliamentary caucuses. It is safer, and more democratic, to leave decisions on the makeup of Parliament to the voters.

Rather than distorting the proportionality of Parliament, new parties set up by the rebels have provided the electorate with more political choice.

Previously, the Green Party and its co-leaders have been strongly opposed, in principle, to party-hopping legislation. As Donald said in the 1999 speech to Parliament, MPs are not “party robots”, “MPs must retain the right to be answerable to their own consciences, and political parties must not be allowed to take away from voters the power to unelect Members of Parliament.”

As a Green MP at the time I made similar points in the debate on that bill.

But the Greens have supported the Bill, initially at least.

Stuff – National: Waka jumping bill ‘an affront to democracy’

The Green Party is breaking its long-standing opposition to waka jumping legislation after getting several concessions from Justice Minister Andrew Little.

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.

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.

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.”

Locke thinks that preserving the integrity of the principles of the Green Party is important.

The Greens have switched from strong opposition in the past to support after a few tweaks.

In 1999, speaking against an earlier party-hopping bill, Green co-leader Rod Donald reminded the House that “had this bill existed prior to the last [1999] election, we [Donald and Fitzsimons] would have been removed from this House and denied our opportunity to stay here for the full parliamentary term”.

Fitzsimons and Donald had been elected as Alliance list MPs in 1996 but left the Alliance Party in 1997 along with the rest of the Green Party. If these two MPs had been excluded from Parliament in 1997 it is unlikely the Greens would have reached the 5 per cent threshold for parliamentary representation in the 1999 election, or that Fitzsimons would have won the Coromandel seat.

This is something for the current Green caucus to ponder before continuing to support the current party hopping legislation.

It seems to be a done deal between Shaw and Labour. Did party members get a say?

It’s hard to understand why the Greens didn’t stick to their past principles over this bill.

Is Shaw concerned about unity in his Green caucus? Or did he do Labour a favour, putting his relationship with them ahead of his party and it’s past principles?