Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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Legal Beagle: A four-year parliamentary term?

80 Responses

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  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Will someone take up the cudgel?

    Does someone have the evidence to show that UK, France, South Africa, Italy and Germany are better governed than NZ?

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2971 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson,

    Well put. I concur.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 343 posts Report Reply

  • Tim Michie,

    Political parties choose to offer policy proposals at their own schedule. Nothing prevents a potential government from initiating a legislating process longer than the three year term. I'd argue it would benefit the voters to know the parties direction beyond the present term. Just as it has taken time for parties (and media and public) to adjust to a post first past the post system, thinking beyond the immediate term has been more studied (the 2020 report) than firm options to vote across the longer term.

    Auckward • Since Nov 2006 • 522 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    I suspect part of the appeal for some members of the voting public (and particularly non-voting public) for longer terms is wanting to have politicians in your face less often asking for your vote, rather than any strong feeling that it will make things better.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6145 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    I'd agree. The only thing that could be said for parliament forcing four year terms on an unwilling populace is that it would increase levels of discontent with established politicians.

    Interestingly, the United States has no constitutional provision to defer elections, and held presidential elections in 1944 during WW2 and (amidst much more disruption and obviously without the participation of the southern states) in 1864.

    In the UK, it is seen as the duty of the opposition to agitate for an early election throughout the life of the government, especially if that government is in a tenuous position. The Wilson/Callaghan government of 1974-9 endured several np-confidence motions before finally losing and being forced into an early election (albeit only six months before their five years was up).

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4221 posts Report Reply

  • Barnard, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    Couldn't answer for Germany, but in terms of the UK I think I can safely answer, no they're not better governed. Probably goes for the others as well.

    But surely it's not the point, surely the point is will WE be better governed comparable to how we are now?

    That the UK isn't, has little to do with it having a longer term.

    Personally, I'm quite open to the idea of fours years. Five is too long, but I would say the UK introducing fixed terms is a positive move.

    The agitating for an early election, and constant media speculation was ridiculous and benefited no one bar the insular Westminster village.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2012 • 69 posts Report Reply

  • izogi,

    Does anyone happen to know why New Zealand presently has a three year term? Is it something that was inherited from Great Britain in the beginning, or was there a conscious decision to set it to three years from some other reason?

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 254 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Barnard,

    But surely it's not the point, surely the point is will WE be better governed comparable to how we are now?

    It is. But finding evidence to show that one way or the other will be difficult. I think it should be the case that if countries are, on average, better governed if they have longer terms, then across the whole range of countries, those with longer terms should be better governed, on average.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2971 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Britain had three year maximum parliaments from 1641 to 1716 and then a seven year maximum until 1911 (although the 1910 parliament was prolonged until 1918 because of WW1). In the mid-19th century, the Chartists advocated for annual general elections.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4221 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I really don't see how this discussion can end up evidence-based. What does "better governed" actually mean? This is hardly a checklist kind of thing, there is no boilerplate for the best governmental system, and even less of one to decide if any particular place has been well governed, or will continue to be. A lot of the time it depends on the challenges they were facing at that exact time.

    To me, it's more a moral question, a question about the rights of the populace to have a say, than a practical one. But they're hardly independent, a practical failure ends up being a moral failure too.

    I'd actually rather have shorter terms. 2 years, and see how it goes. That's a pretty long job contract. If you've failed to impress in that time, move over. I don't really see why entire agendas get to hold power for so long, why losing an election is basically being resigned to 4 years of not seeing anything you want enacted in Parliament. In fact, given the way it's worked historically, losing power here generally means 6 years of the other crowd, three of which are spent taking low hanging fruit and doing nothing obvious, the second three are spent ramming through a big unpopular agenda.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8039 posts Report Reply

  • Kevin Welsh,

    When some of the more controversial pieces of legislation passed in New Zealand in recent times; Search & Surveillance, Electoral Finance etc, have been of the knee-jerk variety. Then a four year term will make no difference.

    Of more concern to me is the abuse of Parliamentary process in the rushing through under 'urgency' of legislation that demands more scrutiny rather than to satisfy the government-of-the-day's own ideology... or just because they can.

    Havelock North • Since Feb 2013 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • DexterX, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    Does someone have the evidence to show that UK, France, South Africa, Italy and Germany are better governed than NZ?

    Consider the mess the world is largely from lack of regulation of financial markets and the considerable clout of corporations and govt over private citizens - has a longer parliamentary term made it any better for people?

    Is there a disadvantage for a shift from a three year to a four year cycle in NZ.

    In the last Labour Govt Michael Cullen said, to the Labour Caucus??, some thing along the lines of, "We only want to consider what the voters think in the lead up to an election" – This is basically the only time the major political parties have a real interest in the voter.

    My preference is, as a voter, I exercise my choice every three years rather than every four.

    I ask myself this - Do I want people like John Banks, Brendan Horan and others sitting on their arse at the taxpayers expense for a longer or shorter term?

    There is more to worry about than just the term when you consider the Act - John Banks, Don Brash, John Key, Teapot Saga.

    With a longer term the opposition will likely be more fatigued and ineffective.

    The politicians are only looking to change for their benefit. The rationale they trot out for supporting the change is crap – planning long term over a three-year cycle as opposed to four – I would consider that a three-year cycle provides more flexibility.

    Keep it as it is or failing that reduce it to two years as per Ben's post above.

    If there was a referendum then give us three options being a two year, three year and four year term and then take the average outcome of that - which would more likely fall in the two to three year option.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1157 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    I've worked out why Shearer and the other timeservers want it though. It'll mean that each Labour leader will get four years salary rather three before they lose an election and have to resign.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4221 posts Report Reply

  • Kevin Welsh, in reply to DexterX,

    I don't really care about the expenses incurred for MP's as that is small potatoes when compared to the corporate welfare dished out each year at taxpayers expense.

    Havelock North • Since Feb 2013 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • DexterX, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    better governed, on average.

    What is your/the measure of better government?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1157 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    I don't think it's about the salary. I'd say it's that politicians don't actually like campaigning, with a few exceptions. It's hard work, and it's not the kind of work they like. They want to me making decisions, flexing their considerable muscles, and longer terms give them more of that. Even in Opposition, being in campaign mode is exhausting.

    But this might be wrongheaded. To my mind, part of the reason that campaigning is such a big deal, so much work, is because of the long terms, that there is so much more riding on it. The less campaigny the campaigns become, the more I will actually like them.

    As for stability of planning, this is mostly brought about by civil servants, rather than politicians. When they're aware that they must cater to multiple governments, they go for the most neutral ground, in much the same way that Wikipedia entries become steadily less controversial, and more caveated over time.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8039 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I have a question for wonks: How many times has a change in the length of term has been offered to a populace, and they have opted for a longer one? And vice versa? Also, similar question, how many times has it been changed by legislature without recourse to referendum, and which way did it go, longer or shorter?

    Without any evidence, my guess would be that politicians would generally aim for longer terms, and populations for shorter ones. The middle ground would be that politicians would only ever propose increases, and populations would generally reject that. This is only a guess of course.

    This is based on the idea that people vote in the interests of increasing their power, and IMHO, long terms make politicians more powerful, and short ones make the people more so.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8039 posts Report Reply

  • Chuck Bird,

    Excellent article Graeme. I could even be persuaded to go for five years if the change was done democratically and there was proper public consultation, a referendum and some sort of trade off like a binding referendum on conscience issues that were not in the major party's manifesto.

    Since Apr 2007 • 52 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to BenWilson,

    losing power here generally means 6 years of the other crowd

    No it doesn't. There has been one two-term government in the history of New Zealand.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2971 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to DexterX,

    What is your/the measure of better government?

    Whatever someone who want to claim that some other country is better governed than we are, or that some country has improved its government by increasing its term..

    I'm not the one claiming a four-year term will lead to better government. If someone who supports a four-year term on this basis would like to explain what they mean, we're all eyes.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2971 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to DexterX,

    If there was a referendum then give us three options being a two year, three year and four year term and then take the average outcome of that – which would more likely fall in the two to three year option.

    That's not how the reserved section is drafted. Some alternative needs the support of at least 50% of voters.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2971 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Kevin Welsh,

    When some of the more controversial pieces of legislation passed in New Zealand in recent times; Search & Surveillance, Electoral Finance etc, have been of the knee-jerk variety. Then a four year term will make no difference.

    Search and Surveillance was not knee-jerk. It was the result of a many year-long Law Commission and internal government policy process, covering both Labour and National Governments.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2971 posts Report Reply

  • James Caygill, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    I’ll have a go Graeme, since I’m a supporter of four years.

    I think first off it’s important to distinguish between the Executive and Parliament. Yes, we’re talking about Parliamentary elections but I think the main impact is on the Executive.

    A longer term means more time for a Cabinet to get policy working through the wider Executive Branch, and be able to assess whether policy is working as intended within the term.

    I think it’s also useful to understand how a looming election distorts government and governing. I can see some commentators taking the “it’s a good thing to be focussed on the electorate” positions – and I understand that, but I tend to the electoral paralysis position that looming elections have a perversely chilling effect on governing (this is certainly true in terms of the mechanics of the public service).

    Bottom line – I think under MMP we have a more diverse Parliament within which a truly unpopular government is more likely to be brought down by defections etc within its term, if it is truly unpopular and has lost its way. That being the case (which is certainly something people can contest) I’d prefer to have elections every four years, rather than every three so that governments have more time to govern.

    I’d be interested to know your view Graeme if Parliament altered the Constitution Act with a 75% majority, which they are legally entitled to do , and inserted a four year term, but put that change in term off for a number of years in the future, thus removing any immediate self-interest (noting of course that some will always see self interest in any term lengthening move). Would you be as opposed?

    Christchurch • Since Oct 2007 • 26 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    No it doesn’t. There has been one two-term government in the history of New Zealand.

    True, indeed. That's even worse. Amend my statement to "losing here generally means 9 years of the other crowd, using both median and mode as your measure of central tendency. If you prefer means, it's 7.666 years".

    If someone who supports a four-year term on this basis would like to explain what they mean, we’re all eyes.

    I'd understood that was what you meant. Putting the onus on those want change to show how it means better government. Which means explaining what better government means.

    However, it's not clear why you get to put the onus on, unless it's for the rhetorical purpose of showing just how un-evidence-based this decision will end up being. Is there any evidence that it wouldn't be better, either? When the onus goes back on justifying keeping 3 year terms, it's pretty clear that's also an arbitrary line in the sand.

    Mind you, I'm often a little bit suspicious of the term "evidence based". It seems like a new word for "rational", that sounds more scientific. Every piece of evidence of good government is always going to come loaded with the preconceptions of the observer. I know several Chinese people, for instance, who will swear blind that the Chinese government is the wisest and best form of government ever invented, and they can pile up endless evidence to that effect. Since they don't give a flying fuck about human rights, they don't find those counterarguments compelling.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8039 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to BenWilson,

    Per this report the term has been increased once by parliament (in 1934, to four years, and repealed by the next parliament). It's also been extended three times on a one-off basis. There have been two referenda since these became required to change the term, and in both cases the measure was defeated by a substantial majority.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4221 posts Report Reply

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