Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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Legal Beagle: A submission on the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment bill

15 Responses

  • Tom Semmens,

    115 odd MPs out of 120 owe their place in parliament to the colour of their rosette.

    If they jump party they have betrayed the people who elected them.

    Ergo, waka jump and you deserve to be slung out of parliament.

    We only have a three year electoral cycle, if people agree with you they'll re-elect you in a couple of years.

    I believe 70% or so of New Zealanders share my POV.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report Reply

  • izogi,

    Aw crud. I was going to submit on this and had it half written a month ago, yet life intervened and I only just noticed that submissions closed yesterday.

    Anyhow, thanks for putting in such a clear and concise submission. The problem with component parties hadn't even crossed my mind.

    One of my own big gripes is that I believe it seriously threatens the ability for new parties to emerge... particularly given the 5% MMP threshold seems very difficult if even possible for new parties to reach. Until now, virtually all new parties under MMP have needed some kind of help whether it comes from a rebelling MP from elsewhere or from a big party unlocking the door from inside. I hope there's sufficient representation of this issue from other submissions.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1141 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens, in reply to izogi,

    Until now, virtually all new parties under MMP have needed some kind of help whether it comes from a rebelling MP from elsewhere or from a big party unlocking the door from inside.

    Which probably accounts for their signal lack of success.

    Parliament isn’t the beginning of the democratic representation journey. It is the culmination of it.

    If you think you’ve got a political philosophy that people will vote for you don’t start off with an act of political betrayal to the voters who elected you – not unless you want your party to begin by drinking from a poisoned chalice of illegitimacy that’ll eventually take you down.

    It took 27 years and thousands of meetings in drafty halls and mocked speeches on street corners to disinterested crowds for a Values/Green MP to be elected. But now they’ve been in parliament for 19 years, and they probably still will be in 46 years from now.

    If you want to set up a new party, by all means, But don’t try shortcuts, they never work.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report Reply

  • izogi, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    Yeah, sure. I'm not trying to defend imperfect methods of getting new parties into parliement any further than the fact that I think we can't seem to be bothered improving the mechanism of MMP -- even as far as seriously considering the report which came after the referendum to keep it. (I'm still waiting for Andrew Little to pull it out of Judith Collins's shredder, but there's apparently no interest.)

    As long as we're intent on keeping a less perfect electoral system, we shouldn't be attacking the hacked mechanisms which enable it to produce and retain a parliement that has any realistic diversity of parties at all.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1141 posts Report Reply

  • izogi, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    Plus even the Green Party arguably only remained in parliament, after splitting from the Alliance, because Helen Clark effectively asked Coromandel Labour supporters to vote for Jeanette Fitzsimons in '99.

    Without that support it's highly unlikely that she would have won Coromandel with a 250 vote majority. Without the realistic possibilty of her being able to do so, it's also unlikely that 5.16% of voters nationally would have been encouraged to vote Green. But they did, the Greens built on that success, and (IMHO) we've had a better and more representative Parliament because of it.

    Has any new party ever entered parliament under MMP without either a defecting MP or benevolent (but really strategic) help from a big party that's more interested in gaming the system?

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1141 posts Report Reply

  • Neil,

    Once the PM has finished cleaning up after male NZF MPs she might have the time to deal with these issues.

    Since Nov 2016 • 380 posts Report Reply

  • Neil,

    I think Jones is a bit jealous that Mark is getting all the free flights.

    Since Nov 2016 • 380 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to izogi,

    Has any new party ever entered parliament under MMP without either a defecting MP or benevolent (but really strategic) help from a big party that's more interested in gaming the system?

    Every successful new party has had an existing or former MP in it.

    Benevolent help has never worked by itself.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3207 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens, in reply to izogi,

    any further than the fact that I think we can’t seem to be bothered improving the mechanism of MMP

    I think that the threshold has been a barrier to new party entry, but remember that is what it is designed to do. On the one hand, you could say it has harmed the democratic diversity of our parliament and encouraged rorts like the Epsom deal that keeps the ACT cadaver on life support. On the other, it has also kept the likes of Graeme Capill and Colin Craig out of parliament. The other thing about the threshold is even if you dropped it to a more reasonable 3% no new party has managed rate any more than 2.85% support at an election.

    My general view on MMP is it has achieved enhanced stability and increased ethnic and gender diversity at the expense of class, philosophical and political diversity – which again is more or less what it is designed to do. The key characteristic of MMP – centralist stability – was arguably exactly what frazzled voters desired when the selected it. People were sick of radical policies imposed by a dictatorship of the cabinet from parties with hidden agendas. The number of parties and coalition arrangements of German MMP politics that so fascinated New Zealanders obscured the more important reality of the centralist stability of German governments.

    The chief electoral reform I’d like to see would be to combat the pernicious growth of a professional political class (Grant Robertson being a particularly poisonous example) that believes in nothing except its own survival within an establishment context. I’d love to see term limits for list MPs, much stronger rules around party funding and some sort of mechanism(s) designed to force our current self-serving elite cadre parties to become mass membership again.

    Another point worth making is declining diversity in Parliament may simply indicate a broad satisfaction within the mass of voters of the decision making classes with the current social, economic and political settings of the country rather than a problem with the mechanism of the electoral system. New Zealand is still locked into a neoliberal economic model because in this country it has not yet collapsed as completely and abjectly as it has in those countries hammered by the GFC and the long, ling great recession. It seems to me that political environment of New Zealand (and Australia) has significantly diverged from that of the rest of the Anglosphere/West since 2008 because we were basically untouched by the GFC, cushioned as we were by Cullen’s surpluses, Key’s deficit spending, and booming Australian and Chinese economies. Lacking a crisis and with what, in historical terms, has been a period of good economic growth the economic crisis of the lower middle classes that has touched off so much anxiety in the rest of the world has not happened here. NZ’s elites and the professional middle class remain firmly in control of the economic and political narrative, and this is reflected in the increasing centrality of the structure of the parliament.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Young,

    I'm afraid I disagree with Graham on this one. Let us not forget that the National Party relied for its continued governmental survival in the nineties and most of the tweens on a retinue of political remora fish. Many people are annoyed at the continued existence of mandateless microparties that break away from more established political parties that can win constituency seats in Parliament and turn out not to be viable at the next election- Mana Wahine, Tuariki Delamere's political vehicle, Mauri Pacific and the Kiwi Party are all examples of such. I concede ACT, United Future and the Maori Party at least did win constituency seats, but let's face it, it is the National Party that benefits from the absence of accountability to the electorate that the absence of waka-jumping legislation promotes amongst some more unscrupulous List MPs.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 573 posts Report Reply

  • simon g,

    I'm sufficiently cynical to kick principles into touch if there's a prize worth winning (Andy Haden line-out dive? I saw nothing, only the final score).

    But this won't work. In summary, a waka-jumper who stays in parliament is the bad guy, a figure of media mockery, who taints his new party by association. But an MP who gets expelled will be transformed into a victim, even if s/he is entirely without merit. So the narrative is turned on its head.

    I don't want to create martyrs out of molehills.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1330 posts Report Reply

  • simon g, in reply to Neil,

    Neil, please don't crowbar irrelevant Simon Bridges' talking points into this thread. Cheers.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1330 posts Report Reply

  • izogi,

    Reading Jeanette Fitzsimons' thing on The Spinoff today, I was thinking it'd almost be appropriate if parties were to split apart over internal disagreements about voting for this Bill.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1141 posts Report Reply

  • Dennis Frank,

    Graeme makes some useful suggestions in respect of improving the bill. What puzzles me is why nobody in the debate thus far seems to want to focus on the political psychology of the situation. Verbal contracts seem now to be recognised by the legal profession, so why can't they get their heads around the electoral contract??

    Winston's a lawyer, so I always assumed his intention was to hold delinquent MPs accountable for breaching their contract with electors. Perhaps he has not been explicit about that but it seems rather obvious.

    On the Social Contract; or, Principles of Political Rights, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was published in 1762. I get that lawyers are constrained to be slow learners by their professional culture, but you'd think that 2.5 centuries is sufficient time to figure it out, eh?

    A member of parliament who abandons their party in order to pursue self-interest during a term of parliament must be held accountable for their disregard of our common interests. Human nature makes their betrayal of those a highly-charged issue in the minds of their electors. The fact that such misbehaviour hasn't happened since the nineties is insufficient reason to ignore the design flaw in MMP that enabled it: the authenticity of our political representation is at stake. That ought to be the primary focus of the select committee: redesigning the legislation to incorporate enforcement of accountability. I hope the select committee will produce such a design - but the exclusion of GP and NZF members makes that unlikely.

    We must acknowledge the right of an elected representative to use their freedom of expression to adopt a moral stance on an issue in accord with their conscience. However, it is unwise to discount the moral constraint imposed by the traditional convention of democracy: an MP is elected to represent their constituency, which in our MMP format is either a local or a non-local community. Electors vote for both an MP and their party separately, so their collective voting contracts parliamentary reps & their parties separately. Political stands taken and promises made during an election therefore form a social contract between voters and representatives. Voters will be likely to view any breach of this contract as immoral behaviour.

    Winston's bill attempts to represent this substantial body of public opinion. From the perspective of human nature, the right to change one's mind is a natural right which must be paramount. However human groups have been imposing rules that limit political behaviour for millennia. Breach of contract is illegal in other social contexts. We need only hazard a guess as to the percentage of the electorate that tacitly recognises the equivalence in the waka-jumping bill to see that we cannot marginalise them. Better to propose legislation that reconciles both views in a balanced way. For instance, allow an MP to publicly disagree with his/her party during the term, but require they vote in accord with their electoral contract until their current term ends, or else resign.

    Lawyers may claim there's no such thing as an electoral contract but nonetheless it has tacitly operated in the minds of voters for the past couple of centuries. Although Rousseau made the social contract famous prior to the American and French revolutions, its historical influence has been traced back more than two millennia (Social Contract Theory, 1990, ed. M. Lessnoff). This principle seems an essential part of democracy. I suggest we alter MMP to implement it, to ensure that MPs can no longer betray their electors. We could signal historical relevance by retitling it The Alamein Kopu Memorial Bill so as to reassure Winston that it isn’t really all about him!

    New Zealand • Since Jun 2016 • 292 posts Report Reply

  • linger,

    It isn't clear that MPs necessarily "betray their electors" by leaving the party for which they were elected. The "electoral contract" may be mediated by the party, but to the extent that a list MP has sufficient individual support to have contributed towards the party support, then the "contract" is (also) between the electors and the individual MP.
    Moreover, that "contract" needs some protection against the possibility of a party suddenly changing direction after an election sufficiently to alienate its own MPs, whether list or electorate (cf. Jim Anderton vs. 1980s Labour).
    The problem is simply that for list MPs (unlike electorate MPs) we have no reliable way of apportioning that support between party and MP.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1938 posts Report Reply

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