Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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Legal Beagle: Absent Members

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  • George Darroch,

    I/S posts on the subject, dealing with much of what has been discussed here, and concludes by saying

    Graeme suggests simply making unjustified absence a contempt of Parliament. Its an elegant solution, which recognises that MPs get to regulate themselves, and it doesn't require any law changes. At the same time, we need to be careful not to surrender John Wilkes' victory, and let Parliament rather than voters determine its membership. Censure and fines are one thing, but the power to unseat a member is not something that should be left to politicians; if we want that as an ultimate sanction, then s55(1)(a) Electoral Act will need to be amended with an appropriate threshold.

    Which sounds very reasonable to me, at least in principle. I'll wait for details before I endorse any such solution fully.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    as someone who at one time voted Alliance with my list vote, only to see Alamein Kopu paid $70K a year not turn up to work, then to refuse to represent the party she was a List MP for, for more than two years, I would disagree that simply being able to vote them out every general election is sufficient as a check against this sort of behaviour.

    I always feel an odd compunction to defend Alamein Kopu when she is brought up in circumstances like these. Her position was ultimately a reasonably principled one.

    Ms Kopu felt she was in Parliament as a Māori woman to represent Māori women. She accepted that she wasn't the important part in this (at 12 on the Alliance list, who had heard of her?), but she felt that what she represented was important (people voted for the Alliance in the knowledge that if they got X votes there would be two Māori women MPs representing the party, and more Māori women in Parliament than otherwise).

    She offered to resign if she could be replaced by a Māori woman. This isn't how the law works, and Jim didn't like the suggestion, but still. She then went for a while not turning up, but ultimately did re-start, and was the first/only MP who made a practice of only speaking in Māori in the chamber (and for that matter, in media interviews).

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

  • Andre Alessi,

    Ms Kopu felt she was in Parliament as a Māori woman to represent Māori women. She accepted that she wasn't the important part in this (at 12 on the Alliance list, who had heard of her?), but she felt that what she represented was important (people voted for the Alliance in the knowledge that if they got X votes there would be two Māori women MPs representing the party, and more Māori women in Parliament than otherwise).

    I don't know about that. I mean, I certainly understand that that is how Kopu presented what occurred, but the events at the time, and subsequently, never really bore out her version. She was quite adamant that she had a huge amount of support in the community that actively supported her wish to go independent, and thus justify the fact that she was being paid to stay in parliament.

    I don't think this would have been such a problem except for the fact that Kopu's voting record after she left the Alliance was not consistent with the Alliance's policies, so there really was a negative effect on the efficacy of the votes of people like myself-we suddenly had one less MP representing our interests in parliament, and no way to rectify that situation until the next election. (Mana Wahine supported the National goverment most of the time, and it would be hard to argue that that was the political wish of most Alliance voters OR Maori women pre-Maori Party.)

    There were several attempts at polling Kopu's supposed electorate (held at the time by Tuariki John Delamere) to see if this groundswell of support she talked about was a significant as she presented, and virtually every one came back negative. The final nail in the coffin though, was her 1.7% electoral vote tally in the next election-it's hard to argue she could have been completely ignorant of how badly she was doing representing what she saw as "her" electorate prior to the fact.

    Devonport, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 864 posts Report Reply

  • Grassed Up,

    "Lockwood Smith doesn't need to make a late submission to the Law Commission, and wait for the resulting legislation to traipse through Parliament; he can write a letter to the Standing Orders Committee asking them to consider whether wagging from the House should be a contempt of Parliament."

    So an errant MP is found to be in contempt of the House ... and then what?
    (1) The are censured by the House?
    (2) They have to apologise to the House?
    (3) They have to pay a fine to the House (if the House actually has the power to fine, which it probably doesn't)?
    (4) The House imprisons them for the remainder of the session (i.e. to the next election)?

    Because that is it in terms of punishments that the House can, in law, impose.

    Now cue debate as to whether s.55 of the Electoral Act 1993 has overridden Parliament's historical privilege to expel its members ...

    Since Nov 2008 • 12 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Now cue debate as to whether s.55 of the Electoral Act 1993 has overridden Parliament's historical privilege to expel its members ...

    I take it you read Pundit...

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    So an errant MP is found to be in contempt of the House ... and then what?
    ...
    (3) They have to pay a fine to the House (if the House actually has the power to fine, which it probably doesn't)?

    I would note that the question of whether the House has the power to fine is likely different from the question of whether the House has the power to fine its members (or could give itself that power in Standing Orders).

    Which isn't to say it has the power to do either, but the answers to the questions would be arrived at after taking account of different considerations.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    Graeme, saw you on last night's Court Report. I love that programme; it makes the law seem really exciting and, well, just.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3202 posts Report Reply

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