Friday, February 8, 2013

Stephen Franks: 4 year term for Parliament?

I've been asked what I think of extending the Parliamentary term. 4 years would be better for many reasons. It would enable politicians to do necessary things that need more than three years to prove themselves. But what would they actually use it for? In a campaign for lengthening the term they should be asked what they could do in four years that they can't do in three. But who will have the courage to float examples? The examples will be contentious, and recycled as a threat to floating voters at the next election. 

If we did get an extra year on the term I’m not sure we have enough courageous types (outside the Maori and Green ranks –  religiously opposed to most things modern) to use the extra period for useful reform.

Still, a four year term could have dynamics that would allow major parties to be less concerned about the floating middle. They might drop some knee jerk (deceitful) opposition to policies they know are best at least during  the first couple of years of a term.

But I do not want to see anything much in play constitutionally while the dominant driver is centrifugal racial appeasement without any countervailing centripetal force.

I’ve written a number of times (including as a member of the last Constitutional Select Committee) about the dangers of constitutional change when people are free of external threat, or internal exhaustion from strife. Both lead to a focus on the common values and interests of people who share a land. The people at such times know why we must cooperate and live by rules that are fair, and not just designed to advantage those who get their hands on the levers of power.

Constitutional change when a country is fat and complacent becomes an elite contest for provisions to place pet policies and prejudices above political debate by the rude masses, entrenching them so that future democratic majorities are snookered by lawyers and courts. The vast EU wishlist of provisions provides an awful example.

While our dominant constitutional discourse comes from historically ignorant racialists, and people whose experience has encouraged them to make ultimatum their main tactic, we’d be nuts to throw balls in the air for constitutional change. As the Islamists are showing around the world, the feckless majority often capitulate to Harawira  style determination (and guts).

Yet I’d probably be supporting 4 years if we’d gone back to something like FPP where it was easier to dump the buggers who ignore constituent opinion. MMP has entrenched the power of the unrepresentative holders of the balance of power, and the power of party bosses.

I’ll wait to see if there are aspects I've not considered. It may be that this is a well-considered ploy to highlight the necessity to put anything serious that comes out of the constitutional review, to a referendum. If so, well done.

On current indications however I predict that people will not have enough trust in current leadership to make the change, with good reason.

The Waitangi demonstrations of capitulation in all parties to people who are unprincipled but tougher than them, and more determined,  warns us all subconsciously that we may need to change our leaders more often than they want, or is even good for us.

Any linking of the term question with other constitutional proposals connected with the Treaty will remind people that our leaders and our constitutional debate cannot avoid placating racialists. They'll wonder whether the people who would get the increased power of longer in office may not really be the champions we subconsciously look for, to stand up for us.

Stephen Franks, a former MP and principal of the Wellington law firm Franks and Oglivie, blogs at 


Brian said...

As Stephen states unless we get rid of this present electoral system whereby the Minority rule the majority and return to FPP. Any discussion upon the length of our Parliament is merely academic.

We have made our electoral bed by voting in MMP; undemocratic as it is. But unless our general public recognise that democracy and MMP cannot exist together we shall have unstable governments.
Until we have the right to vote all members into our Parliament; we will continue to endure a minority type dictatorship, with an on going increase in Maori political domination.

Russell said...

Since I have to get a six monthly W.O.F for my fine old car, I think a 6 month review for the MPs -well alright a yearly review- would be appropriate. If you don't pass in the eyes of your electorate, out you go and try and find a job, with a wage anything like you got as an MP, in the real workaday world.
It's a tough world out there, and it's hard to get a job when you have no qualifications and limited intelligence.

Richard said...

I should have read Stephen before voting on the leading page for the 4 year term. Stephen and Brian are absolutely correct, without the pup we were sold (MMP) getting euthanased and the return to FPP it is academic. While I also sympathise with Russell's view, realistically we get Party lines not individual MP's views. So it's the general election which moderates. Interesting last sentence Russell. Do you mean MPs have "no qualifications and limited intelligence"? You may be correct but a little tough on Stephen! (The Mainzeal debacle may support your view though? Perhaps it's capability, rather than intelligence?)

Anonymous said...

I would not be averse to a four year term provided that NZ has a written constitution, not based on the Treaty of Waitangi. I dont want it based on the Treaty of Waitangi because that would give Maori Elitists more power than the remainder of the population. There would need to be other safeguards also re immigration policies and that people coming to New Zealand to make their home be subject to NZ Law and customs as we would be in their home countries

Denis McCarthy said...

On no account should we agree to an extension of the Parliamentary term before we have Direct Democracy provisions in place.
If we, the citizens, had the power to block unmandated legislation and to initiate binding referenda then even a five year term would not be unrealistic.

As for MMP - well as other writers have pointed out the List MPs seem to provide an element which we did not properly anticipate. We only agreed to MMP because at the time it seemed more genuinely democratic than FPP.

I don't agree with returning to FPP but see STV as a more democratic option. Each and every MP would have to be elected by someone. In addition I would be quite happy to see honest and competent Independent MPs elected whose first, second and third priorities would be to represent their constituents and to consider the general welfare of the country irrespective of what the current political leaders wanted.
Genuine democracy. That would be a nice change.!