Friday, August 16, 2013

Gerry Eckhoff: Independent MPs

At first glance the eventual loss of so many Otago institutions such as the Invermay research facility and Hillside work shops (where railway wagons were built) has little to do with the way we elect our political representatives to Parliament. (It actually has a lot to do with the fact that only railway wagons were built there)

 In fact it has everything to do with our electoral system allowing political parties to appoint – not our, but their representatives. The fault lies directly with the Political Party system of governance of this country. National, Labour, Greens, NZ First etc. all exercise total control of who they will accept into Parliament and not the voters. The voters elect the parties but the MPs are chosen by the party.

If all MPs were elected as independent members of Parliament (as they once were) it is dollars to doughnuts that the Invermay research centre would not be impacted as the Government would need the support and votes of the Otago representatives to support and pass any legislation especially where the ayes and noes are finely balanced as they are with this Parliament. It goes without saying that all the current opposition party/s MPs will describe the loss of any work place or institution as an outrageously short sighed decision taken by those who cannot be trusted to open or close a corner dairy. It’s the opposition’s job to condemn any closures, anywhere, and for any reason. This is a result of the adversarial system of governance within the New Zealand Parliament.

The MP must always weigh up the consequences of voting against or even speaking out against their party’s policy which impacts on their regions future for fear of loosing (a) their current list position within the party and worse (b) the nomination for their respective seats prior to the 2014 general election. The political party machines of all hues take a very dim view of those MPs with the temerity to publicly challenge their party’s position on behalf of their constituents. Those with a list position with National of 40 or more are in real danger of falling off the list completely which may not necessarily be a bad thing for the regions influence in Wellington.  Some years ago a few MPs did speak out as their conscience dictated and were summarily dismissed to the back bench or were to remain persona non grata.  The names of Derek Quigley, John A Lee, Marilyn Waring, Mike Minogue, and Norman Jones conjure up images of strong minded people who chose to sacrifice their Parliamentary careers to uphold their duty to their constituents over their obligations to their party. They (collectively) would have also made a damned fine cabinet.

Political parties promote form over substance in Parliamentary debates which are often not very relevant to everyday life in NZ yet nothing changes - even under MMP.

MMP was meant to be a game changer to our Parliamentary system yet all that has happened is that now seven party leaders get to state their opinions versus only two prior to MMP. Their respective teams dutifully follow the leader.

Just how an MMP Parliament with its supposed diversity of opinion could have appropriated  $34 million for a boat race between four contestants whose total worth rivals some countries total income or GDP -  is worthy of reflection. Surely a couple of independently minded Government MPs could have discovered that the Americas Cup is the province of the super wealthy who probably don’t need a subsidy from somebody in NZ earning $15 dollars per hour.

The vote on the “more pokies for a Convention Centre bill” in Auckland is another case in point. Social issues such as liquor and gaming laws, abortion, prostitution etc are traditionally a conscience vote. What happened with the Sky City casino deal was that all National Party MPs suddenly but temporarily discovered they all had exactly the same conscience as the Prime Minister during the reading of the bill. Had Parliament been full of independent MPs - that bill was likely never to have passed the first reading. Has the question ever been asked as to what exactly is wrong with MPs obedience to conscience over their affiliation to any given party?

The Labour Party has a rule that says their MPs cannot vote against a caucus decision; so out with independence of thought, and in with dependence on the leader’s thoughts.

A Parliament of independent MPs is likely to vote down a GCSB type bill by a huge majority whereas under the current system it will pass by one vote. All that is needed to stop that bill is one independently minded MP from National to say no, yet there appears to be none. Of course one time honoured method of a Government controlling their caucus is to appoint as many Ministers outside cabinet as is humanly possible. Racing, Auckland Affairs, Women’s Affairs, Consumer Affairs etc.

Ms Jacqui Dean the current MP for Waitaki needs only to make some independent and grumpy noises about the GCSB bill and being forty something on the party list in the same breath -  for something to happen.  I’m sure it will very rapidly cross the Prime Ministers mind that a Minister for Wilding Pine control has real merit and who better than a grumpy MP from Otago. That’s how our current Parliamentary system works where independence of thought and action is not highly valued whereas compliance with the view that all MPs are in Parliament thanks only to their respective party’s selection process - is entirely the accepted wisdom.

I’m not at all sure where the poor old voters fit in this wonderful world of Political Party domination through MMP. We might just as well revert back to “first past the post” system.

I became an MP due entirely to the whims of the very party process which I now challenge.

All of the above comes back to the question as to whether the present system delivers effective regional representation in Parliament.

Does Otago need independent representatives in Parliament? Absolutely we do, and with 2014 looming maybe we should consider telling the resident foxes to hand back the keys to the Wellington hen house.

Readers may be interested to learn that one week after I wrote this article Ms Jacqui Dean (42 on Nationals list)  was  appointed as a private secretary to both the PM and the Minister of Local Government - the appointment of a Minister for Wilding Pine control is clearly a step too far even for the PM!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

independent candidates work for who ever votes them in. Party politicians swear eligence to their party first so that means if you vote for one of them you are an employer who`s employee is working for a third party. Can`t think of any other employer who would put up with that.