NZ POLITICS DAILY: A three or four year term?

Jon Johansson: Three-year terms make NZers too forgiving on first-term govts

Do we need more governing and less democracy?

That’s the question being put in the proposal to extend the parliamentary term from three to four years. The trade off between democracy and greater governing is worth making according to the ‘political class’, which is almost wholly united over the issue. Across the political spectrum, MPs and commentators seem to favour increasing the time between elections to four years with a fixed election date – see Adam Bennett’s Opposition parties give support to 4 year term.

Many proponents of a longer term seem to think the benefits are self-evident. David Farrar outlines the main argument against a three-year cycle: ‘It gives very little time for Governments to design and implement policies before the politics of election campaigns interfere’ – see: The term of Parliament. You can read other favourable reactions to the idea in various newspaper editorials: the Dominion Post’s Four more years?, the Herald’s Four year term better for country, the Manawatu Standard’s Four-year term makes sense, and the Southland Times’ Three years or more?
 
However there are some who are not accepting the ‘benefits’ of a longer term as a given. Graeme Edgeler does an excellent job of asking the questions that our MPs seem reluctant to ask of each other: ‘Well, too short to do what? What laws that we don’t presently have, do you think we would have today, if we had a four-year term?’ – see: A four-year parliamentary term. Edgeler lists a number of reasons why our governments already have more freedom of action than most other democracies: a single legislature, no entrenched Bill of Rights, a very strong parliamentary whip, no binding referenda, no election primary system, recall elections or a Head of State with veto powers – and he concludes ‘we should be reticent about abandoning the one major democratic check we actually have – our relatively short legislative term’. 
 
Longer parliamentary terms must mean good government, right? Scott Yorke has the international evidence that proves it in Why we must have a four-year parliamentary term
 
I also argue in a blog post that We need more democracy not less. I argued that the less frequent election cycle argument has lost quite a bit of meaning in modern politics where weekly polling and focus groups and massive parliamentary budgets means parties are in ‘permanent campaign’ mode anyhow. If anything, these days democrats should be demanding more frequent elections.
 
Perhaps the most thoughtful analysis of the benefits of the proposal was written in December by Tim Watkin in Parliament's 'short term' thinking – also using the ‘more governing, less politics’ argument. In the comments political scientist Jon Johansson made the important point: ‘Our history shows that we are very forgiving of most first term governments (Nash and Rowling the exceptions), largely because three years is not perceived as long enough. But, if we had a four year term, perhaps then perceptions would shift and results would be demanded earlier because it's one thing to commit to six years for one lot or the other, but eight?’.
 
If the desire of politicians to extend their parliamentary term is seen as self-serving, then so is the Government’s latest decision to continue to exempt Parliament from the Official Information Act. This is a point well made by former PM Geoffrey Palmer in Isaac Davison’s 'Self-interest' drives OIA review. Palmer says, ‘The reason why Parliament has never been included is that MPs don't want it... One has to remember that the Official Information Act, in my experience, is about as popular with ministers as pork in a synagogue’. He therefore has no time for the Government’s ‘not a priority’ argument.
 
Newspaper editorials are also unconvinced by the Government’s protection of MPs from the OIA. The Dominion Post says that arguments against the OIA covering Parliament are ‘poppycock’ – see: The short arm of the law. The editorial zeros in on the real reason why MPs don’t want the OIA to apply to themselves: ‘voters might have been able to compare the overall spending of individual MPs.  It is for this reason, and no other, that MPs of all stripes, have steadfastly resisted making the body that funds them subject to the same rules as other state agencies.  When it comes to themselves, politicians do not want the public knowing how its money is spent’. A Herald editorial is similarly scathing, labelling the MPs’ objections as ‘specious’ and a ‘smokescreen’, and sarcastically noting ‘No time here for the intangible luxuries of democracy ‘ – see: Quashing our right to know a lame insult.
 
The OIA a controversy is also heating up over the Government’s refusal to release information about it’s Hobbit deal with Hollywood – see Newswire’s Govt ordered to release Hobbit documents and Cassandra Mason’s Threats fly over Hobbit document release
 
Other recent items of interest:
 
The Government bailed out investors in South Canterbury Finance, so shouldn’t they intervene in the Mainzeal collapse? Colin Espiner argues that the ‘Government is missing in action over the shock receivership of one of the country’s largest construction companies’ – see: Government must get involved in Mainzeal fiasco
 
There are a large number of post-Waitangi views available. They are evenly divided between the notion that ‘we shouldn’t have to put up with this nonsense’ and ‘it may be painful but protest is an important part of the day and our politics’ camps. Simon Day had probably the most upbeat report saying that with water rights at the top of the agenda, ‘granny gate’ and the Prime Minister warning against the consequences of Maori extremists for New Zealand's national day, Waitangi sounded ready to explode. Instead, yesterday was one of the most peaceful, celebratory Waitangi Days at the Treaty Grounds in years’ – see: That Jubilant atmosphere at Waitangi. Also worth watching is Tova O’Brien’s Meet the Harawiras
 
We should view Maori politics more in terms of class politics (socialist vs capitalist) than race or culture says Paul Buchanan in Maori Socialism versus Maori Capitalism?
 
Apparently most of us are fine with the label that Maori have given those of European descent: Pakeha label ka pai for most. Notably, however, 53% prefer the title ‘New Zealander’ over Pakeha (31%).
 
More governing and less politics also seems to be the call from Tainui’s chief commercial advisor Henry van der Heyden who advocates the abolition of the tribal parliament and executive – see James Ihaka’s Sir Henry calls for windup of Tainui parliament
 
Are the Maori seats only for ‘Maori parties’ to contest? Pita Sharples seems to think so and says that Labour’s recently stated intention to try and win back seats from the Maori Party (‘Placing candidates in Maori seats that are subject to Pakeha leadership, to a Pakeha caucus, to a Pakeha kaupapa’) ‘is tantamount to abolition’ – see Andrea Vance’s Sharples slams Labour Maori seat move. Sharples also doesn’t appear to be willing to give up his leadership position without a fight – see Claire Trevett’s Sharples will fight to hold party leadership
 
Consultant Ryan Malone has some advice for the Government if it wants to survive into a third term, including ‘it’s the economy, stupid’, get the Christchurch rebuild pumping, get some traction on its public sector targets, housing and find a sizeable coalition partner or support party – see: How National can keep the flame burning
 
A drop in the latest unemployment stats is little cause for celebration, as it appears to reflect a contraction in total employment rather than more jobs.  The job market appears to be "shockingly weak" according to economists – see James Weir’s Jobs market weakness 'shocking'. And those signing on for the dole will be amongst the most discriminated  citizens according to UMR research – see Michael Dickison’s  Beneficiaries 'attacked on all sides'
 
There’s a relatively supportive review of TVNZ’s Seven Sharp – surprisingly from Chris Trotter – see: Tone all-important if show to hook young demographic
 
Finally, lefty-liberal Toby Manhire makes a very good argument in favour of privatisation for TVNZ – see: Perhaps now's a good time to sell off TVNZ. But surely the exact same arguments could be made for the 100% sale of the power companies too.
 
Bryce Edwards
 
Today's content:
 
Four-year parliamentary term
Graeme Edgeler (Public Adrdress): A four-year parliamentary term
Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): Why we must have a four-year parliamentary term
The Standard: Against a four year term
Claire Trevett (Herald): Leaders support four year term
Tova O’Brien (TV3): Key pushes for four-year terms
Peter Wilson (Newswire): Key favours four-year Parliamentary term
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): The term of Parliament
Warwick Rasmussen (Manawatu Standard): Editorial – Four-year term makes sense
Will de Cleene (Gonzo): Quid pro quo
Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock): Four-year fixed term
Pete George (Your NZ): Green conflict over four year term?
The Dominion Post: Editorial – Four more years?
Keeping Stock: "Four more years boys..."
Martyn Bradbury (Tumeke): Why a 4 year term would be madness
Pete George (Your NZ): Wayne Mapp on four year terms
 
Waitangi Day and nationhood
Jane Clifton (Listener): Why, why, Waitangi …
Russell Brown (Public Address): What did you do yesterday?
Claire Trevett (Herald): Key wants Waitangi to keep its edge
Claire Trevett (Herald): Key waits on 'Granny-gate'
Integrity talking points: Building a treaty on idealism
Vaimoana Tapaleao (Herald): Kerry's big note to NZ
Claire Trevett (Herald): Key wants Waitangi to keep its edge
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): The PM and Waitangi Day
Tova O’Brien (TV3): Meet the Harawiras
Kate Shuttleworth (Herald): Obama sends Waitangi Day congratulations
Kenneth Setiu (Stuff): How do Kiwis celebrate Waitangi Day?
Vernon Small (Stuff): Waitangi kuia stoush a sideshow
David Kennedy (Local bodies): Waitangi Day Thoughts.
Amelia Wade (Herald): Silver Fern touted as better flag
Murial Newman (NZCPR): Our national day of shame
Martin Devlin (NZCPR): Why "celebrate" Waitangi Day?
Greg Presland (Waitakere News): Waitangi Day - Key gets out the dog whistle
Catherine Delahunty (Frogblog): Reflections of Waitangi Day
 
Maori politics and ethnicity
Paul Buchanan (Kiwipolitico): Maori Socialism versus Maori Capitalism?
Yvonne Tahana (Herald): Tribes talk further payouts
Yvonne Tahana (NZ Herald): Axe iwi parliament, says king's man
 
Novopay and education
Kate Chapman and Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Two-year wait to sort Novopay
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): How to fix school payroll problems
Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): Joyce Reveals Plan For New School Payroll System
John Minto (NZ Herald): Special deal for privileged pupils
Catherine Woulfe (Listener): Documents reveal school system revamp
 
OIA reform
Isaac Davison (Herald): 'Self-interest' drives OIA review
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): NRT on OIA review
Cassandra Mason (Herald): Threats fly over Hobbit document release
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): OIA and Parliament
 
Economy
James Weir (Stuff): Jobs market weakness 'shocking'
Ellen Read and James Weir (Stuff): Unemployment may spike back
Russell Norman (Frogblog): Liam Dann on defending the status quo
Andrea Vance (Stuff): Govt admits job figures 'volatile'
Robert Winter (Idle thoughts): Where is Labour?
Bryan Gould (Herald): NZ swims against exchange rate tide
Peter Lyons (Herald): How we go about inflation
 
Media
Russell Brown (Public Address): Media3 Nights
Caitlin Sykes (Stuff): Unlimited is going digital
Warwick Rasmussen (Manawatu Standard): Hold the knives for Seven Sharp
Diana Wichtel (Listener): Sharp? If only
 
Other
Brian Rudman (Herald): Billboard rule a fun killer
Michael Dickison (Herald): Beneficiaries 'attacked on all sides'
Gordon Campbell (Scoop): On Julia Gillard, and a Holmes footnote
Stuff: Today in politics: Wednesday, February 6
Catherine Harris (Stuff): Ministry stone-walling on SkyCity - Labour
Gordon Campbell (Scoop): On income inequality, and Tunisia
David Fisher (NZ Herald): PM pressed on film piracy
Rachel Glucina (NZ Herald): MP makes no Mustique

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5 Comments & Questions

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The four year term may be OK provided the men and women at the top positions are limited to 2 terms. That way we would get policy change for the benefit of NZ and not policy for re-election.

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Governments are like diapers and should be changed regularly for exactly the same reason.

Give them four years and they'll start to think 5 or 6.

Hell No.

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Yes. Five year terms as in the UK would provide a real chance for new policies and a chance to return to an open, market, liberal society. Or anyway one in which any government is under less pressure from short term political reaction and the election cycle. In the UK full five year terms are really served, with govts going for elections at what appears an optune time. This might or might not be the case in NZ, But I am fairly certain Muldoon would have lost power well before the end of a second five year term and the colonels -McLay, Quigley, Bolger, Freidlander would more likely have succeded in an internal coup.

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Since when are political parties not campaigning, whether in office or in opposition? If anything, the last several decades have demonstrated that many of those whom we elect to represent us have a stronger will to exercise power than to serve their constituents and many simply cannot be trusted. I'll stick with the three year term, thanks, but MMP needs to be dumped along with the system of unelected list MPs.

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A wide review of Parliament is timely, now that MMP has reached a level of maturity .

I'm concerned about the massive increase in legislation being pushed through under urgency.
The role and powers of the Committes need to be reviewed.

A four year term has merits, within a wider set reforms.

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