Quelle surprise – the Justice and electoral Select Committee has not had a single submission in support of the waka jumping Bill:
The Ardern-Peters Government should withdraw its Bill that enables party leaders to dismiss an MP from Parliament following unanimous opposition to it, National’s Electoral Law spokesperson Dr Nick Smith says.
“All three governing parties appeared shocked by the strength of the 43 submissions in opposition to the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill.
“We have had over 20 constitutional law experts from four universities, the Human Rights Commission, the Law Society, two former Speakers, former Green MPs and even the Clerk of the House of Representatives express strong concerns about it.
“There was not a single submission that supported the Bill’s purpose to allow a party leader to dismiss an elected constituency MP, and only two supporting the provision for list MPs.
“The major objection from submitters is that it increases the power of party leaders at the expense of MPs and voters, that it will have a chilling effect on the free speech of MPs in Parliament, and that it breaches the Bill of Rights.
MPs are selected by their parties but elected by the public.
A party can expel an MP from its party but it does not, and should not, have the right to expel one from parliament. That is the voters’ right.
“Other concerns include the effect of undermining the requirement for governments to retain the confidence of the House, the damage it will do to New Zealand’s reputation on democracy and human rights, and preventing the evolution of new political parties.
“This Bill has become an early test to as whether the Coaliton Government takes the parliamentary and select committee process seriously.
“It would be breathtakingly arrogant for the Government to pass legislation – particularly on constitutional and electoral matters against this unanimous chorus of submissions opposing it.
“The fundamental problem with this Bill is that it has never been about improving our Parliament democracy but about propping up this fragile government.
“We must not undo centuries-old democratic principles for the vain ambition of Mr Peters to have absolute power over his New Zealand First MPs. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Dr Smith says.
The Labour Party was forced to swallow this particular rat last time it needed Winston Peters’ support to stay in government, having done it once it might not find it quite so hard to swallow it again.
But this must be a very difficult rat for the Green Party to digest when it argued against it so strongly the first time and its MPs will know how strongly its members, including former co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons argued so strongly against it:
It breaches the Bill of Rights. It denies freedom of speech and association. It is contrary to international and NZ precedent. It is opposed by an impressive array of senior legal, constitutional and political experts. The Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill – or “waka-jumping bill” as it is better known – is unnecessary to address any real problem.
Integrity cannot be legislated for. It is a matter of conscience and judgement. In some cases leaving one’s party is an act of integrity – as when the party has departed from the policies it took to the election, or has abused proper process. In other cases, it may be just self-serving political expediency. Normally the law has the sense not to intervene here. Personal judgements will differ on whether an action is carried out with integrity and only the voters can be the judge of that. In our system of three-year terms, they don’t have to wait long for the opportunity and in the past they have exercised it, generally returning members who changed their allegiance on well founded principle, and getting rid of the opportunists.
Dissent is a valuable part of the political process. Without it, MPs are just clones of their leader. Having dealt with it as co-leader of the Green Party caucus at times, between 1999 and 2009, I know uncomfortable it can be but the remedy is inclusiveness and listening and wide discussion, not shutting down the political process. . .
David Farrar was among those who also made a well reasoned submission strongly opposing the Bill:
. . . Outside the two major parties, every new party in Parliament under MMP (bar ACT) has got here through current MPs defecting. This bill will protect incumbent parties and prevent that natural evolution of new parties.
The history of New Zealand is you can’t just lump every MP who leaves a party in together. For every Alamein Kopu you have a John A Lee. For every NZ Independent Coalition party you have the New Labour Party.
Parties have splits. MPs fall out. There are disagreements on policies. This is part of politics. And the NZ public have proven very able at sorting it all out at general elections. Our democracy will not be well served by a law that gives party leaders and their caucuses a power previously reserved for voters, to remove an MP from Parliament.
The Green Party has always prided itself on its integrity. This is a big test for that claim and one which it looks like, contrary to its principles and the strong feelings of its members, it is about to fail.
This is not, as the Bill’s name would have us believe about integrity.
It is the very opposite.
It is about nothing more than Winston Peters’ fear at least one of his caucus will tire of asking how high? every time he says jump.