Time for four-year terms

July 16, 2013

New Zealand is ready for four-year parliamentary terms.

This is the view of the Maxim Institute and one with which I agree.

In a submission (see attached) to the Constitution Advisory Panel released today, Maxim Institute Researcher Kieran Madden argues that a fixed four-year term strikes the right balance between effective government and governmental accountability.

“Voters should have regular opportunities to tighten the reins on their elected representatives, but this must be balanced with the need to allow governments sufficient time to carry out what they promised and respond to problems as they arise,” says Mr Madden.

“With the changes to our constitutional landscape brought about by the move away from first past the post and the powerful majority governments it tended to produce, it is now time to look seriously at shifting the balance to allow more time for governments to govern well.”

“MMP has made enough of a difference to the way the powers of government are distributed and the legislative process carried out that the time is now right for Kiwis to decide this question at a referendum,” says Kieran Madden. . .

Three-year terms are short by international standards.

Even though one-term governments are rare, an election every three years slows down progress, adds uncertainty which impacts on growth, reduces productivity in the public sector and adds costs.

A four-year term would require less public money than three-year terms and it would also  demand less from volunteers who make a significant contribution to election campaigns.

Business prefers four year term

February 19, 2013

An NBR poll of subscribers shows strong support for a four year parliamentary term.

A decisive majority – 88% were in favour of an extra year between elections and only 12% were against the proposal.

That’s not surprising.

NBR subscribers are likely to be involved in business and business doesn’t like uncertainty that comes in election year.

But it’s not only businesses who get frustrated.

A friend who manages a trust which gets public funding to provide social services says the election year hiatus is very frustrating, disrupts services and stalls progress.

Four-year fixed term

February 7, 2013

Prime Minister John Key favours a four-year fixed term for government:

. . .“I think it makes a lot more sense to know when the date is and it makes a lot more sense to have it for four years,” he says.

But Mr Key would need either 75 percent support from MPs or the majority in a referendum. . .

It would probably be easier to get the majority vote in parliament but it should be possible to persuade the public of the benefits.
The main argument against a longer term is that it would reduce the damage that could be inflicted by a bad government.
But we rarely have a one-term government so in effect have at least a six-year term interrupted by an election.
A four-year term would save money for taxpayers, parties and candidates, with three elections in 12 years instead of four.
It would also reduce the frustration and disruption of a shorter election cycle.
Everything goes on  hold in election year, there’s a hiatus as  ministers get to grips with their portfolios, then there’s change and action for about 18 months before it’s election year and everything goes on hold again.
Another year between elections would improve efficiency, save money and give voters a better idea of whether new policies were working before they chose to stick with a government, or not.

Setting the date

February 1, 2013

It’s about 12 24 months since Prime Minister John Key announced the date of  last year’s the 2011 election.

The early announcement came as a surprise and a pleasant change from the usual game-playing and point scoring which the party in government usually employs around the announcement of the election date.

Across the Tasman Prime Minister Julia Gillard has followed his example. She announced a couple of days ago that the Australian election will be on September 14th.

Our PM has signalled he is likely to make an early announcement next year too.

Mr Key said on Thursday he will consider his options over this year’s Christmas break, but is once more likely to announce the election date earlier rather than later.

It might give away a slight example for the government but it’s better for the people tasked with running elections, candidates, party volunteers, other political tragics and the public to have the date set well in advance.

A fixed term is one of the options being considered by the constitutional review which is being carried out.

It is one I favour and I’d also support the suggestion of the fixed term being a four-year one rather than three.

Four year term worth risks

June 17, 2012

Politics is often portrayed in black and white terms – if you support this party you oppose that one.

That ignores the common ground most people and parties can find, to a greater or lesser extent.

You do have to look harder to find sensible ideas in some parties than in others but even NZ First has the odd one.

So it is with the suggestion of Asenati Lole-Taylor, an MP I don’t recall hearing about or from before, that we have four-year parliamentary terms.

There are better grounds than this:

She says New Zealand First has only been back in Parliament for eight months, and as a new MP three years is not enough time for her to advocate for the party.

Ms Lole Taylor says a four-year term would give the party, and its MPs time to explore in detail the policies that a Government introduces.

This is more compelling:

A party member, Denis Taylor, told the conference that over a 20 year period, the need for fewer general elections would save the taxpayer more than $100 million.

I don’t know if that sum is right, but elections are expensive for the taxpayer, parties and candidates. Three every 12 years instead of  four would save money for the taxpayer, parties and candidates.
There are other costs from a three-year term.
A chief executive of a charitable trust who deals with several government departments told me the short electoral cycle is frustrating and disruptive.
Everything goes on  hold in election year, there’s a hiatus as  ministers get to grips with their portfolios, then there’s change and action for about 18 months before it’s election year and everything goes on hold again.
A four-year term would give more time for policies to be bedded in and take effect.
There is the risk of more time for bad policies to do greater harm, but we have few one-term governments and more often than not have a six-year term interrupted waste expensive of an election.

Next election already too close

December 1, 2011

The exact make-up of the new government has yet to be confirmed but the next election already seems too close.

The Herald opines that it’s time to consider a four-year term and I agree.

It takes months for a new government and its ministers to get up to speed which leaves a little more than a year for progress before everything slows down in election year and finally stops altogether during the campaign.

The uncertainty isn’t good for business:

Massey’s senior finance lecturer Dr Alexander Molchanov was part of a team that studied stock market volatility across 50 countries in the six-month lead up to an election and in the year after.

They found countries that hold national elections have more volatile economies than autocracies because investors and businesses are put off by the risks associated with political uncertainty.

The study also revealed that markets do not always settle down the year after an election.

“Export-oriented industries in particular, such as we have in New Zealand, show higher volatility when political risks are high,” says Dr Molchanov.

 That shouldn’t be construed as an argument for no elections but it’s not only business which would benefit from a longer cycle.

A man employed in the social service sector who works with ministries and politicians told me he was frustrated by three yearly elections because just as everyone was getting up to speed the campaign and post-election changes interrupted them.

A slightly longer cycle would help the economy and save money.

It costs millions of dollars to run an election. Adding an extra year to the cycle would mean we’d have to pay for three elections in 12 years rather than four.

A slightly longer cycle would reduce the costs for and demands on volunteers too. Julie at the Hand Mirror gives an insiders’ view on what it’s like to have a candidate in the family and supporters also work very hard during a campaign.

One reason for a shorter term is the constraint it places on governments when we don’t have an upper house. But the election shows that with MMP it would be difficult, almost impossible, for a single party to gain an outright majority.

The consitutional review panel is considering the parliamentary term. The recommendations won’t be binding and if it went to a referendum the public’s disdain for politicians might well find the option of a four-year term would lose.

That would be a pity. Government would be more efficient and slightly less expensive with a four term year and the country would benefit from a slightly longer gap between the interruptions imposed on it by elections.

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