Principles pay price of power

July 27, 2018

The Green Party has paid for power with the loss of its principles in supporting the waka jumping legislation.

. . .Labour promised to support the waka jumping legislation in its coalition agreement with NZ First, but the legislation is not covered in its agreement with the Green Party.

However, a clause in the agreement seemingly holds the Greens to supporting any legislation not specifically flagged in the coalition talks, meaning the Greens MPs feel they have to vote for the waka jumping bill. . .

Have they voted for every piece of government legislation so far and will they continue to do so?

Didn’t they vote against the CPTTP? If they could stick to their principles then, when they were in the wrong, why not now when they’d be in the right?

It’s understood that the Green negotiators were asked to produce a list of potential NZ First legislation they could not agree with during coalition talks, and did not think to include Waka Jumping as it had been so long since the law had been an issue.

That was at best naive.

Former Green co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, who was part of the negotiating team, said earlier this year the agreement did not in fact force the Greens into supporting the bill.

Then why are they doing it?

Green MP Eugenie Sage said “we don’t like it” but it was “very important” to one of the coalition parties.

“It is a dead rat they we have to swallow,” Sage said.

The Greens have long opposed such legislation. . .

Proponents argue that it maintains the proportionality of Parliament while opponents say it stifles democracy.

If maintaining proportionality was so important, National would have got another list MP when Peters won the seat of Northland. Instead of which NZ First got another MP.

National MP Nick Smith said the Greens had “sold their soul” and were “trashing their core values.”

“We’ve never before had a party saying it opposed a bill – leat alone a bill that makes changes to our electoral law and constitution where they are oppose to it but are going to vote it anyway.

“This is the Green Party selling its soul for power,” Smith said.

“They are the last party I would expect to do this.”

He goes further in a media release:

Government changes to New Zealand MMP electoral law enabling a party leader to dismiss an MP would break the constitutional law Allied Powers put in place following the end of the Second World War, National’s Electoral Law spokesperson Dr Nick Smith says.

“The Government cannot justify this draconian law change on the basis of MMP. Germany has had MMP for over 70 years and has no such provisions. In fact, the Human Rights Commission has drawn to Parliament’s attention that it would be ironic and wrong for New Zealand to have insisted on specific democratic protections in Germany, but to be breaching those protections at home,” Dr Smith says.

It is not just Germany that has constitutional protections for MPs’ free speech. The European Court has over-ridden similar laws like those being proposed for New Zealand as undemocratic. The Supreme Court in Papua New Guinea struck down similar laws there in 2010.

New Zealand is putting itself in the company of totalitarian states like Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Sierra Leone with these electoral law changes.

That isn’t company any country, government or party that stands up for democratic rights would want to be in.

In these countries, Members of Parliament have been dismissed for challenging corruption in their own Government, for participating in a press conference without their leaders consent and for voting in Parliament differently to how their leaders instructed them. The Government is opening up the risk of this happening in New Zealand.

“New Zealanders should be deeply concerned that changes are being made to our electoral law that would be illegal and unconstitutional in most parts of the world. At a time when autocratic rulers are on the rise, New Zealand should be strengthening and not weakening our protections for democracy and free speech.

“This draconian bill that the Government accepts will have a ‘chilling effect on the expression of dissenting views by MPs’ must be abandoned.”

The select committee received submission after submission from legal experts, academics and a broad cross-section of people concerned for this assault on democracy.

And all because New Zealand First’s leader Winston Peters is so insecure and distrustful of his caucus.

Labour swallowed the dead rat in coalition negotiations. Green Party MPs are facing up to swallowing it now so the legislation will go through.

Their members won’t be happy but they are the ones who wouldn’t have countenanced the party going with National.

Had they agreed to a blue-green government they would have got several conservation gains, including the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.

Instead of which they’re watching their MPs dine on a large dead rat and wondering what other principles they might sacrifice as the price of power.


Not a single supportive submission

May 4, 2018

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.


Environment not preserve of left

January 3, 2015

The Green Party continues to isolate itself on the left of the political spectrum:

. . . Since the election, several high profile commentators – including the businessman, Gareth Morgan – have suggested the Greens ditch some of their left-leaning policies. . .

Radio New Zealand invited Mr Morgan to take part in a discussion panel along with the Greens’ co-leader Metiria Turei and her predecessor Jeanette Fitzsimons.

Mr Morgan argued that the Green Party’s stance means they could only ever go into Government with Labour.

“I want to see the environment represented inside the tent. I don’t want the environment to have about a 50 percent chance of being in power.”

The environment is represented in the current government. The BlueGreens are a strong group within the National Party and caucus.

He said many middle-of-the-road voters cared about the environment but won’t vote for the Green Party because of its more left-wing policies.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei says that approach would cost them a significant amount of support.

The failure to moderate the party’s radical left social and economic agenda is costing it support.

The Green Party was one of the losers in last year’s election.

With Labour doing so badly it ought to have picked up support but it didn’t. If it can’t increase it’s vote when Labour is at its nadir then it will have a great deal of difficulty doing it as Labour’s support improves.

“You cannot just isolate one aspect as a silo and expect that that will have an influence across the whole of the programme.”

She said the party’s economic, social, and environmental policies are all interconnected.

“We simply will not and cannot … give up on our value set that recognises ecological wisdom, social justice, and the economy as an opportunity and a tool for improving on both.” . .

The environment, economy and social issues are inter-related but none of them are the preserve of the left.

National has followed a moderate path which has helped foster economic growth and improved social outcomes as well as introducing policies to protect and enhance the environment.

The hard left-wing environmental, economic and social policies the Greens favour are expensive and impractical.

By hampering growth and entrenching dependence they would create more problems than they solve and reduce the ability to afford better environmental protection and enhancement.


A wee bit too clever?

July 1, 2014

Politics is hard on families and I respect Holly Walker’s decision to put her family first by deciding to resign.

Her decision to remain as the candidate for Hutt South is somewhat less laudable.

Since Jeanette Fitzsimons lost Coromandel, the Green party hasn’t even pretended to be interested in winning electorates.

I’ve heard their candidates tell meetings to not vote for them, vote for the Labour man or woman, they’re only interested in the party vote.

Like it or not, that’s what MMP allows.

But to have an MP who has stated she will resign from parliament at the end of the term still stand as a candidate in a seat is a new twist of the system.

It’s not unusual to have people stand in seats they can’t win.

Plenty stand in seats for the sake of the party knowing they won’t win nor can they expect to get in on the list. They are taking one for the team in the hope of increasing the party vote.

But this is the first time a list MP who has announced she won’t be in the next parliament still plans to campaign in a seat with the deliberate intent of neither winning it nor returning to parliament.

There are obvious advantages for the party – they have a candidate with profile and the ability to get publicity in a way open to MPs but not so much to a candidate, and who is being paid by the taxpayer.

But what’s in it for the people of Hutt South?

Nothing but another example of MMP’s faults.

The Green Party engineered the early entry of Russel Norman into parliament when he first became co-leader so he could campaign as an MP with the benefits and pay that carried.

That was manipulating the system but at least he was fully intending to be an MP after the next election.

This smells worse than that.

Walker would be paid until the end of the parliamentary term without being a candidate and even if she wasn’t standing in a seat she could still campaign for the party until the election.

So it’s not that there’s any extra cost involved.

It’s more an extra dose of duplicity.

Not trying to win because it’s the party vote that counts is one thing, standing without wanting to win is another.

In the normal course of events a candidate who didn’t expect tow in would be delighted is s/he did but obviously Walker wouldn’t be.

The chances might be slim, and if the good folk of Hutt South catch on to what’s going on, they’ll be even slimmer.

And that’s where she and the party might be being a wee bit too clever.

They might not like the smell of this and decide to give their party votes to a party which stands candidates who genuinely want to be in parliament.


H is for . . .

June 5, 2014

H is for hurry and that is what David Cunliffe appears to be in.

He wants to scarp the coat tail rule that enables parties which win seats to bring other MPs in even if they don’t get 5% of the vote, and he wants to do it within 100 days of getting into government.

Why the rush?

There will be nearly three years until the next election when the law change would apply. That’s plenty of time to draw up legislation, open it to public submission, let it go through the select committee process, report back to parliament and gain the cross-party support which any change to electoral law should have.

H is also for hypocrisy and that what Cunliffe is exhibiting.

He was part of successive governments which were supported by Jim Anderton against whom Labour didn’t try to compete to win the electorate and who, at least in the early days, brought other MPs in on his coat tails.

He was part of successive governments which benefited from Peter Dunne’s support and those of the MPs who came in on his coat tails – even though he won the seat through the votes of National Party supporters.

He was a senior member of the party which didn’t try too hard to win the Coromandel seat which enabled Jeanette Fitzsimons to win as insurance should the Green Party not reach the 5% threshold.

He didn’t worry about the coat-tailers then and is only making a fuss now because of the Internet Mana deal.

Yet he’s not sufficiently worried to take a stand and say he won’t enter a coalition with them which is an equally blatant example of hypocrisy.

While I agree the IMP deal is a perversion of MMP, democracies don’t change electoral law to get rid of potential rivals for power.

They leave it for the voters to exercise their discretion at the election.

I hope there will be more than enough who do that wisely and foil the IMP plan to gain power by manipulating MMP.

If they don’t, so be it.

Cunliffe can cobble together a coalition of GIMPs and try to introduce changes to the electoral law which would sabotage at least one of the parties on whose votes he’ll depend for a majority.

H is also for help and that’s what we’ll all need should that be the sort of government we get.


Lowering the tone

May 23, 2014

Debate in parliament can be robust, it can also be personal and in the past week there’s been a lowering of the tone with a descent into nastiness:

NZ First leader Winston Peters is known for his expensive suits but he triggered a Savile row of a different nature when he turned on ex-NZ First MP Brendan Horan this week. To say there is bad blood between the two is an insult to leukemia. The loathing runs deeper than the Marianas Trench, as wide as the mouth of the Amazon.

But to do as Peters did, and to describe Horan as “the Jimmy Savile of NZ politics”  – and to do so not once but twice in what was clearly a calculated insult – takes it to a whole new level. Savile, the deceased British “celebrity” who sexually preyed on young, often handicapped, girls, is the nuclear option of insults. It all looked a bit desperate. You cannot make such a comment without backing it up with some evidence.

Yet Peters not only failed to do so, but failed to front in Parliament the following day, when Horan had signalled he would reveal his own deep scandal about NZ First.

It left the rest of the NZ First MPs – who tend to resemble a bunch of ageing Social Creditors with anger management issues at the best of times – making a shambles of trying to use Parliament’s standing orders to block their former colleague.

In the end, Horan’s revelations Peters was using the leader’s budget for electioneering and campaigning expenses, namely software and staff, proved something of a damp squib. It is still far from clear NZ First is doing anything wrong with its Parliamentary funding, although no doubt the party does – like all the others – push it right up to the edge of the rules. . .

New Zealand wasn’t the only party guilty of lowering the tone:

Back in February, Trans-Tasman (14/1933) called attention to what it saw as a “crusty, even nasty, undertone” in political debate. This week the tone was definitely nasty, and it wasn’t an undertone. Winston Peters was slugging it out with his onetime colleague, now independent MP, Brendan Horan labelling him the “Jimmy Savile of NZ politics.” Judging by the sycophantic responses from other NZ First MPs, it was a rehearsed line to put down Horan, who had been trying to table NZ First board meeting minutes, telling Parliament they “point to improper use of taxpayer money.” Just as unpleasant was the tweet from Green MP Jan Logie – “John Key says Bill English has produced as many Budgets as children. Begs the question who he has f&%d to produce it.” Logie subsequently apologised for the comment, but it showed how far current Green MPs have moved from the high standards of former leaders the late Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons. . .

It’s not only far from the standards of the past, it’s a long way from the current code of conduct for Green MPs and the lowering of tone has resulted in a call for MPs to mind their manners:

Prime Minister John Key is warning MPs to behave following what he describes as “a nasty streak” running through Parliament. . . 

Mr Key said on Thursday that politicians risk offending the public with nasty behaviour or mindless tweets.

“Political parties actually need to think about that a little bit. We’re seeing tweets that I think have been wholly inappropriate, we’ve seen all sorts of allegations been made that are unfounded.

“It’s one thing to have parliamentary privilege – it’s quite another thing to actually say those things, because actually they do have repercussions, they do send ripples through the community.”

Mr Key said a tweet is no different from a media statement.

The sort of nastiness that’s been exhibited in the past week is what puts a lot of people off politics.

It adds to the negative view many have of politicians.

And it puts the focus on the petty and personal instead of the principles and policies which really matter.


Focus, former MPs bound to fail

December 1, 2012

Quite why I was in parliament buildings in 1996 I can’t recall.

But I do remember being in the office of an MP with several others including Ross Meurant who had resigned from the National Party and formed the Right of Centre Party when his electorate disappeared with the introduction of MMP.

He told us he’d formed the party to give National a coalition partner. We told him it wouldn’t work.

We were right.

Since then he’s occupied himself in a variety of ways:

Meurant was elected onto the Rodney District Council in 1998. However, his time with the Rodney District Council was short-lived: the entire council was dissolved by the Minister of Local Government after an acrimonious relationship between the general manager and Meurant culminated in a split within the council.

Between 1999 and 2004 Meurant was engaged by parliamentary services as a part time adviser on agriculture, forestry, fishing and racing taxation policy to Winston Peters, . . .

He’s now on the board of another new party – Focus New Zealand (which was, until its first meeting last week, the New Zealand Rural Party).

Another ex-MP, Sandra Goudie is on the board with him.

She won the Coromandel seat from then-Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, served three terms then had the good sense to announce she wouldn’t contest the seat last year.

That good sense has now deserted her.

If either of them had learned anything from their tenure as MPs they would be aware of the time, energy, money and members needed to run a party and win elections. They would also know they won’t succeed.

Perhaps they didn’t realise that when they were in parliament and if they did they can’t have shared it with their fellow board members among whom is  former Federated Farmers Dairy chairman Lachlan McKenzie.

They might attract some votes from the disenchanted and deluded. But unless they can work a miracle which no other new party without a sitting MP has managed Focus NZ will join the long list of wannabe MPs and parties that have come and gone without getting anywhere near parliament.


%d bloggers like this: