Editorial: MP deserves independent investigation

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Horan case exposes flaws of party list system.

Mr Horan's lawyer, Paul Mabey, QC, said he had not been shown the information Mr Peters has received and believed, and had not been given an opportunity to reply to it. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Mr Horan's lawyer, Paul Mabey, QC, said he had not been shown the information Mr Peters has received and believed, and had not been given an opportunity to reply to it. Photo / Mark Mitchell

MP Brendon Horan is right: it is not fair. He has been investigated only by his erstwhile party leader, whose verdict is final as far as the party is concerned. That would be fine if Mr Horan's alleged offence was a political one - a policy disagreement, a breach of caucus rules or, heaven forbid, criticism of his leader. But he has been accused of something far more serious: misappropriating money from his elderly mother before her death last year.

The accusation comes from a family member and forensic accountants have been investigating his mother's estate. It sounds serious enough for an adjudication by someone with more legal credentials than the leader of a small political party but Winston Peters has not waited. He has had Mr Horan summarily dismissed from the party.

There was a time when dismissal from the party would have forced him out of Parliament too. Many of the public must wonder why that law, passed in 2001, was allowed to lapse in 2005.

It is hard to see that a list MP, having lost the confidence of the party that put him in Parliament, has any right to continue to draw a public salary.

But there is another principle to consider. Members of Parliament are, or should be, more than a party cipher. They are sworn in to serve the national interest. Each of them brings a mind and judgment to the position they have been given. They should feel an allegiance to the public beyond their party.

This principle was easier to believe when all MPs had their own electorate; they would not have won it without their party identity but at least they represented something besides a political organisation. The adoption of proportional representation has written parties into electoral law, put them at the centre of the system and let them fill list seats with no reference to a wider electorate.

They can bring whomever they want into the House but once they put people there, and the clerk of the House swears them in, the party should not have the power to evict them. The better procedure would be - and this would seem particularly proper in Mr Horan's case - that the party must apply to the Speaker of the House to have the MP removed.

That would bring a more independent judgment to bear on a case of alleged conduct unbecoming a member of Parliament. It would avoid the risk that the member's leader and party are taking precipitate action for their own political purposes rather than giving the member a fair hearing.

Mr Horan's lawyer, Paul Mabey, QC, said he had not been shown the information Mr Peters has received and believed, and had not been given an opportunity to reply to it. Others have noted that the allegations against Mr Horan posed particular problems for NZ First because the party finds the core of its support among the elderly.

By acting quickly, Mr Peters has probably minimised any damage to the party and there can be little sympathy for Mr Horan on the basis of what was said in his mother's will. Nor can there be much sympathy for him over his summary dismissal from NZ First. He put his name on that party's list knowing the party is Mr Peters' creation and remains more beholden to its leader than any party the country has seen.

If Mr Horan has nothing to offer the public in answer to a family member's allegations he ought to resign from Parliament. If he does not, there is little that can be done about it under the House's rules. It would be better and fairer if someone could adjudicate.

- NZ Herald

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