Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: Democracy vs governing: A 4-year term?

Photo / File
Photo / File

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.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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