COMMENT:

The Green Party's support for Andrew Little's Orwellian Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill reveals its complete lack of power in the Government's coalition.

Known as the waka-jumping bill, Little's legislation allows a party leader to have any of their MPs expelled from Parliament for challenging the party line.

A leader needs the backing of only two-thirds of the party's MPs for the expulsion to succeed.

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Little says the bill is about maintaining the integrity of MMP by stopping MPs elected for one party becoming independent or supporting another.

But often when MPs go rogue, it is the rebel MP keeping faith with voters, and the party leader breaking their promises to you and me.

Had such a law been in place historically, David Lange could have used it to get rid of Jim Anderton for opposing Rogernomics, and Anderton could have expelled Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons when they indicated the Greens were leaving his Alliance in 1997.

Jim Bolger could have dispatched Winston Peters, and Helen Clark any Māori MP who opposed her foreshore and seabed law.

The bill clashes with the famous — even cliché — statement that an MP "owes you not his industry only, but his judgment".

If a National MP genuinely believed Ruth Richardson's 1991 benefit cuts or Bill English's 2015 benefit increases were bad for New Zealand, they should have been able to vote against them without Bolger or John Key having them kicked out of Parliament.

Similarly, current Labour MPs should be able to criticise Jacinda Ardern's broken promise over oil and gas exploration without her being able to have them expelled.

Every prominent constitutionalist in New Zealand has attacked Little's legislation as undemocratic.

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Former Green MPs have been among the most vociferous.

The party's doyen, Fitzsimons, says the bill "breaches the Bill of Rights, denies freedom of speech and association, is contrary to international and NZ precedent, … is opposed by an impressive array of senior legal, constitutional and political experts [and] is unnecessary to address any real problem".

Donald, speaking about an earlier proposal before his death in 2005, said waka-jumping legislation "is designed to gag outspoken MPs and crush dissent" and evoked Hitler's Germany to underline his vehemence.

Andrew Little. Photo / File
Andrew Little. Photo / File

All of the Green's current MPs oppose Little's legislation but the party's leadership has nonetheless decided to make it law, claiming their confidence and supply agreement with Labour forces their hand.

In fact, secret party documents leaked to Herald contributor Bryce Edwards reveal its MPs were advised by the Cabinet Office more than six months ago that this was not so.

The uninitiated might wonder why the Greens are behaving so dishonourably but the party's leadership is partly right. While constitutionally and under the terms of their deal with Labour they could vote against the bill, practical politics gives them less choice.

It seems nothing is more important to Peters than the waka-jumping bill. Not Shane Jones' $3 billion slush fund, nor the billion trees, nor Reserve Bank reform, nor even reducing immigration from China, India and the Middle East.

This is because of Peters' poor record maintaining the loyalty of his MPs.

In 1998, his negotiating power against Jenny Shipley vanished in a single evening when she secured the support of his deputy, Tau Henare, and sufficient other MPs to hold on to power without him.

More recently, Peters was embarrassed by Brendan Horan going rogue.

The last thing Peters needs is for this to happen again. If it becomes necessary for him to threaten to withdraw from the coalition — or even to actually do so — he needs the power to expel any NZ First MP who prefers to do a side-deal with Ardern to hang on to their perks and power.

Nobody can know exactly what Ardern and Peters discuss one-on-one, but it seems almost certain the waka-jumping bill is the one issue on which he would pull the whole house down, and that the Greens know it too.

In the select committee, despite the dozens of submissions being almost universally against, Labour MPs have not allowed a single amendment to the bill.

Tension among the committee's MPs mean it has not even been able to report back to parliament as a whole.

No matter. The Government will now use whatever elaborate parliamentary tactics are required to drive it through.

What Peters wants from this Government he gets. What the Greens think counts for nothing.

They and Ardern have no real option but to submit to NZ First's bullying because the alternative is to face a general election before the end of the year.

Matthew Hooton is the managing director of PR and lobbying firm Exceltium