COMMENT:

The

Herald

's editorial of Monday, August 20, was an insult to voters' intelligence. In its attempt to portray the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill as an exceptional aberration from democracy, it fails to note a near-identical piece of legislation was introduced in 2001 by the Minister of Finance, Michael Cullen.

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That act enhanced the functioning of Parliament until a sunset clause brought about its expiry in 2005.

Perhaps most insulting to readers' intelligence was the Herald's claim the Green Party and the Labour Party are "real political parties" and New Zealand First is not. It is difficult to ascertain exactly how the author ties the objective of the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill to such a blatantly crooked claim.

There are two major factors which grant the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill its legitimacy and necessity.

The author's narrative – that of a mystical member of Parliament who bypasses the functions of Parliament to supposedly best represent the will of voters — is a credulous one at best. There is a dearth of such individuals in New Zealand's political history. A wealth of empirical evidence suggests motivations for dissension are more often rooted in intra-party dysfunction and frustrated ego.

Indeed, far more common are members of Parliament who act in a manner completely contrary to voters' interests, compelling party caucuses to expel them. Without legislation like the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill in place, those isolated MPs stay in the House in an uneasy state of limbo, thereby disrupting the proportionality codified by voters at the preceding general election. With few exceptions, they are thrown out by voters in the next general election.

There are many instances of this occurring. Alamein Kopu and Frank Grover of the Alliance, Ross Meurant, Hamish MacIntyre and Gilbert Myles of National, and Gordon Copeland of United Future serve as a few examples. All of these members acted against the interests of the voters who elected them, by abandoning the parties whose ticket they were elected on, in some cases propping up governments that would not otherwise enjoy the confidence of the majority of the House.

It is disingenuous to suggest individuals elected on a party list would be able to garner public support of their own volition, and that they possessed a mystical self-determination which transcends the will of the New Zealand electorate.

The oft-cited example of the Green Party's 1997 inception, as part of the dissolution of the Alliance, is a perhaps the most disingenuous of all. Jeanette Fitzsimons and Rod Donald signed pledges to resign as MPs if they left the Alliance. As Dr Jack Vowles has observed, "If the Green Party has strong principles opposing such a requirement, they were not apparent then".

Apart from the empirical evidence, more fundamental is the second factor of proportionality. The composition of Parliament should be preserved to best reflect the wishes of voters at the last election.

Arguments to the contrary, resting on the assumption that MPs should act in a capacity independent from the voters that elected them, are outdated. They consistently draw upon interesting but ultimately antiquated opinions of political theorists of past centuries, like Edmund Burke.

Those opinions were formed in an era before universal suffrage, and thus bear little relevance to current political circumstance, which is more representative than ever before.

New Zealand First is not, and nor will ever be a "one man band". Like every other self-respecting party in Parliament, all decisions are brought to and decided upon by a caucus of peers.

There have been numerous New Zealand First parliamentarians who have had a significant impact upon New Zealand's political landscape: Peter Brown, Doug Woolerton and Brian Donnelly are just three examples. This proud history of parliamentary achievement is matched by the current caucus of New Zealand First MPs, all of whom bring important value and breadth of experience to New Zealand's House of Representatives.

If members of Parliament are so unhappy with the programmes of the parties whose tickets they were elected upon, they are welcome to leave Parliament and contest a byelection or the next election on their own merits. That after all is what, in both cases, I did.

• Winston Peters is leader of New Zealand First.