Justice Minister Andrew Little has doused talk of a four-year parliamentary term, after a report critical of the way long-term government work is scrutinised called for longer periods between elections and more members in the House.

The study, from Victoria University's Institute for Governance and Policy Studies and the Office of the Clerk, has proposed a swathe of possible changes to the way Parliament and its committees hold governments to account in a bid to safeguard long-term planning from the inevitable pressures of the democratic process.

It's also floated increasing the number of MPs from 120 to 150, to keep up with population growth, stretching the election cycle from three years to four, and bringing in a written constitution.

New Zealand is one of only nine countries with parliaments with terms of three years or shorter.


National's electoral law spokesman, Nick Smith, said the party was considering a policy backing a referendum on longer terms.

"We expect to be debated at our national conference at the end of July," Smith said.

"The argument for a four-year terms is as much about the fact that by the time a coalition Government is formed, that ministers become familiarised with their portfolios and advance reform through Parliament, that it's unlikely that within a three-year term the public will be able to judge whether those reforms are successful."

National's Nick Smith says the party will consider whether to back a referendum on four-year parliamentary terms next month. Photo / Mark Mitchell
National's Nick Smith says the party will consider whether to back a referendum on four-year parliamentary terms next month. Photo / Mark Mitchell

But Labour's Little told reporters educating the public about the political system was a more significant issue.

"[A four-year-term] is not on my work plan any time soon," he said on Wednesday.

"I think one of the problems we suffer from is most New Zealanders don't know where to go to find out how our parliamentary system works … We need to do something about that."

Both Smith and Little rejected increasing the number of seats in Parliament.

The Government has already ruled out major electoral reform prior to the 2020 election.

As part of its work, the report's authors interviewed 60 current and former politicians and high-ranking civil servants - including Sir Michael Cullen - many of who described the current system of scrutiny as "broken, poor", weak, inadequate, cursory and patchy.

"Overall, parliamentary scrutiny was regarded as ad hoc, reactive and backward-looking. Ideally, it should be more systematic, proactive and forward-looking," they said.

The study has suggested changes to the Select Committee process, including increasing funding for independent experts, setting up a post for a commissioner for "Future Generations", setting up a new committee to examine long-term governance and reviews every three years in areas of policy with intergenerational implications.

It said there would be no silver bullet and a package of measures was needed.

"New Zealand faces formidable long-term challenges – economic, social, environmental and technological. How well these are tackled by current and future governments will have profound implications for the wellbeing of the nation's citizens."