A four year term

May 18th, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Last Friday I attended a workshop of around 15 people, with the aim being to go through the Government’s Electoral Finance legislation and identify potential improvements. It was (I thought) a very useful meeting, and some of the output will flow through in submissions.

The attendees were a mixture of lawyers and academics, including some overseas experts.

Generally the workshop was not about pushing for policy changes to the proposed bill, but how to make it work more effectively and close down unintended loopholes etc.

However it did sometimes reach into policy areas a bit. When we were trying to come up with a definition of the regulated period that is not retrospective, but handles early and late elections, the consensus was that the best solution would be a fixed – like the US has.

Also the consensus (only one person not favourable) was that a four year term would be a significant improvement.

By coincidence Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway has blogged today:

We’ve just passed the half-way mark of this term of Parliament. As a first-term MP I can tell you it has flown by and I can’t believe we will be back into election year next year.

A lot of people in my electorate have commented that our 3-year term seems incredibly short.

Most have stated a preference for a four-year term, but wouldn’t want to go as far as five years.

I guess under FPP we didn’t want to wait too long before we got to tell our MPs how they were going. But under MMP would we be better off with a slightly longer term?

No Right Turn is against, but the Dim Post is in favour.

I am a very strong supporter of a four year fixed term. I think doing so, would significantly improve Government decision making. It would also mean parties would not need to raise as much money privately, as elections would be less frequent.

In the US the House has a two year term, which means they are in near permanent re-election mode. Hence some badly needed laws (such as immigration reform) never get passed as the next election is always around the corner.

In New Zealand, only the middle year tends to be highly useful. The first year is spent implementing the manifesto, and the third year is spent doing as little as possible to upset people. The second year is the opportunity to implement policies and laws to deal with “harder” issues.

So a move to a four year term, would effectively double the amount of time Parliament has in dealing with issues that are not easy to deal with in sound bites.

I suspect Governments would tend to end up normally serving two terms of four years, rather than three terms of three years.

Now any changed has to be approved by the people, and in 1967 only 32% voted for a four year term and in 1990 it was only 31%.

However I think with a fairly popular Government in place, one could get a majority to agree – especially if the implementation was not immediate, but say from 2017 onwards for example.

The 1990 vote was take when the electorate was desperate to throw Labour out of office, and the last thing they wanted was another year before they could do so.

The 1967 vote was taken halfway though a Government’s third term of office – again not an ideal time.

Would be great to have a private member’s bill for a referendum on the term to be held with the 2011 election.

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39 Responses to “A four year term”

  1. Jeff83 (771 comments) says:

    I have always been heavily in favour of 4 year terms on the same grounds as above that the current system gives little time to actually do stuff, and also means that policy is often more short sighted. I also think that 2 x 4 years would be the norm and this is preferable generally to 3 x 9. Governments are often quite stale in their last term, but it is really that last year where often terrible decisions (such as buying an overpriced train set) are made.

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  2. MikeNZ (3,234 comments) says:

    lets also have max 3 terms for an MP to sit in the house whether as a minister or not.

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  3. MT_Tinman (3,055 comments) says:

    As long as NZ has a whipped, party system the virtually ensures an elected dictatorship for the period of a government I’m opposed to any fixed term and any extension of the current three year term.

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  4. big bruv (13,571 comments) says:

    God..imagine twelve years of Klark.

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  5. JiveKitty (869 comments) says:

    The horror, the horror.

    That sorts the dilemma for me. Three years is too short, but four years is too long. I’ll take three years over four though.

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  6. gravedodger (1,528 comments) says:

    I guess as we have a government I largely support, 4 years seems sensible but when I think that Ms Clark could have been relected for a second term and had then “purchased” a third, with a democratically elected dictatorship, that makes me scared stiff. 12 freaking years.
    Seriously I think I support a fixed four year term for reasons of stability and election cost. If we are going to continue with proscripted finance rules and endure complexity in what exactly constitutes “election spending” and the risk of the hungry controlling the fridge lock, I think removing the strategic option of the party in power being able to manipulate the election date has some positives in our future. As to the problem of the party on the treasury benches losing confidence then a GG with cajones and with multiparties represented in the parliament it should be possible to reach the fixed date with no more rubbish than Clark and Cullen were able to visit on us under our present system. Ideally the GG should have been able to intervene when it was clear that the Labour govt were making an unprincipled grab for power with their ghastly and totally undemocratic EFA and forced the formation of a coalition government to get the country to the next scheduled election with a grand coalition, and let the people rule the pollies as it was initially intended they should.
    Then again that could deliver Locke as PM with Mad Kate Delahunty as min of finance and food . mmmm perhaps not.

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  7. Sonny Blount (1,847 comments) says:

    Heavily in support of 4 years.

    3 years is silly and a waste of time and money. NZ’s last single term government was 35 years ago.

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  8. Sonny Blount (1,847 comments) says:

    With 4 year election periods I believe Clark would have been gone in 2007 rather than 2011.

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  9. Put it away (2,888 comments) says:

    Bruv – or to look at the glass half full… imagine 8 years of Clark instead of 9. I doubt she would’ve won an election 8 years into her regime, and we would have been spared the last, most appalling, year.

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  10. RKBee (1,344 comments) says:

    I prefer a 5yr term… then we would have 3yrs of highly useful governance.

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  11. krazykiwi (9,189 comments) says:

    Today we have thinly disguised, near totalitarian rule punctuated by three-yearly tributes to democracy, where backroom deals decide which constituents are to be back-stabbed by which faction in pursuit of power.

    Remind me how 4 years strengthens our democracy?

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  12. trout (921 comments) says:

    Contributors would be calling for a 2 year term if Labour was in power right now. 3 years is short but there is a delicate balance between unfettered decision making and accountability. The main problem is that politicians are generally untrustworthy and political expedience rules whatever the term.

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  13. Put it away (2,888 comments) says:

    4 years would encourage people to think more about their vote if they had to put up with the results for an extra year. Imagine being a wavering Clark supporter after 8 years, you’d need pretty solid convincing to stomach another four years of it. There’d probably be fewer joke votes for third party loons like the greens if people knew they might end up with the joke party in coalition for that long.

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  14. RRM (9,667 comments) says:

    ^^^ Joke parties like ACT you mean? (Current polling!)

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  15. Mr Gronk (45 comments) says:

    Not sure where I sit on the question of three years vs four. It’s certainly true that a Government with a three-year term spends almost all its time trying to get re-elected. But by that reasoning, we should increase the term to four years in order to allow the Government to pass good but unpopular laws in the hope that the electorate will have forgotten, or grown accustomed to, those laws by the time of the next election. The problem is that not all unpopular laws are good, and not all bad laws show their deficiencies quickly.

    In general, though, I’m in favour as it ought to make our lawmaking more professional and less trying to appeal to an audience. Then again, maybe I’m being overly optimistic.

    However, I strongly believe that no measure to change the term of Parliament should ever lengthen the term of the Parliament sitting at the time. Or, for that matter, any Parliament elected at the same time, or before the result of the referendum (the question would be answered by referendum, I hope!) is known. The electorate should at least know whether they’re choosing MPs to sit for three years or four years, when they vote for them.

    Fixed terms are an interesting one. I don’t think it’s obvious that a fixed term will mean no snap elections. In Germany, they have (almost) fixed four-year terms, and furthermore the Bundestag can’t vote no confidence in a Chancellor unless they elect a successor at the same time. But that hasn’t stopped German Chancellors from ordering two snap elections in the last thirty years – the same number as New Zealand had in that time – by requesting votes of confidence and asking their own parties to vote against them. But I suppose the main value of a fixed term is not so much preventing snap elections, as ending the awful guessing game that happens about two years and nine months into the life of a Parliament. I would welcome that, because it will allow for better planning, and less guessing and game-playing, by all concerned.

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  16. Put it away (2,888 comments) says:

    RRM – No, ACT gets its votes from the intelligent end of the voting spectrum, it’s always going to be limited by that. Greens attract a lot of idiots, they’re the ones who need to redirect their vote somewhere sensible.

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  17. big bruv (13,571 comments) says:

    Leaving aside the horror of a twelve year Klark government I am actually a fan of a four year term, three years just does not give any government enough time.

    Not sure that I am a fan of a fixed term for constituency MP’s though, they are the peoples representatives (of a sort) and the people should decide how long they stay.

    However, when it comes to the parasitic list MP’s then they should have a two term limit.

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  18. Nigel (516 comments) says:

    I think 4 years is a great idea personally, with fixed terms as DPF states.

    The ability for the incumbent government to choose the date of the election is I believe an unfair advantage, as well as making planning all that much harder for the likes of the electorial commission & media.

    - Edit: Damn fine idea that list MP’s have a 2 year term limit.

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  19. BlairM (2,307 comments) says:

    Four years would be better, but I wouldn’t want a unicameral parliament on a four year cycle. Give us a Senate/Legislative Council as well, and put the election for that midway through the term – that would be more ideal.

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  20. Hagues (711 comments) says:

    How about elections every three years but with a 3 month parliamentary term? Every three years the parties produce a budget covering the next three years along with any other necessary legislation and the public vote which one they like best, the winner gets 3 months to impliment it and then they leave us alone for a few years. Then they wouldn’t have time to come up with all the other interfearing bullshit.

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  21. Bevan (3,965 comments) says:

    ^^^ Joke parties like ACT you mean? (Current polling!)

    Maybe Act voters are busy working during the day, not sitting on their arse watching Dr Phil and waiting for the polling companies to give them a tinkle.

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  22. krazykiwi (9,189 comments) says:

    Any discussion about the term is nice, but it’s just fiddling while Rome burns. I believe a complete, clean sheet of paper overhaul of the system of election and governance is required, and not just a substitution of one system for another. We need a system to:

    Introduce true proportionality; Scrap geographic representation and party-controlled lists. Allow voters choose from large national pool of candidates.

    Join the 21st century; Use technology smartly so that citizens can connect with ‘Open Electorate’ candidates, group them by experience, key advocacy areas, interests, ethnicity. Access details of MP’s conscience votes (see below).

    Reduce MP numbers; About 50 is plenty

    Disassociate seats from votes; Give more votes to individuals who received most votes (banded groups, say, top 10% have 5 votes, next 15% have 2 votes, rest have 1 vote). PM is either most voted for person, or another top 10 MP of their choosing.

    Reform leadership team; Scrap the cabinet, institute an executive made up of no more than 7

    Neuter power of parties; Strengthen power of individual MP’s. Government formed by having sufficient votes to pass confidence & supply. Remember MPs will have differing numbers of votes.

    Get some transparency; All non confidence & supply votes to be conscience votes, and MP’s can choose to protect their voting anonymity or publish their votes to all NZers at their discretion

    Have effective remuneration; MP salary pool calculated from non-state GDP per capita ratio. MP superannuation vests based on future performance of NZ economy. MPs should be paid world class salaries with nil perks.

    Taxpayer bill of rights; Describe the GDP spending ratios (welfare, education, health, security) that are fixed and require taxpayer referenda to change

    You get the idea. Every change should be designed to encourage NZers to engage with the political process for the betterment of our country. All electoral and governance systems that I’m aware of are simply tired and old. We shouldn’t be constrained by the domain of past experience, just as we shouldn’t fear doing something bold and different.

    So… changing the term from 3 to 4 years doesn’t cut it for me.

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  23. BlairM (2,307 comments) says:

    How about elections every three years but with a 3 month parliamentary term? Every three years the parties produce a budget covering the next three years along with any other necessary legislation and the public vote which one they like best, the winner gets 3 months to impliment it and then they leave us alone for a few years. Then they wouldn’t have time to come up with all the other interfearing bullshit.

    Give that man a medal. That’s basically what happens in Texas, except the term is two years. Texas has 24 million people. I’m sure we could do as well with only 1/6th of that.

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  24. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    why do we need four years…?

    it’s only taken many of those who voted for them to realise this bunch of dicks and dickettes aren’t much chop…

    ..and so we can throw them out next year…

    who would want to wait for another year…?

    (and that applies to all govts of all stripes…

    ..three years is more than enough time for us to know if they are any good…)

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  25. jocko (111 comments) says:

    Agree BlairM & kk.
    It’s not either/or….but what electoral term best meets democratic checks-and-balances ideals or minimises consequences of distrust.

    Given our unicameral virtual ‘unfettered’ dictatorship system over 3 years vs. a bicameral system with improved governance & better planning + decision-making over 4 years, it’s a no-brainer to the public given the choice of more of the same over a longer period, or not – as earlier referenda indicate.
    The distrust cycle is what needs to be addressed.

    If politicians wont address genuine change; stay with the existing term basis until a more ‘efficient’ system is devised capable of earning respect & trust.
    That change just might help get NZ ‘into the top half of the OECD’….instead of continuing the existing race to the bottom.

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  26. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    “..NZ’s last single term government was 35 years ago…”

    john key will be going in the record books….eh..?

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  27. Loco Burro (82 comments) says:

    “Maybe Act voters are busy working during the day, not sitting on their arse watching Dr Phil and waiting for the polling companies to give them a tinkle.”

    Oh so they must have done far better in the election then, seeing as they are such industrious, intelligent people they must have be promptly down to the polling booth on election day……… oh wait….. 3%….. hmmmm.

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  28. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    i reckon the act-ite/rand-ite-cult-members should get/hire rick giles to continue to raise their public profile..

    i mean…his ‘my arguments are too powerful’-vid on youtube has been seen by over 33,000 viewers..

    (is that more than actually voted for act..last election..?..)

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  29. Lucia Maria (2,239 comments) says:

    In New Zealand, only the middle year tends to be highly useful. The first year is spent implementing the manifesto, and the third year is spent doing as little as possible to upset people. The second year is the opportunity to implement policies and laws to deal with “harder” issues.

    And therein is the argument for keeping the term three years. That way, we limit the damage any government can do by virtue of the reminder that they are accountable to the voters.

    A four year term with our system of MMP! The horror…

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  30. Viking2 (11,283 comments) says:

    Mt tin has it right. No amount of fiddling with terms or style will fix the arogance that goes with whipping.
    The party money men control the whips and they control the MP.
    Remove whipping and many of the current bad behavoirs will come into line.
    All about fear and control at present.

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  31. fatman43us (166 comments) says:

    I am against all fiddling with Constitutional matters until we have established by a 75% majority the terms of a written Constitution dealing with all of the necessary safeguards for the people of the country. A three-year term is essential in a country where we have the fastest and stupidest lawmakers in the world, and where all of the so-called safeguards for the citizens are promoted and appointed by a band of witless politicians.

    The four-year term always arises when a Government is in power that does not have the wit or the strength of purpose to drive home especially the economic reforms the country needs. Witness Railway. Any sane group would simply put the engines back in the shed, and rip up the lines for fence standards. But no, we go and tip another billion dollars on it.

    Spare me!!

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  32. William Fussey (45 comments) says:

    I am also a strong supporter of the four year term. Trust me, it’s just not gonna happen though.

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  33. Ross Nixon (612 comments) says:

    Four years sounds good.
    Plus an Upper House & cutting the number of MPs to 99 (has anyone ever thought of that?)

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  34. Pauleastbay (5,035 comments) says:

    4 years,……………. 1 year to settle in 2 years to do things 4th year to electioneer……..

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  35. Geoff Russell (4 comments) says:

    How about dumping public funding of advertising by political parties?
    Currently all political TV advertising is dominated by the Labour / National duopoly and all smaller parties are restricted to almost nothing
    A spending limit per party of, say, $1 per head – with no public funding and they can spend it where they like including TV.

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  36. scrubone (3,090 comments) says:

    The US has a very short term for the house and a very long one for the senate.

    I suggest a compromise – have the politicians that Idiot supports (Labour, Greens) on a 3 year term, and the ones you support (National, Act) on a 4 year :)

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  37. NX (603 comments) says:

    God..imagine twelve years of Klark.

    Agreed. It’s the strongest and most compelling argument against a four year term. She stole the 2005 election, and got away with it. So she would’ve most certainly tried to steal a 2006 election under a four year electoral cycle.

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  38. Jeremy Harris (323 comments) says:

    No way… For me it is a question of public control and accountability, and I want my say as often as possible, every three years… Don’t apologise for the politicians lack of courage to act in their third year… Also, as already pointed out it has been 35 years since a one term government, so why can’t a Party act in it’s fourth year of power..? Or seventh..?

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  39. BlairM (2,307 comments) says:

    God..imagine twelve years of Klark.

    Agreed. It’s the strongest and most compelling argument against a four year term. She stole the 2005 election, and got away with it. So she would’ve most certainly tried to steal a 2006 election under a four year electoral cycle.

    Clark was unpopular enough in 2007 to lose then. She wouldn’t have gotten twelve years, believe me.

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