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 term of Parliament – 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?
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.