The constitutional review

Bill English and Pita Sharples have announced:

The Government will conduct a wide-ranging review of New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples announced today.

“This is the start of what will be a considered process over the next three years,” Mr English says.

“The review is deliberately wide-ranging and will include matters such as the size of Parliament, the length of the electoral term, Maori representation, the role of the Treaty of Waitangi and whether New Zealand needs a written constitution.

“New Zealand has a long history of incremental constitutional change and we are keen to stimulate debate on these matters, hear the public’s views and consider whether any aspects require change.

I’m delighted these issues are being examined together, rather than piece-meal. It is long over-due.

“Of course, we will keep in mind that enduring constitutional changes generally require a broad base of support. Significant change will not be undertaken lightly and will require either broad cross-party agreement or the majority support of voters at a referendum,” Mr English says.

This is vitally important. Decisions on the constitution should not be made by narrow partisan majority in Parliament.

Mr English and Dr Sharples will lead the review in consultation with a cross-party reference group of MPs. They will write to all party leaders in the next few days and ask them to nominate a representative for the cross party reference group.

It will be very interesting to see whom the parties choose. My guess for the Greens is Metiria or Kennedy Graham. Labour is probably Parker or Dalziel.

An advisory panel will support the ministers, who will make a final report to Cabinet by the end of 2013. The Government will respond within six months.

As well as an advisory panel, there should be plenty of public seminars and workshops. Also formal consultation issues and options papers.

The ministers’ first report to Cabinet – expected by June 2011 – will seek agreement on the makeup of the advisory panel, a plan for public engagement and how the review will interact with other government projects with a constitutional dimension – such as the referendum on MMP.

Sounds good.

Electoral matters including:

  • The size of Parliament.
  • The length of terms of Parliament and whether or not the term should be fixed.
  • The size and number of electorates, including the method for calculating size.
  • Electoral integrity legislation.

Crown-Maori relationship matters including:

  • Maori representation including the Maori Electoral Option, Maori electoral participation and Maori seats in Parliament and local government.
  • The role of the Treaty of Waitangi within New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements.

Other constitutional matters

  • Whether New Zealand should have a written constitution.
  • Bill of Rights issues

Very pleased to see the size and term of Parliament included. I support a fixed four year term. The electorate size variation is also an issue. Not sure what electoral integrity legislation means though – presumably giving parties the ability to sack MPs from Parliament (which I do not support).

The role of Treaty has to be part of any discussion. My view is that it is a very important aspirational document such as the US Declaration of Independence and it can not be incorporated into a written constitution because there is no process to democratically update or amend it. Constitutions have to be amendable.

The issue of the Maori seats will be interesting also. I actually think that Maori would be better served by adopting the Royal Commission’s recommendations on the Maori seats and threshold for list votes – it would make it more likely you would have multiple Maori parties in Parliament.

Also very keen to engage on the issue of a written constitution.

Somewhat ridiculously the issue of the head of state is not included explicitly but the cabinet paper notes this “may” arise as an issue. It will inevitably arise during discussions of a written constitution as powers of the head of state will form part of that.

The full cabinet paper is here.

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