A four year term

December 2nd, 2011 at 7:48 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial yesterday:

Saturday’s referendum on the electoral system did more than just embed MMP, subject to the tinkering recommended by an Electoral Commission review. It also, by implication, enhanced the case for the to be increased from three to four years.

The argument against this has always been that in a country with few constitutional restraints on the power of the Executive, a short term affords the electorate one strong means of restraint.

If proportional representation promised to be an equally effective safeguard, its popularity had yet to be confirmed. Now, with the substantiation of MMP’s broad acceptance, the time is right to reconsider a four-year term.

I have long supported a four year term. A three year term is almost unique to New Zealand and Australia. It may sound ironic coming from me, but a longer term means that a new Government can concentrate on doing what is right, without worrying about the polls because the next election is further away,

Of course as a pollster, annual elections would be great :-)

The thought is not new. In the most recent referendum on the subject, in 1990, 69.3 per cent of those who voted opposed the notion. That rejection must, however, be placed in context. It was held at the tail-end of a two-term Labour Government whose disdain for the public view led eventually to the introduction of MMP.

In hindsight, it is a pity that a referendum on a four year term wasn’t held last weekend. I think it would have won.

The topic will be examined by the constitutional review panel set up in August at the behest of the Maori Party. But, after gauging public opinion, it is not due to make its recommendations on this and an array of other issues until September 2013.

There is good reason to hold a referendum well before then.

I don’t think it is a good idea to do an early referendum. The cost of a stand alone referendum will put some New Zealanders off, and it also means that any recommendation is considered in isolation. If the review also recommends that the dates of elections be fixed (not set by the PM), this could make a four year term more attractive.

The other thing I would do, if there is a referendum, is have any change apply to the term after the next term of Parliament. That way there is no suggestion of self-interest by those politicians supporting a four year term. So if there is a referendum in 2014, the next term of Parliament will be 2014 – 2017 and it is the term after that (2017 – 2021) that would be four years.

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26 Responses to “A four year term”

  1. Pete George (23,434 comments) says:

    I agree that a four year term should be seriously considered and debated.

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  2. Murray (8,844 comments) says:

    It should have been put to us in this election.

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  3. hmmokrightitis (1,585 comments) says:

    It would be nice if this particular gubbermint, with its focus on positive change, not social tinkering, could see its way to allowing us, supporting us, to have these grown up conversations. So, come on JohnK, balls in your court.

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  4. AG (1,823 comments) says:

    “In hindsight, it is a pity that a referendum on a four year term wasn’t held last weekend. I think it would have won.”

    Alongside, or instead of, the very silly referendum on MMP? ‘Cause THAT was a big waste of time and money, wasn’t it?

    [DPF: No it wasn't, as it confirmed MMP, which means the demands for a second referendum have now been satisfied]

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  5. Falafulu Fisi (2,179 comments) says:

    All parliamentarians should be limited to 2 terms only. The good thing that will come out of this is that MPs will stay true to their individual political philosophies (and less pressure for each to tow the Party line as most do) because she/he won’t back down from doing the right thing since he/she’s not afraid that he won’t be there in the next election (or his/her 3rd, 4th, 5th , …, terms). After that, they can go back to just being a normal citizens doing what they did before entering parliament (be it a businessman, lawyer, engineer, accountant, IT, church minister, teacher, economist, basket weaving, marketing, PR bullshit , flipping burger at McDonald, lecturer in orgasmology & gender studies at University of Auckland Department of Film & Multimedia, dole, an idiot journalist like Patrick Gower and so forth).

    Most MPs campaign on a certain political philosophies as their main platform, but they sometimes do a complete U-turn once they got to Parliament. They fear losing in the future subsequent elections.

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  6. MT_Tinman (3,097 comments) says:

    I shudder when I think of the damage four years of Labour (or a Bolger National) government could do.

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  7. berend (1,699 comments) says:

    DPF: In hindsight, it is a pity that a referendum on a four year term wasn’t held last weekend. I think it would have won.

    I’m sure it wouldn’t. Think of 4 yours of Muldoon. Or shudder, 4 years of John Key. Getting the country in debt for 18.6 billion is already bad enough. And he’s going down to 30 billion in the next three years.

    Vote often, that’s my motto.

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  8. Angt27 (2 comments) says:

    How about a four year term, with an upper house? How many other similar countries in the world only have one level of govt? This might stop silly laws being passed that are promptly undone by the next govt, enabling the country to have some certainty in one direction or another.

    Just a thought.

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  9. Gerrit (107 comments) says:

    What Falafulu Fisi said +1

    Career politicians should be consigned to history. How the heck the likes of Goff, Peters, McCully Mallard, to but name a few, EVER get an appreciation of real life beyond parliament is doubtful.

    Maybe that is way so many peopel did not vote, same old same old in ALLl political parties.

    Two (or even three) terms max in a three year parliamant. Two terms max definitely in a four year parliamant.

    Maybe DPF could run a light hearted competition to see what some serial parliamantarians could actually do in tax paying private enterprise.

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  10. XChequer (298 comments) says:

    I’d vote for it. Regardless of political affiliation, it just makes sense!

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  11. AG (1,823 comments) says:

    “[DPF: No it wasn't, as it confirmed MMP, which means the demands for a second referendum have now been satisfied]”

    So it was a good thing to spend $11 million on an exercise that very few people actually wanted, that excited no great popular engagement and that gave an answer that could easily be predicted in advance? I thought we were in tough economic times, where spending of public money must pass a rigorous justificatory threshold. Plus, as you yourself point out, the decision to hold this referendum had a cost in terms of other, far more important, issues being ignored/consigned to future debate.

    Sure – I know it was a pre-2008 election promise, so it had to be carried through with. But it was a dumb promise to start with.

    [DPF: I disagree that the result could be easily predicted in advance, in terms of when the commitment was made in 2008. If the referendum had been at the 2008 election, I think MMP could well have lost, as people were sick of the Peters sideshow]

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  12. leftyliberal (642 comments) says:

    @AG: Considering some 42.6% of the population (based on advanced votes – my guess is this will drop) voted for change, I suggest a great many people did want to have their say.

    As for a 4 year term, I’d be happy with that based on the last few terms which have been reasonably stable – perhaps the 3 labour terms would have been 2 terms, so we may not have got the overspending third term?

    I’m not sure of the argument for restricting the number of terms, however. As far as I can tell, those that last for more than a couple of terms are decent enough politicians for the constituents they represent, so I’m not sure that having maximal terms would help get better politicians.

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  13. Bevan (3,923 comments) says:

    It was held at the tail-end of a two-term Labour Government whose disdain for the public view led eventually to the introduction of MMP.

    Funny, I thought by now we would have have at least two Labour trolls in to try and re-write history…..

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  14. ciaron (1,416 comments) says:

    I thought offical numbers were’t out untill the 10th, and that only the early votes which make up a small percentage of total votes cast had been counted?
    have the full and final results been released early?

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  15. KevinH (1,204 comments) says:

    DPF said:

    In hindsight, it is a pity that a referendum on a four year term wasn’t held last weekend. I think it would have won.

    Totally agree, three years is not long enough to get programmes through and bedded down, however to much of a good thing can be detrimental therefore Falafulu Fisi’ comment that a restriction of two terms also has merit, this would mirror the US model where presidents are restricted to two terms.

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  16. Fost (102 comments) says:

    I disagree with only 2 terms – particularly if that means only 6 years – it takes some time for a Prime Minster to come to the front – or are you suggesting that that we elect a complete unknown quantity as the eventual PM?. My view if we are to have term limits would be would be either 5 terms for a 3 year cycle (15 years) or 4 terms for a 4 year cycle (16 years). That would mean you still have a chance of getting your policy enacted, even if you come in when your party is in opposition, but short enough that people do not see it as a ‘job for life’.

    What I would prefer to see is something like that but only for the the party list – whether you get iin or not. So only be on a party list for a set number of elections (my view is is about 3 to 5 elections depending on the length of the term). However if you choose to be electorate only, and the voters keep returning you to parliament, you can continue – but you take away the continued safety net of losing the electoral vote and getting back in. Will also mean ACT, NZ First, Green’s etc. might have to get a bit feral and contest electorates – and National and Labour might have to not stand in some. This would give the voters more ‘control’ over the people that are in parliament – those that are popular – i.e. help those in their electorate will stay – those that see it as a trough to gorge at willl get a limited time to do so.

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  17. Fost (102 comments) says:

    Oops – apparently I don’t have permission to edit my own comment. So added to that. In the second paragraph: The ‘term’ limit for the list is whether you get in or not. My idea is to stop you camping on the bottom of the list and rise by natural attrition to eventually get in once you’ve got far enough up – thus those people just below the threshold have some real incentive to either increase the party vote or do well in an electorate – it may also clean out the lists more frequently – something I see as a failure of most parties to do.

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  18. Mark (1,471 comments) says:

    I am certainly in favour of the debate being held or even a referendum. It could well form part of the review of MMP.

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  19. RRM (9,776 comments) says:

    Have we got a deep enough “talent” pool in this country to limit all MPs to no more than two terms??

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  20. Daigotsu (454 comments) says:

    Back when electoral reform was up in the air in the 80s and 90s, this was often discussed – Ruth Richardson was a fan of it and advocate for it within National – but never attracted any public support. It’s a tough sell to a public suspicious of politicians. “Let’s have less elections!”

    Those of you who wish to ‘have the debate’ (always hated that term) do you have an answer to that?

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  21. V (693 comments) says:

    “The cost of a stand alone referendum will put some New Zealanders off”

    How does Switzerland manage to have ~four referendum per year then. I would suggest we make referendum expensive because we choose to do so.

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  22. AG (1,823 comments) says:

    “[DPF: I disagree that the result could be easily predicted in advance, in terms of when the commitment was made in 2008. If the referendum had been at the 2008 election, I think MMP could well have lost, as people were sick of the Peters sideshow]”

    But that just goes to show how silly it is to conflate the immediate popularity of a particular government with the voting system itself. In 1993 there was a crisis of legitimacy around the whole political process – people were so pissed off about how politics was working under a FPP voting system that something had to be done to restore confidence in parliamentary democracy. In 2008, you had a tired and somewhat unpopular government coming to the end of its time, allied with a small number of disaffected old-timers who never came to terms with the result last referendum. Which is why anyone with half a political brain could know what the result in 2011 would be … hence we got what John Key said would happen back in September 2009 (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10595854)

    So, National made a choice on what it was going to allow people to have a say on (at a cost of some $11 million of taxpayer money). My point then simply is that if you now are going to say that “In hindsight, it is a pity that a referendum on a four year term wasn’t held last weekend. I think it would have won.”, your hindsight has to take into account that one of the main reasons we could not have such a referendum is because of National’s choice. Can’t have it both ways, I’m afraid.

    @ leftyliberal: “Considering some 42.6% of the population (based on advanced votes – my guess is this will drop) voted for change, I suggest a great many people did want to have their say.”

    But given that the gap between those wanting MMP and those wanting something different will likely increase from the 1996 result, so what? If I could show there was around 40% support for changing to drive on the right hand side of the road, would you say it is worth $11 million to find out for certain whether Kiwis really do want to drive on the left? The question isn’t the numbers, it’s the intensity of feeling … what was so pressing about our electoral system that it justified putting all other matters on the backburner whilst we had (another) vote on it?

    @ Mark: “I am certainly in favour of the debate being held or even a referendum. It could well form part of the review of MMP.”

    It is part of the upcoming Constitutional Review – see here: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10692881

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  23. DJP6-25 (1,362 comments) says:

    Term limits are a great idea. Five terms should be enough for any MP with a modicum of talent. As for a four year term. No and hell no. Imagine four years of Muldoon, or Clark!

    cheers
    D
    avid Prosser

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  24. s.russell (1,598 comments) says:

    I think a four year term is worth considering. There are some good arguments for it,but some against too. A bad govt might last longer., but so might good ones. A referendum on it would have to be at the same time as an election or it would lack legitimacy. I agree with DPF that it should not apply immediately.
    Term limits are a bad idea 1) because they take away our right to elect whom we choose based on a prejudice that experienced MPs are a bad thing, and 2) because experience is a good thing.
    NZ abolished its senate in 1950. We do NOT need another one.

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  25. Aredhel777 (290 comments) says:

    Here’s an idea: let’s not fiddle with our current, excellent, functional political system. Because it works.

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  26. lcmortensen (38 comments) says:

    The only problem is you would have to more local elections to four years as well – every 12 years we’d have them occuring in the same year, and I don’t think many people would enjoy going to the polling booth twice a year – let alone twice in two months (e.g. 8 October and 26 November). I’d personally stick with three years.

    Term limitations – you must stand aside at the next general election after you have served 17 years. Personally, you feel a bit old knowing you’ve been in parliament so long that your youngest voters weren’t even born when you were first elected!

    Upper house – as long as it is elected and at staggered six year terms, I’ll support it: some legislation goes through without much scrutiny. Although watch out for when the House and Senate disagree – double dissolution!

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