Editorials on a four year term

February 8th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

There are two ways to look at John Key’s call for a four-year parliamentary term.

The first is that it will give the “bastards” more time. The second is that it will give voters more time to assess whether their representatives and, more particularly, governments are deserving of another term.

By international standards New Zealand’s electoral cycle is short. Australia too, has a three-year term, but the United States president serves for four years and so do the parliaments of Germany, Japan and a host of other nations. Britain has a five-year term.

The attraction of a shorter electoral cycle is that it allows voters to dismiss truly awful governments quickly and it make politicians more responsive to public opinion.

The reality in New Zealand since 1960, however, is that voters have only once exercised their prerogative to turf out a government after only three years.

I think a four year term would increase the number of one-term governments. Unless a Government is a walking disaster, they will tend to get a second term as most New Zealanders think that three years is not enough time to judge if their policies are working. And they are right. It can take 18 to 24 months to even get laws introduced and passed, so there is little chance of being able to judge their impact within a three year cycle.

A four-year term would provide breathing space. It would also give governments more time to fine-tune their policies before implementing them. The New Zealand Parliament has not earned the reputation for being the fastest legislator in the west for no reason.

Finally, a four-year term would give voters more time to take the measure of their elected representatives. One more year might be enough to identify hopeless governments that should be put out of our misery.

I agree.

The Herald editorial:

But the arguments in favour of an extra year are sound. Governments need time to establish and then implement new policies. New Zealand has too frequently run out of time in politicians’ minds to prove their benefits to the public before the short election cycle interrupts normal business. Each year, the Budget documents forecast spending and revenues four or five years out, but the incumbent government must spend its political capital within a maximum of two and a half.

Some would argue that in winning a second or third term a government is able to pursue its strategy adequately; that a divisive debate over changing the term could in itself distract from the policy changes we most need.

It will not be easy to persuade voters of the benefits. Most, naturally, live in the here and now and have little time for long-term planning.

If it gets put to the vote, the country should take the longer view. New Zealand has long needed a plan for economic revival and development that is not hostage to the next opinion poll.

As I have said previously, if it goes to a vote in 2014, it should be made very clear that it will not apply to the next .

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25 Responses to “Editorials on a four year term”

  1. gazzmaniac (2,319 comments) says:

    It can take 18 to 24 months to even get laws introduced and passed,

    How does it take two years to draft and introduce a law? If a new administration was serious it would have its keystone bills drafted before it took office (so that the public could judge them prior to the election) then it would be the six to twelve month process of getting them through the committees. Then there’s eighteen months to two years to see their effects before the next election.

    Better still, make the committees more efficient and give them one month for each bill. The problem that most of the country has with politicians is that they seem to fuck around so much and get nothing done.

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  2. Pete George (23,345 comments) says:

    Graeme Edgler has posted on this and reopeats that he hasn’t heard any good arguments for increasing to four years.

    It’s time for those who want this to actually convince a good sized-majority of everyone else that they are right. Start with me.

    I’m not convinced yet.

    And Bryce Edwards comes out against, saying we need more democracy, not less.

    If anything, we should be having a more frequent elections. In fact the old Chartist movement idea of ‘Annual Parliaments’ is one worth considering. That should be the demand of true democrats – more frequent elections rather than having politicians given yet more protection from the public.

    I don’t think one year terms are the answer.

    If we want better democracy we need to have more people interested and involved in democracy, and better processes for enhancing democracy between elections. The length of term is not so important then.

    How important is length of term for democracy?

    So how can we improve our democracy? Maybe if politicians want to talk us into lengthening the term to four years they should be offering us something substantial to allow us much more say (and more effective say) between elections.

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  3. Chuck Bird (4,773 comments) says:

    It would be nice if the Herald did not censor what comment they will allow and so mislead reader about public opinion. Does anyone know if the Herald is owned by a publicly listed company?

    Below is what I submitted.

    These is a lot of merit in a longer fixed term but it should be balanced with other measures that stop politicians ignoring the wishes of the people. Without binding referenda on conscience issues that were not in any party’s manifesto this changes New Zealand from a 3 year dictatorship to a 4 year dictatorship.

    A voter’s recall could be another protection provided there was adequate legislation preventing opposition party’s funding it. Restoring an Upper House is another option.

    In any case there should be no changes unless any proposals invite submissions from the public and these Constitutional change are approved with a binding referendum. The referendum could also incorporate other changes to the MMP system such as lowering the threshold for political parties to 4%.

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  4. WineOh (608 comments) says:

    So long as it doesn’t become like the US system where the 4th year of each term is spent dedicated to campaigning for the next election. Huge waste of time & dollars that just intensifies the partisan bickering.

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  5. tropicana (79 comments) says:

    Anything that is being promoted by both major party leaders is by this fact alone, suspicious.

    Please remember this.
    There is an election lead-up during which there are promises made.
    There is an election cycle during which promises are either met or not.
    There is another election lead-up .. .. .. and so the cycle turns.

    Nothing about the process changes by three or four year cycles …
    Except this …

    Politicians would have four years to meet exactly the same promises
    as they currently promise to achieve in three years.

    This proposal is designed with only one objective – to make
    life easier for our politicians.

    It is counter-productive to the development of New Zealand.
    It will retard progress.

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  6. Harriet (4,616 comments) says:

    “….New Zealand has too frequently run out of time in politicians’ minds to prove their benefits to the public before the short election cycle interrupts normal business….”

    Crap! Crap! Crap!

    Labour had time to ‘fit in’ the prostitution bill!

    National is now ‘fitting in’ the gay marriage bill!

    Neither party went to the election with these policies – so where do they ‘find the time’ – arn’t their other policies MORE IMPORTANT?

    They’re fuckin lying!
    Given that government from both sides find time to ‘fit stuff in’ – we should then by default be having elections every 2nd yr! :cool:

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  7. tropicana (79 comments) says:

    Remember this as well.

    A lot of good policy is held back to the next election as an election winner, rather than waste good policy mid-term.
    Connect the dots.
    What a four-year term would mean is that a lot of good policy would be held back for a year longer.

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  8. Graeme Edgeler (3,277 comments) says:

    It can take 18 to 24 months to even get laws introduced and passed, so there is little chance of being able to judge their impact within a three year cycle.

    After the 2008 election, Parliament first met on 8 December, it had passed five bills in the first week. And nine by the end of March.

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  9. Harriet (4,616 comments) says:

    The fuckwits should abolish the private members bills!

    How the fuck can an MP who is in OPPOSITION present a bill to parliment ? If the bill is so IMPORTANT to be debated then the GOVERNMENT OF THE DAY would be having it as policy – or the opposition would be the FUCKEN GOVERNMENT!

    Private members bills are not part of a TRUE democracy – they UNDERMINE the previous election RESULTS!

    We should call for a PUBLIC referendum on private members bills! :cool:

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  10. tropicana (79 comments) says:

    Furthermore, I am highly suspicious of this proposal being hidden behind three things:

    (a) a tenuous link to a totally unrelated “173 years of democracy”. In what way, did democracy start in 1840? Utter bullshit. Assuming we start from the Magna Carta, we’ve had about 800 years of almost continuous democracy.

    (b) a tenuous link to a Constitutional Review that we have repeatedly told politicians over the decades that we DO NOT WANT.

    (c) a frankly bullshit link to it being presented to us on Waitangi Day.

    I’m Fed Up with the Maorification of Everything – I FUME

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  11. tropicana (79 comments) says:

    Please remember at all times, that in 1840, the British Empire did not become Maorified.
    Please remember at all times, that in May 1840, (and not 6 Feb 1840) at the request of Maori, and with Maori cooperation, Maori became part of the British Empire.

    IFUME – I’m Fed Up with the Maorification of Everything

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  12. WineOh (608 comments) says:

    Actually tropicana, regarding good policy being held back, it means less frequent election-year bribes which is almost certainly good from an economic perspective.

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  13. tropicana (79 comments) says:

    WineOh. Your priorities and knowledge of politics are totally skew-whiff. Thankfully, bribes are the minority, not the majority of promises. And bribes are simply policies that idiots vote for. So we deserve what we get.
    But it’s okay WineOh, I recognise that your first instinct was to argue for the sake of arguing, not to first engage your brain.

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  14. wreck1080 (3,815 comments) says:

    “I think a four year term would increase the number of one-term governments.”

    Agreed.

    “How does it take two years to draft and introduce a law? ”

    Because many people are lazy. They surf the net, stuff around, talk about the weather etc . I’ve met so many lazy people in 20 years of working. And, I think the same applies to the legal profession. People are inherently lazy (excpet those that love what they are doing).

    When people are motivated you can actually get a lot done in short time.

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  15. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    gazzmaniac (1,454) Says:
    February 8th, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    It can take 18 to 24 months to even get laws introduced and passed,

    How does it take two years to draft and introduce a law?

    Well he said introduced and passed. First, generally no party legislates by itself unless it has a majority of Parliament so there must be negotiation between those who can musters a majority of Parliament. How do you know what a majority is until the election is decided?

    Secondly, we do not elect a three year dictatorship. Parliament operates by a process. Select committees, public submissions, protests, media coverage etc. etc. This is how our democracy works and how it should work.

    Moreover, the whole premise of allowing voters time to see if legislation works is a fallacy anyway in my view since whether or not something “works” is itself subjective. There’s no agreed measure of success and people often measure success in the way that confirms their preconception. Opponents of civil unions, for instance, will always see social degradation wherever they look and use that as a measure of failure. This notion of your average voter as some sort of impartial judge weighing the evidence and the arguments is fanciful.

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  16. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    “…the United States president serves for four years…”

    Bad comparison. America’s “parliament” is the House of Representatives which is elected every 2 years. The US system is too different to make meaningful comparisons on this point.

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  17. snowy (107 comments) says:

    Nah, forget terms. Just make Tim Shadbolt President For Life

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  18. WineOh (608 comments) says:

    OK I’ll take the bait this time… though kindly suggest you “play the ball not the man”

    I think the volume of promises are less important than the costs of them to the NZ tax payer. What is the cost to the government finances of the WFF and interest-free student loan schemes? What would the cost be of the proposed housing schemes. I believe its the big ticket items that seem to crop up in election years that dominate the marginal changes to our taxpayer finances. Compare the total amounts over the years spent on those two policies vs all treaty settlements combined, proposed asset sales, etc.

    Weihana, while the congressmen do indeed serve 2 year terms, their individual power is less than that of the state senators, who serve 4 year terms. A bill has to go through both houses before getting to the president, and compare the control that one congressman (woman) as one out of 435 has vs 1 in 100.

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  19. tvb (4,255 comments) says:

    You make a good point. What is wrong with a three year term and then getting reelected and start implementing policies the year after the election. So what is the need of a single 4 year term. That might be all a Government gets. But the short 3 year term also affects oppositions. What did Labour achieve in the 3 years of the last parliament. Nothing much I suspect and the voters punished them accordingly.

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  20. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    WineOh (68) Says:
    February 8th, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    I think the volume of promises are less important than the costs of them to the NZ tax payer. What is the cost to the government finances of the WFF and interest-free student loan schemes? What would the cost be of the proposed housing schemes. I believe its the big ticket items that seem to crop up in election years that dominate the marginal changes to our taxpayer finances. Compare the total amounts over the years spent on those two policies vs all treaty settlements combined, proposed asset sales, etc.

    The length of term of Parliament should not be based on what political outcomes you want to achieve, nor will it achieve that in any case. Rightly or wrongly, we have WFF and interest free loans because people wanted them. These were not momentary wishes but something enough people believe in to deter the current government from getting rid of them.

    Weihana, while the congressmen do indeed serve 2 year terms, their individual power is less than that of the state senators, who serve 4 year terms. A bill has to go through both houses before getting to the president, and compare the control that one congressman (woman) as one out of 435 has vs 1 in 100.

    Indeed, but the more important point is that neither the Senate nor the House of Representatives nor the President has any power (in terms of creating legislation) without the consent of the others. Moreover, Congress and the President also have their power limited by a judiciary that rules on a supreme legal document.

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  21. tropicana (79 comments) says:

    At no-one in particular (so as not to be accused of playing the man in my responding to a comment directed at me), my point is this, if I haven’t already made it.

    Politicians are less driven by the 12-month calendar, than they are by the stage of the electoral cycle. Yes, there is an annual budget, but it is a given that the budget immediately after an election is a completely different beast from an election-year budget. Election-year budgets are when things happen.

    I don’t want “things happening every 3 years”, to become the “same things happening every 4 years”.

    And anyone who thinks that the prime consideration is that longer-term cycles will reduce election bribes, would presumably think that we really oughtn’t to have elections at all, because they produce more bad things than good. Don’t worry, there are many countries which are trying out this system so that we don’t have to. Let me try to persuade you that avoidance of election bribes is not one of the stronger points in these countries.

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  22. tropicana (79 comments) says:

    Or put it another way again. Assume, a three-year-cycle produces 3 units of political work.

    I propose that that it does not follow that you get 4 units of political work from a four-year-cycle. I suggest that a four-year-cycle would produce (about) 3.2 units of political work. The change from 3-year to 4-year cycles will NOT produce a commensurate return. It will result in politicians doing in 4-years, no more than they currently do in 3-years.

    Each year under 4-years, will produce approximately 3/4 of what we currently get each year, for approximately the same cost.

    Thus we would be reducing dollar for dollar returns, while reducing our access to democracy. Not if I can help it.

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  23. WineOh (608 comments) says:

    I can follow that logic, and agree that its an election cycle that impacts more than an annual once. Though it assumes that a political party in power only has ideas to implement for 3 years, then needs an election to refresh that. A 2-term government that brings in new ideas & policies in their second term argues against that theory.

    A 3 year cycle produces about 2.5 units of work. 4 year cycle in the USA produces just under 3 units because of the length of their election process. But their system is so screwed that it takes 2 years of compromise & dilution to get any major policy on the books. This is because its hard to have control of all 3 branches of govt.

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  24. tropicana (79 comments) says:

    I certainly see where you’re coming from. But where you discount the 3-year cycle to 2.5 units, so it would be necessary to discount the 4-year cycle in exactly the same way, and to exactly the same proportion.

    So apples with apples, my premise stands, and a 4-year cycle will produce per year, closer to 3/4 of a 3-year-annual-unit, than any other simple fraction. Imho.

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  25. Positan (385 comments) says:

    “The reality in New Zealand since 1960, however, is that voters have ONLY ONCE exercised their prerogative to turf out a government after only three years.”

    Really? Which particular ONCE did you have in mind?

    Labour 1957 – 1960 ….. or ….. Labour 1972 – 1975?

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