The term of Parliament

February 7th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Simon Day at Stuff reports:

Prime Minister John Key wants to extend the parliamentary term to a fixed four-year period as part of the Government’s constitutional review.

One hundred and 73 years after the constitutional foundation of New Zealand was laid, the constitutional landscape was again the topic of discussion at Waitangi yesterday.

“My view is that there should be a four-year fixed date of Parliament.

“I think it makes a lot more sense to know when the date is fixed and I think it makes a lot more sense to have it for four years,” Mr Key said.

I support both these changes. A fixed date gives certainty and also removes a tactical advantage from the incumbent PM. And absolutely three years is too short an electoral term. NZ and Australia are very rare in having such a short term. It gives very little time for Governments to design and implement policies before the politics of election campaigns interfere.

The only Parliament I know with a shorter term is the US House of Representatives at two years, and we can see the impact as Representatives are constantly campaigning for re-election and hence the House has been a source of leglisative gridlock for many years.

Any change would require the support of 75 per cent of MPs or public support in a referendum. The proposal had failed twice before, in 1967 and 1990.

But the prime minister appears to have the support of his political opponents and allies.

Opposition leader David Shearer agreed that three years was not enough.

Good on Shearer. Any change should go to a referendum, and importantly should not come into force immediately. What I mean is if there is a referendum with the 2014 election, the for the next Parliament should not be dependent on the  outcome, rather it impacts the term after that.

So the next Parliament would be 2014 to 2017, but the one after that might be 2017 to 2021 if NZers voted for a four year term. This is important for two reasons.

The first is we must know what the term of Parliament is when we elect a Parliament. The second is that people are more likely to vote for an extension of it is not see as a Government trying to extend its next term in office – but rather is for the term after the next term.

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46 Responses to “The term of Parliament”

  1. Andrei (2,653 comments) says:

    What difference does it make when the people vote for a Labour government they get a Labour Government

    When the people vote for a National Government they get a Labour Government

    And when the people tell the Government it is way out of line via referendum the people are told where to go and that nanny knows best.

    All in all its just a farce

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  2. Pete George (23,836 comments) says:

    After Key floated the four year term at Waitangi yesterday Shearer and Turei agreed, Sharples sort of agreed and only Harawira disagreed.

    Peter Dunne supports both a four year term and a fixed election date. I’ve asked Banks and Peters but haven’t heard back.

    It doesn’t have to go to a referendum? There looks to be a clear 75% majority support in parliament for it.

    Four year term supported by most party leaders

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  3. Pete George (23,836 comments) says:

    @PeterDunneMP

    Four year Parliamentary term with fixed Election Day a long-standing UnitedFuture policy

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  4. Graeme Edgeler (2,972 comments) says:

    It doesn’t have to go to a referendum? There looks to be a clear 75% majority support in parliament for it.

    Define “have to go to a referendum”. Because the party of any MP who votes to permanently increase the term of Parliament without putting it to a referendum is losing my vote forever.

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  5. HC (154 comments) says:

    On this one I would agree with Key, as it is world-wide quite common to have 4 year terms. 3 years are unusually short, and 5 years is again too long. In NZ governments form a government, take about a year to get used to governing and start implementing some policies, then the 2nd year they tend to get working more intensely and seriously, and half way through that, they already start looking towards the coming election again, shying away from saying and doing what they may have planned, for fear of public sentiment.

    Come year 3, it is already more or less the start of another campaign, and little of substance tends to get addressed and done. And after that it goes all over this again.

    4 years allow for policies to get worked out better and thus avoid mistakes, and it allows governments to prove themselves, without too much distraction by concerns about what the next polls may show and the next election will bring in the way of challenges.

    So yes, 4 years is the best length for a term of government, and I think most of Europe is governed like that.

    If Shearer is serious, then the majority to change this is there, but knowing him by now, he often says things that he may regret afterwards. He needs better advisors, or even better he resigns to the fact he will never lead Labour into a government and steps down, to allow a party wide vote to replace him with someone who can think and speak well, and that in harmony without stutters, mumbling and stuffing up.

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  6. Pete George (23,836 comments) says:

    Graeme – I expect it would go to referendum, but if it didn’t you mightn’t have many parties left to choose from. Mana?

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  7. dime (10,224 comments) says:

    Imagine the damage a shitty left wing coalition could do in 4 years… i guess the flip side is they are more likely to get turfed in 4 years. 3 years isnt quite long enough to kill an economy.

    also, lol @ “I’ve asked Banks and Peters but haven’t heard back.” – reckon its cause you go straight to spam?

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  8. anonymouse (705 comments) says:

    Any change should go to a referendum

    Where it will suffer a fiery death, To be honest public enjoy punishing politicians, and most people believe the less time parliament had between elections the better,

    In both past referendums on this subject only around 30% support a 4 year term, If you could not convince voters during the middle of the Holyoake years, which were fairly politically stable, the chances of getting support for it now is certainly no greater….

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  9. backster (2,197 comments) says:

    It’s not the length of the term that prevents progress on programmes and reforms it is the length of the process. Its the process that needs to be reformed, cut out all the consultation nonsense, get rid of the tribunals and commissions, reduce the size of Parliament and cabinet by half, go back to first past the post, and let the people we elected perform according to the manifesto on which they were elected. If this sounds like going back to the past, it is, the past didn’t stop working it was gradually stuffed up-.

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  10. tvb (4,563 comments) says:

    Why is three years not enough?? I think this needs to be spelled out exactly why not given we have had 3 years for a very long time.

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  11. Chuck Bird (4,915 comments) says:

    I would be happy to extend the term provided there were binding votes on so called conscience issues. It is debatable how common it is for MPs to have a conscience.

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  12. graham (2,348 comments) says:

    So Pete, let’s be clear on this.

    Do you, and/or Mr Dunne, believe that if there is a clear 75% majority support in parliament for extending the parliamentary term by 33%, they should just go ahead and do it? Without asking the people of New Zealand?

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  13. Graeme Edgeler (2,972 comments) says:

    Graeme – I expect it would go to referendum, but if it didn’t you mightn’t have many parties left to choose from. Mana?

    I don’t care. If I’m only left with parties outside Parliament, so be it.

    That said, I suspect New Zealand First will oppose any change without a referendum.

    And perhaps I was a little hasty. I would be willing to consider voting for a party whose MPs vote to permanently extend the term of Parliament, if that party ceases to have any candidate on its list that actually voted for it.

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  14. liarbors a joke (1,069 comments) says:

    Why do we need the parasites at all ? 6 or 7 well rounded businessmen/women would do the job easily enough.

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  15. peterwn (3,342 comments) says:

    Should Councils and also serve 4 years to avoid both sets of elections occurring in some years?

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  16. graham (2,348 comments) says:

    Problem with that, liarbors a joke, is that Mana would probably have the businessmen/women arrested and locked up for being rich.

    If John Minto gets his way, the “vicious criminal gangs” (ie, business people who commit the cardinal sin of success) would be broken up by “arresting their ringleaders and locking them up.”

    And they wouldn’t be able to get around the country very efficiently, because they wouldn’t be allowed to use their cars – they would have to walk or use public transport.

    This isn’t a joke – this is Minto’s vision of the future.

    http://mana.net.nz/2013/01/the-feral-rich-how-can-we-help-them-john-minto/

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  17. metcalph (1,367 comments) says:

    The only Parliament I know with a shorter term is the US House of Representatives at two years, and we can see the impact as Representatives are constantly campaigning for re-election and hence the House has been a source of leglisative gridlock for many years.

    I don’t think that’s right. It’s the US Senate which is the source of legislative gridlock rather than the house.

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  18. James Stephenson (2,268 comments) says:

    Why is three years not enough?? I think this needs to be spelled out exactly why not given we have had 3 years for a very long time.

    For mine, three years is too short for any government to implement a policy that might cause short term pain for a longer term benefit and it a key (heh) contributor to the populism and vote-buying that characterises our politics.

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  19. toms (209 comments) says:

    At the moment, even under MMP power can be concentrated in the hands of a simple majority of the house – 61 people.

    Except that it isn’t – it is worse than that. The party whips and party discipline means power can be concentrated in the majority of the 61 – 31 people.

    But actually, it is worse than that. Real power is concentrated in a simple majority of the 24 cabinet minsters. So in this country, power is concentrated in the hands of as few as a dozen or so people, because the rest are bound by collective cabinet responsibility and the ridiculously strict caucus discipline in this country means the cabinet can impose their will on everyone else in the governing parties.

    In that context, the three year limit is an important constraint on power, which is why the politicians all hate it so much. Therefore so long as the country can be run by what is effectively absolute power in a unicameral parliament model by as few as twelve people I will not support a four term year.

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  20. Colville (2,321 comments) says:

    4 years. Bring it on.
    I bit more work wil actually get done between the period of getting elected and having all the BS posturing for the next election.
    Also fixed date and fixed salary rates prior to election for the full next term.

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  21. Pete George (23,836 comments) says:

    graham @ 10.50am – let’s be clear, for me, probably not. I can’t speak for Dunne but UF Policy is:

    It is UnitedFuture policy to:

    – Investigate an extension of the Parliamentary term to four years, with a fixed election day.

    – Initiate a referendum on the future of Maori seats in Parliament with a view to abolishing the seats by 2017.

    – Establish a New Zealand Day separate from Waitangi Day to celebrate our nation’s history, multicultural society, and to discuss the potential for the future.

    I do have concerns as to whether the people of New Zealand are capable of making a considered, sane decision. 3News asked several last night and it was mostly knee jerk responses, and at least one preferred a one year term. If their Mana got in they would probably change that view quickly.

    I’m a bit surprised though that the Stuff poll (small number of responses) shows 72.6% in favour of a four year term.

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  22. Dave Stringer (190 comments) says:

    he only Parliament I know with a shorter term is the US House of Representatives at two years, and we can see the impact as Representatives are constantly campaigning for re-election and hence the House has been a source of leglisative gridlock for many years.

    Isn’t it elections every two years for a four year term so half the house and senate cold change every two years?

    Have to look it up I guess.

    [DPF: No 100% of the House come up every two years. The Senate have six year terms and one third approx come up every two years]

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  23. Graeme Edgeler (2,972 comments) says:

    For mine, three years is too short for any government to implement a policy that might cause short term pain for a longer term benefit and is a key (heh) contributor to the populism and vote-buying that characterises our politics.

    I am intrigued by your implicit claim that populism and vote-buying do not characterise the politics of countries with four- and five-year terms.

    I agree with the theory – a longer term will enable longer-term planning, and will enable us to enact legislation in a more considered way – but I have seen nothing to suggest that the theory actually works in practice. Very little of the law we have enacted that has been ridden with mistakes has had its formulation inhibited by the three-year term.

    I’m totally open to supporting a four-year term, but someone should come up with the actual evidence of something, but the suggestion that the Government of other countries is superior to ours is a pretty hard sell at the moment.

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  24. Dave Stringer (190 comments) says:

    Right
    here’s the reality

    US National Elections take place every even-numbered year. Every four years the president, vice president, one-third of the Senate, and the entire House are up for election (on-year elections). On even-numbered years when there isn’t a presidential election, one-third of the Senate and the whole House are included in the election (off-year elections).

    From the Capital Reference on-line

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  25. gazzmaniac (2,306 comments) says:

    People are saying that governments need the first year for getting to grips with the bureacracy, the second year to do stuff and the third year as an election campaign.

    I have a solution to this. Move the election to a fixed date in July. Then the incoming government has six months to learn the bureacracy, two years to do stuff, and six months of election campaign. Then the “productivity” of parliament (if there is such a thing) is doubled, and the parliament retains a three year term.

    I see no reason whatsoever to change to a four year term.

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  26. James Stephenson (2,268 comments) says:

    @GE – I think the UK Conservatives have been pushing through some pretty unpopular cost cutting measures in the belief that it will pay off within this parliament in terms of economic growth. The Nats have attempted a lighter version of that (nowithstanding that however bad Clark and Cullen were, they didn’t stuff us to a Gordon Brownian extent) but have now backed off with an eye to next years election.

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  27. s.russell (1,651 comments) says:

    I am sympathetic to the idea of a four-year term, though open to argument on it.

    A fixed term is a lttle trickier. Preventing a PM from choosing an election date purely on the basis of political tactics (as per Australia) seems like a good thing. But there may be situations where good governance becomes impossible and an election is necessary to reset the situation – eg if a party were elected to the balance of power that then decided not to guarantee confidence and supply to either side but rather play silly games on a day-by-day basis.

    I am therefore nervous about creating a situation where you are stuck with that for four years. But it would be tricky to create a set of rules that stopped the date from being manipulated for political advantage without making an early election possible when it is truly justified.

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  28. Graeme Edgeler (2,972 comments) says:

    (nowithstanding that however bad Clark and Cullen were, they didn’t stuff us to a Gordon Brownian extent) but have now backed off with an eye to next years election.

    If the UK’s five-year term gets the credit for allowing the passage of good measures to save the economy, does it also take the blame for allowing the passage of bad laws that stuffed it up?

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  29. Nigel Kearney (1,102 comments) says:

    Not sure about the fixed date. The US is different because the executive there doesn’t depend on the confidence and support of the legislature. Here, the executive may fall with no clear majority support for any replacement. I think it would be interesting to go a couple of years with no government at all, but others may disagree. A rule that we only go early if the government is unable to continue, can easily be abused by a sufficiently corrupt leader, as Helen Clark demonstrated in 2002.

    A four year term would be better. They should just post-date it to take effect two elections after the change is enacted so nobody can be accused of doing it out of self-interest. It’s less constitutionally significant than ditching our highest court and having the government of the day appoint a replacement.

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  30. Fisiani (1,052 comments) says:

    A 3 year term is like a 6 monthly WOF. Completely unneeded in a new government/car. Moving to a 12 month WOF and a 4 year term is eminently sensible.

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  31. Jack5 (5,294 comments) says:

    We tend to have two-term Governments. So should we be thinking: eight years instead of six?

    Imagine 12 years of Helen Clark as PM!

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  32. Pete George (23,836 comments) says:

    We don’t often have one term governments. Increasing the term to four years may increase the frequency of that.

    What seems to happen now is caution in the first term to ensure election and then pushing policy boundaries in the second term. A four year term may encourage more boldness in the first term.

    And I think it will be far less likely to have three term governments, so eight year governments may become the normal long term reign.

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  33. krazykiwi (8,040 comments) says:

    Elections (a ruling class definition): A lamentably necessary suspension of absolute rule designed to give citizens both the illusion of democratic participation, and an opportunity to auction their greed.

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  34. gazzmaniac (2,306 comments) says:

    Jack5 – you might find that we would have only got 2 terms of Labour, and 2 terms of the previous National government, if there had been a four year term. Both were very unpopular after about the 7 year mark.

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  35. tropicana (79 comments) says:

    Danger signs

    I smell a rat. JK is hiding this behind the facade of 173 years of democracy, and behind the second facade of the Government’s Constituitional Review, and choosing Waitangi Day to present it.
    Be warned sensible commenters here!

    Dear colleagues, please we warned of the double-speak here. We don’t need the Treaty of Waitangi being enshrined in our constitutional arrangements. And we don’t need smoke screens like trying to get a new unwanted constitution laced with goodies while offering less-well-articulated secret causes.

    Relating this 4-year term thingy to 173 since the Treaty was signed, and presenting it on Waitangi Day, is a bad sign for me. A very bad sign.
    FUME: Fed Up with Maorification of Everything

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  36. s.russell (1,651 comments) says:

    Jack5,

    We tend to have two-term Governments.

    Actually, no. Labour 1984-90 was the only two-term government in the last 120 years.

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  37. gazzmaniac (2,306 comments) says:

    I think he meant to say “we tend to have three term governments”

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  38. Changeiscoming (202 comments) says:

    I voted against it back in 90 but now I think I would probably vote for it, not 100% sure. I am 100% sure, however, that it should go to a referendum. Big “items” like this should and if the referendum is on election day there is very little extra cost, if any.

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  39. Wayne Mapp (69 comments) says:

    MMP is the main reason for 4 years. Coalition politics means everything is a bit slower than with FPP. A lot of people would say that was a good thing, but it does take longer to action a government programme. Compare how long the MOM is taking compared to the privatisations of 1987 to 1990.

    I think the public understands this longer cycle with more political games because of the number of parties under MMP, so might give 4 years a shot, whereas they would not do so with FPP.

    It should definitely go to a referendum, simply because it has in the past, just as do changes to the electoral system. These are the big constitutional issues where the public expect to be able to decide, not MP’s.

    I expect the usual term of govt would become 8 years, not the current 9. I think two term govts would be better than three term govts. They would be more focused. The usual third term is a mess, or at least they have been under the three govts that made three terms since 1975. Think of Muldoon 1981 to 1984, Bolger/Shipley 1996 to 1999 and Clark 2005 to 2008. In all cases the third term was the worst.

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  40. berend (1,690 comments) says:

    No four years!!!

    I really like it we can vote politicians out after three years.

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  41. Tom Jackson (2,553 comments) says:

    If you can’t get anything done in three years, find another job.

    The problem isn’t the length of term; it’s the stuffed shirts and out and out nincompoops the public continually put in parliament.

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  42. RRM (10,104 comments) says:

    If you can’t get anything done in three years, find another job.

    Said the employers of Wernher von Braun, Christopher Wren…

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  43. jocko (110 comments) says:

    The ‘problem’ is the Uni-cameral System….three years is (more than) sufficient – especially given the concentration of power (viz. toms @ 11.18)….and ability to pass anything in 7 minutes-flat through all stages (viz. super for parliamentarians & senior public servants). Where are the checks & balances?

    If we had a Bi-Cameral System….I could vote for four years – in a referendum.
    This is also a feature of longer-term Parliamentary terms.
    So what is the quid pro quo to the voting public for giving up the present three year electoral term?

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  44. Jack5 (5,294 comments) says:

    S.Russell (1.27) and Gassman (1.36): you are both right and I was wrong. Three-term governments seem to have been more common than two-term ones.

    I was thinking of three terms of four years when I shuddered at the thought of 12 years of Helen Clark at the helm.

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  45. gazzmaniac (2,306 comments) says:

    Wayne Mapp said

    MMP is the main reason for 4 years.

    I have a solution to that problem too.

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  46. Jack5 (5,294 comments) says:

    Stephen Franks has some interesting things to say about the Parliamentary term.

    http://www.stephenfranks.co.nz/

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