Constitution and confidence votes

November 15th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Governor-General made some interesting points in a speech this week:

It is worth remembering that a party or grouping of parties may be able to secure a majority even if it does not hold more than half of the seats in the House.  This is because a confidence vote, like all questions put to the House, is decided by a simple majority of votes cast.  To illustrate the point: a party may state publicly and unambiguously that it will not provide support on matters of confidence to any other party or grouping of parties, and that it will instead abstain on confidence votes and vote on legislation case by case.  Whatever that party’s motives, its abstention is constitutionally significant, because it reduces the number of votes another party or grouping of parties will need to win confidence votes and command the confidence of the House.

This is not an impossible scenario. A centrist party could take that stance. They would effectively hold the balance of power on votes on individual legislation, but abstain on confidence and supply votes. This would mean that the party or bloc with the largest number of seats (even if not a majority) could form Government.

Since MMP was introduced, it has been the practice of the parties forming the government to commit to working together for the duration of the parliamentary term.  This is not a formal requirement, and there can never be a guarantee that any agreement reached will hold in practice.  My experience of New Zealanders, though, is that they place a high value on stable government, and will expect parties to make best endeavours to agree on commitments for the full term of Parliament.

This is also a key point. Parties don’t need to commit for the full term, and as the GG says, they can change their mind anyway.

It is possible for a Government to be formed without formal confidence and supply agreements. Just on the basis of a statement from a party that for now they will vote for confidence. Basically it is minority government. This is the case in Canada where minority Governments often are the case, but never have formal confidence and supply agreements.

Editorials on new GG

March 9th, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom-Post:

The appointment of former Defence Force chief Jerry Mateparae as the next governor-general is an inspired choice.

As the first Maori to head the Defence Force, Lieutenant General Mateparae made a point of steering clear of tokenism. …

In many respects his appeal is similar to that of John Key. Like the prime minister he is a self-made man.

He joined the army on a whim as a 17-year-old and rose rapidly through the ranks, serving two years in the elite SAS, serving with United Nations monitors in Lebanon, commanding a truce monitoring group in Bougainville and jointly commanding New Zealand’s forces in East Timor, before becoming head of the army and then the Defence Force.

And the NZ Herald:

His appointment makes a refreshing change. Nobody needs to be a lawyer to act on constitutional advice and after three judges in succession, he will bring a different set of life experiences to the role.

It will be particularly encouraging for the armed forces to see one of their own elevated to head of state. It reflects perhaps a revival of public interest in the services. Their recent missions, notably in East Timor and in Afghanistan, have been cause for pride. The open celebration of Corporal Willie Apiata’s Victoria Cross has given a good impression of the SAS and General Mateparae has agreed to make public a little more information on the special force’s activities in our name. …

He will bring a young family to Government House. That should be refreshing too. He will have five years, possibly more, to make the position his own. He could ensure it is seen and heard more often when it matters, such as in Christchurch these past two weeks. We hope he will.

One of the things I like about the appointment, is the potential role model for youth. You can join the army with no qualifications at 17 and end up as the effective head of state of New Zealand.

Governor-General Jerry Mateparae

March 8th, 2011 at 1:31 pm by David Farrar

John Key announces:

Prime Minister John Key today welcomed the announcement that the Queen has approved the appointment of Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae to succeed Sir Anand Satyanand as Governor-General of New Zealand.

If I have it right he will be “His Excellency, the Right Honourable Lieutenant General Sir Jeremiah (Jerry) Mateparae, Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of the Realm of New Zealand”.

The announcement from Buckingham Palace details Mateparae’s background:

His current appointment is Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), which he took up on 7 February 2011. Prior to joining GCSB, he had a 38 year career with the New Zealand Defence Force, which culminated in his appointment as Chief of Defence Force in the rank of Lieutenant General from 1 May 2006 until 24 January 2011. General Mateparae was the first officer of Maori descent to hold the rank and appointment.

He enlisted into the Regular Force of the New Zealand Army in June 1972. After three years service as a soldier, he graduated in 1976 from the Officer Cadet School at Portsea into the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment. He served in both battalions of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment and with the New Zealand Special Air Service. He commanded a regionally-based combined force Truce Monitoring Group on the island of Bougainville during OPERATION BELISI in 1998. He also completed a 12-month tour of duty with the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organisation as the Chief Observer in southern Lebanon from May 1994 to May 1995. Subsequently, as the New Zealand Army’s Land Commander he was New Zealand’s Joint Commander for New Zealand forces in East Timor (December 1999 to July 2001). He was Chief of Army from 1 May 2002 until 30 April 2006.

He might be the first spy head to be appointed Governor-General, but I suspect he is also the only former SAS member to be appointed also. He’s gone from the Chief of the Defence Force to the only “military” job above that!

The Republican Movement have made the point:

The Republican Movement acknowledges the nomination of Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae as Governor-General by Prime Minister John Key today. Lt. Gen. Mateparae is a well known and respected New Zealander. He topped a poll in October last year of 1,435 New Zealanders conducted by the Republican Movement to find New Zealand’s next Governor-General.

“Yet, his appointment was made in secret and lacked democratic oversight” said Lewis Holden, chair of the Republican Movement.

New Zealand needs a proper elected head of state, not an appointee of the Prime Minister.

While the choice is a very good one, I have to agree that the Head of Government should not effectively unilaterally decide who is the effective Head of State. At a minimum it should be a parliamentary vote.

Of interest is what Lewis said about Mateparae having topped the poll that Republican Movement ran for who should be the next head of state. The poll results are here:

  1. Lieutenant-General Jerry Mateparae 34%
  2. Ray Avery 16%
  3. Sir Peter Leitch 12%
  4. Jim Bolger 8%
  5. Sir Don McKinnon 7%

I think he’s a very good choice. I’ve met him a couple of times at social functions (well if you can call a funeral wake a social function) and he’s very down to earth. He’s excelled at pretty much everything he has done in life, so I have no doubt he will be an excellent Governor-General.

Top 10 choices for Governor-General

October 3rd, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The HoS reports on the request by the Republican Movement to the Prime Minister, to let Parliament vote on who the next Governor-General will be.

Over 1,200 nominations have been made, through the Movement’s campaign site. The 10 most popular (in alphabetical order) are:

Ray Avery: 2010 New Zealander of the Year, a scientist whose work has enhanced the lives of many in third-world countries through his low-cost healthcare inventions.

Jim Bolger: Prime minister 1990-97. Taranaki-born Bolger oversaw the introduction of MMP and radical economic and social changes.

Justice Sir Eddie Durie: The first Maori appointed to the high court. He was chief judge of the Maori Land Court 1980-98 and Waitangi Tribunal chair 1980-2004.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Co-leader of the Green Party 1995-2010. An MP from 1996-2010.

John Hood: A Rhodes Scholar, Oxford vice-chancellor 2004-09.

Sir Peter Leitch: Known as the Mad Butcher and famous for his charity work and support of sport. Pictured above with daughter Angela.

Lieutenant-General Jerry Mateparae: Current Defence Force chief. First Maori appointed to position in 2006.

Sir Don McKinnon: Commonwealth secretary-general 1999-2009, minister of foreign affairs 1990-99 and deputy prime minister 1990-96.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer: Prime minister 1989-90 and deputy prime minister 1984-89. Currently Law Commission president.

Dame Anne Salmond: Noted historian who is a member of the British Royal Society and was pro-chancellor of the Auckland University 1997-2006.

I’m against politicians being GG, but would be very comfortable with John Hood, Sir Peter Leitch, Lt General Mateparae or Dame Anne Salmond.