Opinion split on longer term

March 25th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Claire Trevett at NZ Herald reports:

Just over half of those asked in a Herald-DigiPoll survey said they believed the three-year term should stay, while 48 per cent believed it should increase to four years.

That’s a promising response showing NZers are open to persuasion on this issue.

Mr Key has said any such change would be made only if there was sufficient public support, likely to be determined through a referendum.

I think there should be a binding referendum in 2014 on this issue. I would tie two things in as part of it:

  • Have a fixed date for elections, removing the PM’s ability to set an early date for tactical reasons. Only have an early election is a Government loses a confidence vote.
  • Don’t have the change in term come in until 2020 – ie make absolutely clear the next two terms will remain at three years. This means people won’t think it is about the current Government trying to get a longer term

David Farrar, a National-aligned blogger, supported a move to four years, saying three years was not enough time in which to assess whether new policies were working. He expected it would result in more one-term Governments – something that has happened only twice so far in New Zealand’s political history.

“People do feel three years is not long enough to judge. With a four-year term, more Governments might get chucked out after one term because people would say, ‘It’s been four years, we should have seen some impact.”‘

Three years is pretty much the shortest term in the world.

Support for a four year term

March 1st, 2013 at 4:10 pm by David Farrar

I’ve just updated at Curiablog the full poll results from the One News Colmar Brunton poll and one of the issues they polled on was a four year term. The question they asked was:

“The current term of Government in New Zealand is three years, after which a general election is held.
Recently some politicians have suggested increasing the term from three to four years. Do you support
increasing the term of Government to four years?”

The results were:

  • 56% yes
  • 40% no

That is a welcome sign that a referendum in 2014 on the issue could succeed. I think it would be important that any change would not come into effect immediately but after the 2017 (or even 2020) election. That way it is not a poll on an extra year for the current Government.

The Parliamentary Library has also just published a research paper on parliamentary terms.

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 term of Parliament.

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 term of Parliament 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.

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 term of Parliament 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.

A four year term

May 18th, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Last Friday I attended a workshop of around 15 people, with the aim being to go through the Government’s Electoral Finance legislation and identify potential improvements. It was (I thought) a very useful meeting, and some of the output will flow through in submissions.

The attendees were a mixture of lawyers and academics, including some overseas experts.

Generally the workshop was not about pushing for policy changes to the proposed bill, but how to make it work more effectively and close down unintended loopholes etc.

However it did sometimes reach into policy areas a bit. When we were trying to come up with a definition of the regulated period that is not retrospective, but handles early and late elections, the consensus was that the best solution would be a fixed term of Parliament – like the US has.

Also the consensus (only one person not favourable) was that a four year term would be a significant improvement.

By coincidence Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway has blogged today:

We’ve just passed the half-way mark of this term of Parliament. As a first-term MP I can tell you it has flown by and I can’t believe we will be back into election year next year.

A lot of people in my electorate have commented that our 3-year term seems incredibly short.

Most have stated a preference for a four-year term, but wouldn’t want to go as far as five years.

I guess under FPP we didn’t want to wait too long before we got to tell our MPs how they were going. But under MMP would we be better off with a slightly longer term?

No Right Turn is against, but the Dim Post is in favour.

I am a very strong supporter of a four year fixed term. I think doing so, would significantly improve Government decision making. It would also mean parties would not need to raise as much money privately, as elections would be less frequent.

In the US the House has a two year term, which means they are in near permanent re-election mode. Hence some badly needed laws (such as immigration reform) never get passed as the next election is always around the corner.

In New Zealand, only the middle year tends to be highly useful. The first year is spent implementing the manifesto, and the third year is spent doing as little as possible to upset people. The second year is the opportunity to implement policies and laws to deal with “harder” issues.

So a move to a four year term, would effectively double the amount of time Parliament has in dealing with issues that are not easy to deal with in sound bites.

I suspect Governments would tend to end up normally serving two terms of four years, rather than three terms of three years.

Now any changed has to be approved by the people, and in 1967 only 32% voted for a four year term and in 1990 it was only 31%.

However I think with a fairly popular Government in place, one could get a majority to agree – especially if the implementation was not immediate, but say from 2017 onwards for example.

The 1990 vote was take when the electorate was desperate to throw Labour out of office, and the last thing they wanted was another year before they could do so.

The 1967 vote was taken halfway though a Government’s third term of office – again not an ideal time.

Would be great to have a private member’s bill for a referendum on the term to be held with the 2011 election.