Jeanette Fitzsimons on the waka jumping bill

Former Greens co-leader writes:

It breaches the Bill of Rights. It denies freedom of speech and association. It is contrary to international and NZ precedent. It is opposed by an impressive array of senior legal, constitutional and political experts. The Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill – or “waka-jumping bill” as it is better known – is unnecessary to address any real problem.

Integrity cannot be legislated for. It is a matter of conscience and judgement. In some cases leaving one’s party is an act of integrity – as when the party has departed from the policies it took to the election, or has abused proper process. In other cases, it may be just self-serving political expediency. Normally the law has the sense not to intervene here. Personal judgements will differ on whether an action is carried out with integrity and only the voters can be the judge of that. In our system of three-year terms, they don’t have to wait long for the opportunity and in the past they have exercised it, generally returning members who changed their allegiance on well founded principle, and getting rid of the opportunists.

Let the voters decide, not the party leaders.

Dissent is a valuable part of the political process. Without it, MPs are just clones of their leader. Having dealt with it as co-leader of the Green Party caucus at times, between 1999 and 2009, I know uncomfortable it can be but the remedy is inclusiveness and listening and wide discussion, not shutting down the political process.

The bill is a coalition requirement of NZ First because its leader doesn’t like dissent.

The main argument advanced for the Bill, in fact its stated purpose, is to maintain proportionality of political party representation … as determined by electors. This elevates a bureaucratic structure – the party – above the principles it stands for.

Political parties exist to give form to a set of (hopefully) coherent ideas, policies and processes which together make up its platform. This is what voters vote for, along with confidence (or not) in the representatives themselves. Proportionality in the representation of ideas, policies and political philosophy is a worthy goal as voters’ wishes, in a democracy, should be supreme. However parties do not always ensure that. Major unsignalled changes in policy by parties have led to a number of the realignments of members in order to better represent their constituents and their consciences – notably the move to neo-liberalism in 1985; division over war in Afghanistan in 2002; the Foreshore and Seabed legislation in 2004. The Bill is founded on the idea that parties are always right, and dissidents always wrong. That is far from the case.

The Greens are normally a party of dissent. How can they possibly keep supporting this terrible bill?

Our political system already allows departures from party proportionality in several ways: for example the overhang created when a party wins a seat or seats greater than its party vote would entitle it to; and a by-election which changes the party balance in the house. These have not been seen as requiring special legislation.

When Winston Peters won Northland in a by-election that upset the proportionality of Parliament. He didn’t offer to give up the extra vote did he?

NZ First would not exist if Hon Winston Peters had not left National on a point of principle to become an independent MP, later forming the new party. When he was joined in 1996 by Peter McCardle and Michael Laws from National and Jack Elder from Labour, Mr Peters said, and I agree with him: “Members of Parliament have to be free to follow their consciences. They were elected to represent their constituents, not swear an oath of blind allegiance to a political party. If an MP feels that membership in another elected party better serves his or her constituents, then that can be put to the test at election time.”

The two biggest supporters if this law were Peters and Anderton. Huge hypocrisy as they were both waka jumpers themselves.

Defections from political parties were a feature of the transition from FPP to MMP. They occurred n Germany in the early days of the new electoral system, and in NZ before and after the introduction of MMP as MPs positioned themselves for the new system. Since then they have largely dried up, with only three in the 18 years since 2000. This bill is a poor solution, looking for a non-existent problem.

I was there for Fitzsimon’s submission. It was excellent. I just hope the Greens listen because if this passes into law, it will be very hard to get rid off.

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