A guest post by Gary Benner:
A White Paper on How to Better our Parliament & Electoral System
It is suggested that these changes be referred to the “Ardern Changes”, not because they are
advocated by our current PM, but for the reason that they are necessary because of her performance
at the head of a party with an absolute majority in the New Zealand MMP based Parliament.
This experience has disenfranchised so many New Zealanders, and enabled career politicians to
take control of not just the economy, but the very culture of New Zealand, promoting a divisive and
hateful atmosphere throughout the whole of our society.
The current experience with our government raises a number of issues to be
The House of Representatives does not represent the citizens of New Zealand anymore
(not sure it ever did actually). Once MP’s are elected and move into the “House of
Representatives”, they are no longer truly able to represent their constituents, as they almost
all have to adhere to Party dictates, as evidenced clearly by the existance of Party “Whips”.
This then gives inordinate powers to just a few people at the top level of the party in
The “Party System” in conjunction with MMP enables the control of the parliamentary
process by elite members of the various political parties, and a dominance of a generic “left
versus right” polarisation that drowns out creative and dynamic solutions being developed
Where dominance of one party exists, they have the ability to control all processes such as
Select Committees without any checks and balances.
Lack of independence with the Speaker of the House. The current one is a prime example.
So called “Captains Calls” that bypass the democratic process.
The position of Governor General has no significant function, apart from ceremonial, and
needs to given some teeth.
The total lack of transparency and accountability, despite this being part of the current
government’s election promises.
A group of major national media organisations trained to be dependent on government
handouts, with the apparent lack of an aggressive questioning of government policies and
Out of date statistical data on what is really happening in our country.
1 All 60 Electorate MP’s must be independents, and not aligned to any political party. They
should have a commitment to represent solely the region for which they were elected. Their
campaigning should be directed at their track record in governance, business acumen,
and backed by a local team to hear and include the ideas and needs of all persons in their
2 The 60 List Members will be as at present, party aligned, and will campaign on their Party’s
policies, track record, and the skill sets of their members. Each Party registered must
document a set of planned policies which they will be allowed to put forward for voting in
parliament during the next term, should they be elected. This allows parties to attract
talented individuals who do not wish to split their focus between their career speciality
and local service.
3 The party with the most votes have the mandate to form a cabinet and elect a PM from
within their ranks, and to set the legislative calendar as per their documented policies
published prior to the election. Any additional legislation introduced, as driven by
circumstances will have a higher percentage level of votes in parliament to pass.
4 Select Committees will remain, and should be assigned to List MPs. The Party with the most
votes gets to select the Committees it wishes to head, as per their proportion of members.
Obviously Finance will be the first they will choose. Then the party with the next greatest
number of MP’s chooses its allocation, and so on. The same process will then apply to
Committee membership, with no Committee having more members in proportion to the
Party count. This would allow for the removal of the 5% minimum for MMP representation,
and the need for parties to have to formally create coalition arrangements. Simply, the party
with the most votes gets to lead.
5 The Speaker of the House has to have a role re-definition, focusing on the operational
processes of the House alone. The appointment should come from outside the members, and
perhaps a member of the Judiciary that is satisfactory to a minimum of 75% of the House
members as a whole. Nominations could be approved by the current Governor General.
6 All legislation brought to the House must be debated in full, with matters of “urgency”
meeting specific criteria, that will be allowed only by a preliminary vote of 75% of the
voting members. This criteria should be available only for matters of National Emergency,
such as adverse events, war etc. All other legislation should proceed through the full
7 All legislation brought to the House, to proceed through the standard process, will proceed
through the three stages as at present, but voted on by the electorate MP’s alone. List
elected Members will not participate in the vote, as this is an affirmation stage for legislation
they bring to and formulate for the House to consider. This is what creates the balance – one
side creating the legislation, knowing it has to be approved by the other. A poor man’s upper
8 A legislation review process should be implemented, so that all legislation must be reaffirmed
after 12 months. Any legislation that fails to be re-affirmed should be removed
from the books. This is similar what I believe is the Swiss System. As a background process,
all past legislation over 25 years will require an affirmation, or marked for review as
appropriate. Perhaps one a month chosen by ballot submitted by all MP’s. This will ensure
legislation is refreshed, or removed as appropriate.
9 The Governor General to have an enhanced position, and one that is elected every five
years. In the current situation, the Queen, or her successor, must approve the election of her
representative. In the event of a rejection, should that ever happen, then the reasons must be
communicated, and a new election held. Or perhaps candidates nominated need the Royal
assent to be on the ballot.
The requirements for the position of Governor General are one that ensure the person is able
to fulfil the special role.
9.1 They have never participated in public party political activity during their life
9.2 They have had a career encompassing governance, public duty, have not been
part of any organisation advocating for, or public lobbying for action on behalf of a
specific group or set of moral or political goals, and they must have an unblemished
9.3 They are retired from any current career for a period of two years, prior to being
nominated. Nominations must be supported by a full resume of the individuals career
and experience, achievements and proof of party independence.
9.4 All duties with other organisations, or any association where there is a potential
for partiality are relinquished
9.5 If they have significant investments (greater than $1M), these are placed into a
Blind Trust managed by a fully independent professional firm for the duration of their
9.6 Their duty is to affirm all legislation passed by the House of Representatives, that
in their view, it serves the best interests of the citizens of New Zealand as a whole. They
have the following options for every item of legislation:
9.6.1 affirm the legislation as presented
9.6.2 return the legislation to the House with a list of concerns – if returned then
any further voting requires a 70% threshold. Any such legislation passed in this
manner is then automatically entered into the books.
9.7 The Governor General should have access to enough resource to take take
specialist advice on matters of a technical nature, but this must be limited, and not an
excuse to create a separate public service.
10 To ensure that Electorate MP’s are fully engaged with their electorate voters, a
number of activities must be implemented as a minimum:
10.1 They will employ a local team of three staff who are working constantly in the
region to deal with issues raised by constituents.
10.2 Monthly public “town hall” meetings, live streamed, with “all comer” questions
able to be asked. Those asking technical questions should indicate in advance, or expect
the answer to be deferred to the next meeting. In large electorates these must be
distributed around the region, with at least one remote location every three months. (eg.
East Cape). Maybe also have the opportunity for (local) List MP’s also to attend and
10.3 An online forum available for all constituents to air opinions on current matters,
and where the elected MP must respond to those issues, for all to see.
10.4 A recall election for an electorate MP must be held if a petition with 5,000 or
25% of the voters (whatever is the lessor) signatures is received by the Electoral
Commission. Only one per term can be held in each electorate. Each application must be
validated by the Governor General to ensure it is not frivolous.
10.5 Parliament should only need to sit two weeks every month, giving the time for
select committees in Wellington to undertake their work, and electorate MP’s to spend
time in their respective regions.
- This does not require a change in regard to the current Monarchist vs Republic debate, as it
will work for both.
- Little change to resources required in Parliament, as there is only role re-assignments.
- Some changes for the Governor General, and at a local level, but worth it in the longer term,
and would provide a segue to any republic moves in the future.
- It ensures that the frustration felt in the general public that lead to the Convoy 2022 and
public occupations around the country has not reason to happen again.
- That the public has an ability to engage almost daily in political matters, instead of being
relegated to literally a binary choice, in a once every three years circus, highly managed in
the media, and leaving citizens unable to exert influence in real time.
- There has to be mechanisms to ensure the independence of electorate MP’s. Non-aligned to
any organisation, and a period of 3 – 5 years since holding office in any body advocating for
a specific political outcome ( eg. Business Roundtable, Union etc).
- That all state funding of, and investment in media organisations is banned.
- That voting patterns of all Electorate MP’s is published online in “real time”, so constituents
can see and rate the independence of their MP.
- That Statistics NZ have a mandate to publish all performance and quality information online
for all government departments in real time, in complete form. This could involve the creation of
“Dashboards” showing the current state of, and trends in all areas – Health, Education, Business &
Finance, Crime & Justice etc. This data should also be shown relative to the same information
(where possible) in other major countries. For instance we currently have extremely manicured
health statistics, some of it obscenely out of date.
- The independence of local MP’s is critical, and there may be a period of adjustment
required, as it would be foolish to suggest that many good current MP’s aligned to the current model would be excluded immediately.