Why a Four Year Parliamentary Term is not a Good Idea
Three years or four?
John Key has made suggestions to reform certain aspects of the Parliamentatry electoral cycle,
- A fixed date for elections, such as our American cuzzies have
- And extending the Parliamentary term from three to four years
The first suggestion – having a fixed date for elections – is sound. Anything that takes a wee bit of power away from politicians should be welcomed.
On that basis – anything that takes a wee bit of power away from politicians should be welcomed – extending the Parliamentary term from three to four years is one that fills me with disquiet.
I’ve heard the arguments for extending the Parliamentary term,
- It’s more efficient
- It gives government more time to achieve things
- Governments spend the third year of their current term in election mode to win the next election
None of those three arguments convinces me.
1. It’s more efficient
So is the One Party State; an autocratic ruler; or a Parliamentary term of ten or twenty years . But would we be any better of, in terms of public participation democracy? (Think: Putin in Russia.)
2. It gives government more time to achieve things…
That statement is never completed. It gives government more time to achieve – what? What incredibly complex, radical reforms are there that require an extra year (or more) for a government to have more time? What does Key have in mind that demands a four year term?
Remember that Select Committees work in unison, not one at a time, and Legislation can be passed in as little as 48 hours – as “The Hobbit Law” showed us (see: Helen Kelly – The Hobbit Dispute) – not that I’m advocating legislative changes conducted at warp speed.
Perhaps governments might have “more time to achieve things” if time wasn’t wasted with petty point-scoring in the Debating Chamber?
3. Governments spend the third year of their current term in election mode to win the next election
Perhaps a government might not have to spend the entire third year in “campaign mode” if, in the preceding two years, they worked with the people and not against them?
A phrase comes to mind…
By their works ye shall know them.
A good government shouldn’t have to spend the entire third year in “election mode”. A bad government will never have enough time to campaign for re-election.
It’s not the length of time that should matter to a government, but what they achieve with it. If the people approve, a good government will be returned with a decent majority. A good government should have nothing to fear from the electorate.
Looking at the last 30 years, would I be inclined to give politicians (of all hues) an extra year?
Not bloody likely.
And I’m not referring to the scandals; the cronyism; unpopular asset sale programme; rising unemployment; cynical beneficiary bashing; growing child poverty and widening income/wealth gap.
I’m referring to attitude.
John Key wants us to trust him with an extra year in power.
But has he given us reason to trust him?
If anything, Key’s attitude of dismissive, casual arrogance does not reassure us that he (or his successors) would use additional political power without a corresponding rise in said arrogance.
To remind the reader of what John Key really thinks of us and his critics…
In May 2011, journalist journalist Jon Stephenson, wrote a scathing expose of New Zealand’s involvement in Afghanistan and questioned whether they were complicit in torture.
The article outlined two instances last year where SAS forces allegedly captured suspects and handed them to Afghanistan authorities, including the Afghan secret police, the National Directorate of Security, which has a reputation for torturing prisoners.
New Zealand has signed several international conventions outlawing the inhumane detention of prisoners, including torture.
When challenged, Stephenson offered,
“I’m happy to put my information before an inquiry. Any fair or impartial inquiry will show that they are the ones misleading the public. Not me.”
It which point Key jumped in with this derisory response,
“I’ve got no reason for NZDF to be lying, and I’ve found [Stephenson] myself personally not to be credible.”
Key then attempted to smear Stephenson’s character by accusing him of making a bogus phone call.
We should not forget John Key dismissal of Nicky Hager’s book, on CIA involvement in NZ military activities in Afghanistan. Key said,
“I don’t have time to read fiction.”
Key claimed that the book contained “no smoking gun”, just supposition, which, “makes it business as normal for Nicky Hager”. (Despite the book having 1,300-plus footnotes to referencing documentation.)
National ministers also seem to have little hesitation in attacking their critics in quite nasty ways. Remember Natasha Fuller, Jennifer Johnston, Bradley Ambrose, and even Bomber Bradbury who fell foul of the system when he dared criticse Dear Leader?
If there are “trust issues” here – they seem well founded.
2.The Poor & Unwise “life” choices
Key’s disdain of those who do not meet his world-view was perhaps best summed up on 17 February, 2011, when he was reported as making these comments,
When Labour’s social development spokeswoman Annette King asked about Salvation Army reports of high demand for food parcels, Mr Key responded by saying it was true that the global recession meant more people were on benefits.
“But it is also true that anyone on a benefit actually has a lifestyle choice. If one budgets properly, one can pay one’s bills. And that is true because the bulk of New Zealanders on a benefit do actually pay for food, their rent and other things. Now some make poor choices and they don’t have money left.”
Well, at least we know the real thoughts of the boy from a subsidised State house, raised by a solo-mum receiving state assistance, and who had the benefit of a free, taxpayer funded University education.
3. Public Opposition
On 4 May 2012, over five thousand people took part in a peaceful, anti-asset sales Hikoi to Parliament,
Key’s response was instructive,
“How many people did they have? John Key asked reporters. “Where was it? Nope wasn’t aware of it.”
Key says the National Party has a clear mandate to proceed with privatising some state assets.
“Well over a million New Zealanders voted for National in the full knowledge we were going to undertake the mixed ownership model,” he said.
“So look, a few thousand people walking down the streets of Wellington isn’t going to change my mind.”
Nearly a year later, on 12 March, a 392,000-plus signature petition was presented to Parliament. The petition was signed by ordinary New Zealanders who wanted nothing more or less than a say in their future.
Key said of the opposition petition you could be as “sure as little green apples [that] huge numbers of them are not bona fide names on the list” and would have to be struck off.
“They’ve probably taken over a year to get maybe 300,000 names, we’ve had 285,000 pre-registrations in a matter of days”.
And according to Green Party co-leader, Russell Norman, Key further disparaged New Zealanders who signed the petition by saying,
“…that the Prime Minister has said the people who signed this are children and tourists….”
Key forgot to add, “let them eat cake”.
Never forget that we are governed by an “elected dictatorship”,
- There is no Upper House to scrutinise legislation from governments.
- There is no written constitution to safeguard our interests.
- Referenda have all the ‘bite’ of a toothless octagenarian (not that I support binding referenda – especially without Constitutional safeguards to protect the rights of minorities).
- There are no mid-term elections; right-of-recall; Presidential Veto; or any other controls over elected representatives.
Once elected, unless a Member of Parliament is found guilty of a criminal act, we have zero control over them.
Just because this government is still (apparently) popular with the aspirationists and middle classes, is not a reason to trust Key – or any other politician for that matter.
There have been too many broken promises; secret agendas; and bitterness from raised expectations that were soon dashed.
It is a truism that trust has to be earned.
And thus far, the glimpse that we’ve had into our current Prime Minister’s persona, is not one that fills me with confidence or trust.
New Zealanders may wish to reflect carefully before giving politicians any more power. It may be ok when it’s “your man (or woman) in power”. You may feel different if it’s the Other Guy running the country.
The issue simply boils down to one simple question;
How far do you trust the buggers?
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 15 March 2013.
Wikipedia: Election Day (United States)
NZ Herald: Food parcel families made poor choices, says Key (17 Feb 2011)
NZ Herald: PM attacks journalist over SAS torture claims (3 May 2011)
NZ Herald: Charities’ food handouts at record after Govt cuts (18 Oct 2011)
TVNZ: Key unfazed as protesters descend on Parliament (4 May 2012)
Fairfax media: PM John Key Wants Four-Year Term For Parliament (7 Feb 2013)
Fairfax media: Government to ignore asset sales referendum (12 March 2013)
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