Friday, February 8, 2013

"Four more years boys..."

The words above still sting. George Gregan's sledge directly into Byron Kelleher's ear late in the 2003 Rugby World Cup semi-final became sporting folk-lore.

Now though, as this morning's Herald editorial notes, we can look at four more years from a different perspective; check this out:

Four more years. Those words have carried depressing connotations for New Zealanders in the recent past, echoing as they do the gloat from Wallaby halfback George Gregan when the All Blacks were bundled out of yet another Rugby World Cup tournament. The win at home in 2011 put that particular anxiety to rest.
It emerges again, however, in a different context, one that might arise watching an election night party, as in the United States. On Waitangi Day, Prime Minister John Key and Opposition leader David Shearer both voiced support for extending our parliamentary term from three to four years. Both talked sense. Acknowledging any change would require public buy-in - Mr Key thought it a common sense move that could appeal to New Zealanders.
He said the topic was part of the Constitutional Review being overseen by deputy Prime Minister Bill English and Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples. A change would need support from either three-quarters of MPs in an (unlikely) vote in Parliament or a majority in a public referendum.
Mr Key's instinct that the public might see change as sensible now runs counter to the latest public vote on a four-year term. That referendum in 1990 was a rejection by almost 70 per cent of those responding, reinforcing a similar vote in the 1960s.
What is often overlooked is the result in 1990 followed intense public disquiet at the actions of the Fourth Labour Government between 1984 and 1990, producing its landslide defeat. Voters were in no mood to give the Executive more time to push through radical and unpopular reforms. Bruised by the Douglas-ite mantra that there was no alternative, the public chose what appeared to be one of its few remaining sanctions - the three-yearly chance to cry "enough".
The referendum defeat for the four-year term preceded the adoption of the new MMP electoral system, which took effect at the 1996 election. It has, as was intended, led to broader representation and coalition governments, often produced from close election night results between the left and right political groupings.
While the Executive still drives policy change - as with this Government's determination to sell parts of the state power companies - negotiation with coalition partners or with parties across the floor of the House to secure votes for controversial measures has tended to temper radicalism.
The Government's handling of the state asset sales may well reignite public distaste for politicians and the parliamentary process, derailing any new move to extend the term. Early reaction from letters to the editor would indicate much cynicism already about giving politicians more time at the wheel.

We're open to the idea of a four-year term. At times three years doesn't seem enough; a new government spends the first year getting its feet under the table, and the third year in election mode leaving a brief window to enact policy. And look at our current situation here; fourteen months into the electoral cycle, both National and Labour are already positioning themselves for an election late next year.

And MMP may actually dilute the potential threat of a rogue government. Since MMP was introduced at the 1996 General Election, no party has had absolute power, and either National or Labour has had to form alliances with other parties in order to govern. Whilst we often complain about the tail wagging the dog, MMP does provide some form of moderation.

What is more interesting is the suggestion that the election date be fixed at the start of a government's term. John Key went against the trend in 2011 by announcing the November election date early in the year. In hindsight, that proved to be a perfectly sensible decision, especially after the game-playing of his predecessor in 2008. There would seem to be no disadvantages to knowing the election date four years in advance.

On the balance of things, we support this proposal which has drawn support from both sides of the political divide. Whilst our last one-term government was the Kirk/Rowling one of 1972-75, one term governments may indeed become more common. Conversely three term governments may become a rarity. 

Let's have the discussion.

2 comments:

Lawless by name said...

And no years at all for Lucy Lawless.
This is good news.

Lofty said...

I can think of many advantages to a four year term.....then I picture those filthy commie watermelon liars in a position of influence for so long and I immediatly switch off the idea.
In fact 1 week would be too long for me with those duplicious bribing pretenders anywhere near government.