Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Thoughts on a four-year term

The Maxim Institute has made a submission to the Constitution Advisory Panel regarding a four-year term for Parliament. Now we accept that the Maxim Institute may not be everyone's cup of tea, but this issue is not a right/left one, nor is it a religious/non-religious debate. So the fact that it is Maxim's proposal ought not detract from debating the merits of the submission itself.

Here's the presser that accompanied the submission, via Scoop:

Time for a Four-Year Parliamentary Term
Attention New Zealand: it’s time for a four-year term. While it’s been in and out of the news all year, after extensive research Maxim Institute has found sufficient evidence that New Zealand is finally ready for this kind of constitutional change.
In a submission (see attached) to the Constitution Advisory Panel released today, Maxim Institute Researcher Kieran Madden argues that a fixed four-year term strikes the right balance between effective government and governmental accountability.
“Voters should have regular opportunities to tighten the reins on their elected representatives, but this must be balanced with the need to allow governments sufficient time to carry out what they promised and respond to problems as they arise,” says Mr Madden.
“With the changes to our constitutional landscape brought about by the move away from first past the post and the powerful majority governments it tended to produce, it is now time to look seriously at shifting the balance to allow more time for governments to govern well.”
“MMP has made enough of a difference to the way the powers of government are distributed and the legislative process carried out that the time is now right for Kiwis to decide this question at a referendum,” says Kieran Madden. 

You can read Maxim's full submission here. The sub-heading is Striking the best balance of government effectiveness and accountability, and that describes the submission pretty well. It is certainly well worth a read.

We can see definite advantages in a longer term of Parliament. For a start, less frequent elections would represent a cost saving to the taxpayer of around 25%. More important though, we reckon that it might actually lead to better legislation, with incumbent governments having an extra year to pass new legislation. We have always maintained that rushed legislation is unlikely to be good legislation, and a longer term would certainly help in that regard.

Maxim argues that under the current three year term, an incoming government has only one "effective" year. The first year is spent learning the ropes, and the third focuses on a looming election leaving only the middle year for the government to actually govern. It's hard to argue against that, and we believe that a four-year term could alleviate that.

With a four-year term, we also reckon that a three-term government would become a rarity. And given that the last  single term government was the Kirk/Rowling administration of 1972-75, one-term governments are not the norm either. An especially unpopular government may be voted out after four years, but the likelihood is that two terms would become the norm. 

Interestingly, both the Bolger and Clark governments had to cobble together coalitions top achieve third terms in 1996 and 2005 respectively (with Winston Peters being the common denominator); it may indeed by preferable for governments to have two "effective" terms (to borrow Maxim's terminology) that to be paralysed in a third term as the tide goes out on them.

Lastly, as Ele notes at Homepaddock, political parties draw heavily on the time and resources of volunteers. Doing that less frequently may actually encourage people to get involved in politics at the grass-roots level, which would be healthy for our democracy.

Let's have this debate.


Paulus Rex said...

Couldn't agree more. As it is, our MPs are almost permanently on campaign. At some point, whether we are pleased with an electoral result or not, we need to let our governments govern.

AngryTory said...

a 4 year term is better than 3 years - but a 5 year term would be better still - and a 7 year term, say, could allow governments to make significant progress in NZ!

Of course, the other problem is the unelected list MPs from MMP - and most of all, the massive conflict of interest in allowing those dependent on the government exchequer to vote on the benefits they will receive - as beneficiaries, superannuitants, and also as core civil servants, state employees, employees of COEs or state subcontractors.

the principle here goes back to 1776: