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4 year terms for Parliament?

  • February 7th, 2013

I've been asked what I think of extending the Parliamentary term.

4 years would be better for many reasons. It would enable politicians to do necessary things that need more than three years to prove themselves. But what would they actually use it for? In a campaign for lengthening the term they should be asked what they could do in four years that they can't do in three. But who will have the courage to float examples? The examples will be contentious, and recycled as a threat to floating voters at the next election. 

 If we did get an extra year on the term I’m not sure we have enough courageous types (outside the Maori and Green ranks –  religiously opposed to most things modern) to use the extra period for useful reform.

Still, a four year term could have dynamics that would allow major parties to be less concerned about the floating middle. They might drop some knee jerk (deceitful) opposition to policies they know are best at least during  the first couple of years of a term.

 But I do not want to see anything much in play constitutionally while the dominant driver is centrifugal racial appeasement without any countervailing centripetal force.

I’ve written a number of times (including as a member of the last Constitutional Select Committee) about the dangers of constitutional change when people are free of external threat, or internal exhaustion from strife. Both lead to a focus on the common values and interests of people who share a land. The people at such times know why we must cooperate and live by rules that are fair, and not just designed to advantage those who get their hands on the levers of power.

 Constitutional change when a country is fat and complacent becomes an elite contest for provisions to place pet policies and prejudices above political debate by the rude masses, entrenching them so that future democratic majorities are snookered by lawyers and courts. The vast EU wishlist of provisions provides an awful example.

 While our dominant constitutional discourse comes from historically ignorant racialists, and people whose experience has encouraged them to make ultimatum their main tactic, we’d be nuts to throw balls in the air for constitutional change. As the Islamists are showing around the world, the feckless majority often capitulate to Harawira  style determination (and guts).

Yet I’d probably be supporting 4 years if we’d gone back to something like FPP where it was easier to dump the buggers who ignore constituent opinion. MMP has entrenched the power of the unrepresentative holders of the balance of power, and the power of party bosses.

 I’ll wait to see if there are aspects I've not considered. It may be that this is a well-considered ploy to highlight the necessity to put anything serious that comes out of the constitutional review, to a referendum. If so, well done.

On current indications however I predict that people will not have enough trust in current leadership to make the change, with good reason.

The Waitangi demonstrations of capitulation in all parties to people who are unprincipled but tougher than them, and more determined,  warns us all subconsciously that we may need to change our leaders more often than they want, or is even good for us.

Any linking of the term question with other constitutional proposals connected with the Treaty will remind people that our leaders and our constitutional debate cannot avoid placating racialists. They'll wonder whether the people who would get the increased power of longer in office may not really be the champions we subconsciously look for, to stand up for us.


  • Don McKenzie
  • February 8th, 2013
  • 10:41 am

Good post Stephen,In my opinion Swiss style Binding Referendum far more important than debating 4 years term if electoral reform to be of major value.Boy o Boy the dynamics of parliament would change dramatically if that were to happen.

  • Chuck Bird
  • February 8th, 2013
  • 11:37 am

It would be nice if the Herald did not censor what comment they will allow and so mislead reader about public opinion. Does anyone know if the Herald is owned by a publicly listed company?

Below is what I submitted but was not published.

These is a lot of merit in a longer fixed term but it should be balanced with other measures that stop politicians ignoring the wishes of the people. Without binding referenda on conscience issues that were not in any party’s manifesto this changes New Zealand from a 3 year dictatorship to a 4 year dictatorship.

A voter’s recall could be another protection provided there was adequate legislation preventing opposition party’s funding it. Restoring an Upper House is another option.

In any case there should be no changes unless any proposals invite submissions from the public and these Constitutional change are approved with a binding referendum. The referendum could also incorporate other changes to the MMP system such as lowering the threshold for political parties to 4%.

  • Roger Strong
  • February 8th, 2013
  • 12:20 pm

I think Don and Chuck Bird have it exactly right. I would only consider voting for a 4 year term if there was a legally binding referendum system and changes to MMP. Four years might be fine for a ‘good’ government but 3 months would be too long for Labour/Green government!

  • George
  • February 8th, 2013
  • 12:59 pm

I’ve yet to meet a Maori that viewed compromise as anything else but weakness and they despise those that make it.

I’ve never met a Green that displayed common sense.

I have yet to see a principle that the National party would not discard if it meant them staying ensconced. John Key couldn’t reform playdough.

The less said about Winston, the better, and imagine the ruin achievable in three terms of Labour were they 4 years apiece…

It may cost a little, but at least they have to explain themselves every 3 years.

  • peterquixote
  • February 8th, 2013
  • 8:05 pm

another great column Mr Stephen Franks

  • philob
  • February 9th, 2013
  • 10:02 am

Good post Stephen. I doubt that we will see anything better on this issue. And not from the Chair, Margaret Mutu

  • Paranormal
  • February 10th, 2013
  • 3:01 pm

I do agree there should be no move from three year terms unless there is some corresponding constitutional security.

However, I can’t help but think how different history may have been if Liarbour had four year terms. We’d only have had Helen & her cabal for 8 years insted of 9. And who knows – maybe even Don Brash as prime minister….

  • Mike Mckee
  • April 30th, 2013
  • 9:08 pm

4 years and three terms maximum in your lifetime.

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