Written By: - Date published: 8:27 am, February 8th, 2013 - 158 comments
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Key and Shearer want 4 year terms of parliament. Why? Efficiency, they reckon. 3 years is ‘too short to govern’. Well, they wouldn’t be the first politicians to argue that less democracy would be more ‘efficient’.
First, addressing the claims that there’s no time to govern in the three year term. It’s bollocks. The Government’s legislative programme stops for only a couple of months in election year.
But why do we need a three year term? In New Zealand, we are unique among democracies in the degree to which power is held by the Government.
We don’t a written, over-riding constitution; we don’t have a supreme court with legislative strike-down powers; we don’t have a second chamber of parliament; nor do we have state or provincial governments. Even local government is being defanged and side-stepped to concentrate power with Cabinet. No other Executive in the democratic world lacks all these checks and balances on its power.
Regular opportunities to vote the bastards out is all we have.
That’s why Kiwis rejected a change to a four year term by a margin of more than two to one when the question was put to us in referenda in 1967 and 1990. That’s why we would reject it again. Indeed, both the public’s adoption to MMP in the 1990s and our strong decision to retain it in 2011 show that we want more controls on the power of government, not less.
If there is a referendum on a four-year term (and woe betide any government that would try to pull that shit without a referendum) it will fail just like the previous attempts.**
(* the other, contradictory, argument you hear is that because the 3 year term is so short and voters are loath to admit a mistake so soon after electing a government, they effectively give governments a ‘free hit’ in their first term. In truth, 2 of our 10 governments in the modern era have been one-termers, same as two-termers and four-termers. And 30% of people change votes between elections – 3 years isn’t too short a time for people to change their minds.)
(** And with both National and Labour having put themselves on the wrong side of public opinion on this, if there is a referendum in 2014 on a four year term, there’s big opportunities for parties that support a three year term.)