This week I became ‘Father of the House’, or the longest continuous serving MP in our Parliament. I was the ‘Baby of the House’ for six years and much prefer the new title although it feels strange when 50 MP’s are older than I.
The role does carry a special responsibility to ensure Parliament remembers its history and protects those freedoms that are so important to our democracy.
This week 20 respected political and legal academics from the Universities of Auckland, Victoria, Canterbury and Otago came out damning the Government’s electoral law changes that will enable party leaders to dismiss MP’s from Parliament.
The professors of law say the Government is breaching the Bill of Rights, will weaken our democracy and will give party leaders too much power. The Bill is colloquially referred to as ‘Waka Jumping’. It goes much further than just applying to a MP who resigns from a party. The Bill enables a party leader to dismiss a MP if they criticise the party or vote differently.
I am proud of being a National MP but my duty to our country and Nelson comes first. I crossed the floor to vote for a minimum wage for youth. I exposed financial wrong doing in the Druids, much to the discomfort of some senior National MPs. I would not have been able to do this if this Bill was the law then. It will have a chilling effect on all MP’s in our Parliament.
This so-called Electoral Integrity Bill is justified on the basis that MP’s who switch parties are acting without integrity. This overlooks the fact that the founding members of all of New Zealand’s political parties, including Labour and National, switched from other parties. Dissident MP’s like Matt Rata, Derek Quigley, Mel Courtney, Marilyn Waring, Jim Anderton, Winston Peters, Tariana Turia and most recently Hone Harawira represented a legitimate opinion. You do not have to agree with someone to agree with their right to disagree.
The party hopping of the 1990’s was a product of the change to MMP. It is no reason to permanently change the accountability of MP’s away from voters to party leaders. Lead advocates for MMP like Rod Donald have described previous similar Bills as draconian, obnoxious and anti-democratic.
This Bill would be unconstitutional in Germany, the home of MMP. The Courts in Malaysia, Europe and PNG have thrown them out for breaching basic human rights. The only countries that have these laws are regimes like Zimbabwe and Pakistan.
Freedom of speech and tolerating dissent are core Kiwi values. The right to hire and fire MP’s must stay with voters at the ballot box.