The most important responsibility of an MP is to represent the people and their community. Sometimes this means disagreeing with one’s party or leader. That is why I have so vigorously opposed the Winston Peters electoral law changes that gives the power to a leader to dismiss an MP. I am delighted that Parliament voted to repeal this draconian law last week, in a rare defeat for the Government.
The Waka Hopping law came about when Winston Peters demanded it was the price for Labour and the Greens to form a government in 2017. Mr. Peters wants absolute power over his MPs and has no tolerance for any holding views different to his own.
Parliament had a chorus of 21 electoral law academics from all our universities opposing this change. It breaches the Bill of Rights including freedom of expression and freedom of association. It gives party leaders too much power. I have as an MP voted against my party and crossed the floor. This law makes this much harder.
This type of electoral law only exists in authoritarian states like Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Venezuela. It would break the constitution of Germany, the home of MMP and is banned in all 28 EU countries. It would never be considered in democracies like Australia, Canada, the United States or the U.K.
The Attorney General has stated this would have “a chilling effect” on freedom of speech of MPs. We have had dissenters in Parliament like John A Lee, former Nelson MP and now Councillor Mel Courtney, Derek Quigley, Marilyn Waring, Jim Anderton and Tariana Turia. Our democracy would be weaker for them being silenced. We would never give the power for Mayors to dismiss elected councillors. Tolerating dissent is part of democracy and our core Kiwi values.
I was disappointed when the Green’s voted for this law change in 2018. Founding Greens Co-Leader, the late Jeanette Fitzsimons vigorously opposed it at Select Committee. The late Rod Donald described similar laws as “the most draconian, obnoxious, anti-democratic and insulting piece of legislation ever inflicted on Parliament.” It is to the credit of the Greens that they switched their vote last week and supported the law’s abolition.
New Zealand has one of the oldest and best democracies in the world. The pressures from Covid-19 on the economy and basic freedoms will test it. We are also facing huge changes in our media. This is a time we must jealously guard our democratic traditions.
The Bill repealing Winston’s obnoxious law passed its first reading by 64-55 with the support of National, Greens and Act. Public submissions have been called by the Justice Select Committee this week.
The Bill’s sponsor, former Speaker David Carter is retiring so he has transferred the Bill to me. A priority, if I am re-elected, is to get this repeal Bill passed. MPs should not be answerable to their party leaders or bosses, but to the people who elect them.