Green Party to withdraw their support for the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill
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New Zealand's governing arrangements are admired around the world their simplicity in having comparatively few checks and balances on the exercise of political power by the Government of the day. In part, this flexibility combined with a culture that cherishes both the importance of principled disagreement and pragmatic compromise, has set New Zealand's Parliament apart from much of the partisanship and dysfunction we see in other Western democracies.
But that stability, and ability to find compromise and pass good laws could be at risk thanks to the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill which is currently before Parliament.
This Bill represents a significant attack on Parliamentary democracy in New Zealand by undermining one of the key balances on the power of political parties in our Parliament - that is the ability of MPs to be able to dissent against the political party of which they are a member of.
The Bill seeks to achieve this by effectively giving leaders of political parties the power to sack MPs who don't toe the party line.
New Zealand has a fiercely proud history of MPs taking stand against their political parties in favour of greater principles.
National Party MP Marilyn Waring is one of the most famous. Her defiance of National Party leader and Prime Minister Rob Muldoon to support New Zealand being a nuclear free country has been a defining feature of New Zealand for more than three decades. Under an MMP environment with the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill in place, Marilyn Waring's ability to stand up for what she believed in and act as a balance against the near unrestricted power of Muldoon and his political party, would have been compromised.
Another was the late Jim Anderton, who many MPs who are voting for the Bill were just weeks ago paying tribute to his legacy. One of the key parts of Anderton's legacy was his resignation from the Labour Party in 1989 over what he saw as the Fourth Labour Government moving away from Labour's principles.
In standing up for what he believed in, and not being able to be forced from Parliament for doing so by Labour Party leader and Prime Minister David Lange, Anderton helped found a movement that would eventually help the Green Party into Parliament first under the banner of the Alliance, then under their own banner when they begun the process of splitting from the Alliance during the Parliamentary term so they could better represent the issues their supporters held dear.
The Green Party has a long history of opposing legislation like the current Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill. The late Rod Donald, the Green Party's first co-leaders in Parliament, said the following during the debate over the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Act 2001:
“It is vital that MPs are not turned into party robots. Anti-defection legislation is designed to gag outspoken MPs and crush dissent.”
Likewise, former Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said of an attempt to pass similar legislation in 2005:
“He [Winston Peters] may want to corral his MPs for fear of that they may have an independent thought, but the Green MPs value each others' right to disagree and feel no need to be kept in line by the party leadership.”
Former Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Sir Geoffrey Palmer and a strong advocate for protecting freedoms of speech and association, said that:
“MPs should make honourable undertakings, not legal undertakings. They may be coerced by argument, by public opinion, but not by stand-over tactics in closed rooms by party leaders.'”
Even New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, who has been the driving force behind this legislation, was all in favour of the ability of MPs to change parties if their conscience demanded it, saying on the defection of Michael Laws from National to New Zealand First:
“Members of Parliament have to be free to follow their conscience. They were elected to represent their constituents, not swear an oath of blind allegiance to a political party. If an MP feels that membership in another elected party better serves his or her constituents, then that can be put to the test at election time.”
The Green Party has a long and principled history of strongly opposing this type of legislation. They know that this Bill, despite the alleged safeguards in it, will significantly erode one of the last balances on political party power in New Zealand's Parliament. It's why that every major newspaper in New Zealand has published editorials opposing this type of legislation whenever it has appeared in our Parliament. It's why over a dozen political commentators have written out in opposition to the Bill, yet only New Zealand First's Winston Peters - who needs the bill to crush dissent in his own caucus just as he did nearly 20 years ago - has written publicly in support of his being able to sack MPs for taking a principled stand against issues that they disagree with their party on.
In closing, I'll leave you with the words of former Green Party MP Nándor Tánczos, an MP respected across Parliament not just for how he changed the perception of who could be an MP in New Zealand, but also for his unrelenting commitment to his principles.
“I find it extraordinary to be rising to make a speech on a bill that seeks to reinstate the 2001 Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Act. It is like a weird kind of purgatory where Parliament relives its worst legislative moments over and over again.”
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