Magazine article New Zealand Management

A Question of Integrity

Magazine article New Zealand Management

A Question of Integrity

Article excerpt

When a select committee reports back on any Bill, the first order of business is to inform the House whether or not it believes the proposed legislation should proceed. Most Bills that get the thumbs down are Members' Bills, which only survived their first reading in the House because MPs believed the issues involved deserved a public airing, not because anyone seriously believed they would ever pass into law. A current example of such a Bill is the one that would reduce the number of MPs in Parliament to 100.

Government bills, by contrast, almost always survive the select committee stage; even if some of them do take a fair mauling and return to the House plastered with recommended amendments. A "this [government] Bill should not be passed" recommendation is rare indeed. Nevertheless it happened recently to something called the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill.

The idea behind the Bill was to amend the Electoral Act 1993 in such a way as to ensure that MPs either stay with the party for whom they were elected or exit Parliament entirely. If all of this sounds a mite familiar, it is, because there was such a requirement on the statute books up until shortly before the last election. It had, however, a sunset clause, which meant that--at that point--it lapsed. And that might have been that had NZ First leader, Winston Peters, not had a bee in his bonnet over the issue.

When Peters himself left the National Party many moons ago, he resigned from Parliament, fought a by-election and returned once again as the member for Tauranga. Other defectors should, he believes, also chance their hands (assuming they have a seat to re-fight--list members should simply leave). So, when the numbers fell as they did on election night, he found himself in a position to demand the return of the former provisions as part payment for his cooperation, and this time there would be no sunset clause.

The Labour Party was happy to oblige and drafted a new Bill accordingly. It was a document which some cynical observers dubbed the Winston Peters Retention Bill (at the time dissent was bubbling in the NZ First ranks, Winston having decided to accept the baubles of office, after all).

The Justice and Electoral Select Committee--to whom it fell to consider the matter--was not so enthusiastic. In its report it said: the Bill was neither necessary nor appropriate, it would have "a range of unintended consequences" and would lessen public confidence in the integrity of the electoral system". …

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