Keith Locke gives the Greens a good telling off

There are not many things in this world that Keith Locke and I would agree on.

This,? however, is one of them:

The bill before Parliament to stop party-hopping has been misnamed. The Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill should be called the Party Conformity Bill because it threatens MPs with ejection from Parliament if they don’t conform to party dictates.

Personal political integrity will be constrained, except on a few selected “conscience” issues, like the assisted dying legislation, where MPs are free to vote as they want.

The bill contravenes the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provisions guaranteeing freedom of speech. The idea that individual MPs should be legally restrained in what they say is abhorrent in a parliamentary democracy.

Go against the party hierarchy, even if they are dead wrong, and you get biffed from parliament.

No other Western democracy has laws to stop party-hopping. In fact West Germany has a constitutional provision that once elected MPs are “representatives of the whole people, not bound by orders and instructions, and subject only to their conscience”.

If only politicians had a conscience.

It is common in the British Parliament to see MPs “crossing the floor” and it can serve a useful function. Recently several Conservative MPs crossed the floor to provide a majority for a Labour Party amendment requiring that the final Brexit deal be brought back to Parliament for a vote.

It is a long time since an MP crossed the floor in NZ…but with this law it could never happen.

Under our proportional system parties rise and fall, often helped by rebels from other parties. In fact, each of the smaller parties which have won seats in our MMP Parliaments have initially been led by rebel MPs from existing parliamentary parties.

Former Labour MP Richard Prebble was not an MP when he became Act leader but the other rebel MPs setting up new parties were all sitting in Parliament at the time.

Jim Anderton left Labour mid-term to set up NewLabour (which later merged into the Alliance). Peter Dunne split from Labour to form Future NZ (which later became United) and Tariana Turia went from Labour to the Maori Party. Winston Peters went from National to found NZ First. Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons left the Alliance for the Greens and Hone Harawira exited the Maori Party for Mana.

Rather than distorting the proportionality of Parliament, new parties set up by the rebels have provided the electorate with more political choice.

Sometimes a rebel MP claimed, with some justification, that he or she was protecting a choice that had previously been available. Anderton, for example, said NewLabour was heir to a Labour tradition which had been betrayed by Labour turning to Rogernomics.

Anderton coyly suggested that he hadn’t left Labour, they’d left him.

In 1999, speaking against an earlier party-hopping bill, Green co-leader Rod Donald reminded the House that “had this bill existed prior to the last [1999] election, we [Donald and Fitzsimons] would have been removed from this House and denied our opportunity to stay here for the full parliamentary term”.

Fitzsimons and Donald had been elected as Alliance list MPs in 1996 but left the Alliance Party in 1997 along with the rest of the Green Party. If these two MPs had been excluded from Parliament in 1997 it is unlikely the Greens would have reached the 5 per cent threshold for parliamentary representation in the 1999 election, or that Fitzsimons would have won the Coromandel seat.

This is something for the current Green caucus to ponder before continuing to support the current party hopping legislation.

It seems these days the Greens caucus takes more advice from Groucho Marx on principles that it does from former leaders and MPs. In this case they seem intent on voting for a law that would have prevented their own party even being formed.

Previously, the Green Party and its co-leaders have been strongly opposed, in principle, to party-hopping legislation. As Donald said in the 1999 speech to Parliament, MPs are not “party robots”, “MPs must retain the right to be answerable to their own consciences, and political parties must not be allowed to take away from voters the power to unelect Members of Parliament.” As a Green MP at the time I made similar points in the debate on that bill.

They sold out so they could sit at the big table. Their much vaunted principles went out the window in a series of events, Turei’s benefit fraud, Golriz Ghahraman’s CV fraud and now a fraud on their own Party’s principles.

The Greens have always had a penchant for grabbing their ankles when instructed by their political masters. Helen Clark shanked them twice, and now it looks like it is Winston lining up to take them in the chook.

Anything for power, eh?


-NZ Herald