Change is constant in the make-up of our MPs

Peter Dunne

Wellington, September 14, 2017

“Time for a Change” is a mantra often used by political parties seeking office to capture what they imagine to be a public mood of the time.

Sometimes the call works, and sometimes it does not.

The voter, after all, is always right.

But political change and renewal are constant processes, regardless of how the political winds may be blowing, there is a steady turnover of politicians in New Zealand, even if our governments do not change that often.

The 51st Parliament was dissolved recently for the 2017 General Election.

Yet before a vote was cast in that election, or a single result declared, change had already occurred. Twenty-eight of the 121 Members of Parliament (MPs) elected in 2014 – just under 25% have either left during the term or declared that they would not be seeking re-election, and that is before the electoral grim reaper has cut any swathe at all.

And such a turnover is not unusual.

Only 54% of the MPs elected to Parliament in 2011 are seeking re-election in 2017. With regard to Ministers, the turnover is just as strong. Of the 25 Ministers appointed to the Helen Clark Government in 1999, only 10 were still in office when that Government fell in 2008. Of John Key’s original 27 Ministers in 2008, a mere one third (9) are seeking re-election this year.

New faces needed

The lament is often heard that MPs have been there too long, and that fresh blood is needed. Well, the facts tell a somewhat different story – only 22 of the MPs currently seeking re-election were in Parliament just 10 years ago (and about five of them have been out and in in that time).

Just 12 MPs seeking re-election were in Parliament 15 years ago. Should Labour lead the next Government, it will have a steep experience wall to climb as only six of its MPs (including five former Ministers) were in the last Labour-led Government in 2008.

That is not altogether surprising, since over the years, since the election of our first Parliament in 1852, the average length of service of an MP in New Zealand has been a little over six years.

Quick to change

What these figures also show is that New Zealand voters are quite good at changing their MPs reasonably frequently without necessarily changing the government.

Indeed, it may well be that because the turnover of MPs is so steady, and the process of renewal is so constant, that the pressure for more frequent changes of government is mitigated to some extent. As the examples of the Clark and Key/English Ministries show, even the turnover of Ministers is substantial over the life of a government.

So, whatever the election outcome, the 52nd Parliament to be elected next week will be vastly different from its predecessor.

More young people, more women, and more diversity are likely, even before the possibility of changing electoral fortunes is factored in.

But for all that, it will be sobering to realise that it is likely that a majority of our next set of MPs will have served less three terms in Parliament, and that some of them at least may be running the country.

Peter Dunne is Leader of UnitedFuture Party and Interior Minister of New Zealand.

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