Beware the consequences of the waka-jumping bill

Danielle van Dalen

Auckland, May 25, 2018

Like many, my first introduction to politics was through a class election.

My group decided our key campaign promise was “more lollies at school.”

What we hadn’t thought through was that when we won we would need to provide those lollies rather than eat them ourselves.

Whether child or adult, all politicians need to be aware of the unintended, long-lasting, and hard to reverse consequences of policies and laws they are voting on.

Cornerstone of coalition

Currently the Justice Select Committee is considering the controversial Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill, or “waka-jumping bill,” a cornerstone of the Labour-New Zealand First coalition agreement. The Bill prevents an MP from leaving their political party during a parliamentary term.

If an MP decides to leave or is expelled from their party they will lose their seat in parliament and will be replaced by either the next person on the party list, or through a by-election.

Those opposed to the Bill fear it will only serve to stifle the consciences of individual MPs.

Claims of Supporters

Supporters claim the Bill will ensure the proportionality of Parliament is maintained, as MPs who won’t toe the party line can simply be replaced with new MPs who will vote accordingly.

Those opposed to the waka-jumping bill, however, fear it will only serve to stifle the consciences of individual MPs and increase the power of political parties and party leaders.

Ten years ago, Professor Jeremy Waldron warned that New Zealand’s single house parliament “is by and large the plaything of the executive…” with too much unchecked power in the hands of Cabinet. He continued: “New Zealanders ought to be aware of how anomalous this situation is, how few of the layers of safeguards we have within the legislative process that other countries take for granted.”

Safeguards overlooked

The stability of our democracy is no accident, it relies on the often overlooked safeguards or handbrakes on power built into our constitutional arrangements; inherited arrangements we must consider carefully before altering.

The individual consciences of each of our Parliamentary representatives are essential for maintaining a check on the political will of a government party. Significantly limiting the ability of a politician to dissent against their party’s wishes is dangerous in a political system that lacks the checks and balances of similar democracies.

When MPs have parted ways with their parties, voters have been very savvy in either rewarding or punishing them at the next election.

Good handbrake

Recent political history has shown that when MPs have parted ways with their parties, voters have been very savvy in either rewarding or punishing them at the next election based on how principled their defection was.

Clearly, a three-year Parliamentary term is short enough to act as a sufficient handbrake on the potential misuse of defection as a cynically political strategy.

Thus, the waka-jumping bill is not only dangerous, it’s unnecessary.

This Government needs to acknowledge that their actions today will have a significant impact on the future. New Zealand may be a strong democracy, but it’s not a given it’ll be this way forever.

We need our politicians to continue to protect and safeguard this democracy for future New Zealanders, and resist the compulsion to bend the law for the comfort of party leaders.

Danielle van Dalen is a Researchers at the Auckland-based Maxim Institute.

(Picture Supplied)

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