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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Constitutional convention blog: new agenda

With the election over (sort-of) and calm slowly descending on the politically aware, online NZ community the Convention for a Republican Constitution has finally come out with a new agenda after a delay even the Iraqis would be ashamed of - all the fault of the current chairman.

My many radical ideas will be thrashed out here before being submitted under anonymity to the convention. All comments at the convention are to be anonymous to let ideas come before personalities and avoid the inevitable side-traking and pettiness that so many reasonable and intelligent discussions can descend into without such a rule.

One of my first ideas I'll just precis here: (if I could put it in terms of our current system) is to have the list member MPs go to an upper house or Senate of 66 members. 33 are elected every two years for a term of four years on a no threshold basis (ie. effective threshold of 3.33%) and no Maori seats. The government is to be established with a majority of this chamber voting for it.

The electorate MPs are to form the lower house and to increase vastly in number to represent "communities." Iwi are to be able to form their own communities as of tangata whenua and Rangatiratanga right. Everyone else able to form their own communities as long as citizen population over 1000. Communities having the lower third of population elect one member, middle third two MPs and top third 3 MPs. (these multi-member communities could be on STV or preferential vote). These MPs are to be paid for entirely by their communities and operation of the lower house to be paid for by these communities on a population basis. If they don't pay their dues their MP(s) can't sit. There may be over a thousand - who knows.

The lower house of MPs to have a two-thirds majority needed to do anything. Would not meet very often. Would have to debate budget and have oppurtunity to reject it by way of 2/3 vote - but not required to actively endorse it. Appoints the President. Has internal system of rotating committee chairs. Can scrutinise bills as of right but can only stop them with 2/3 vote. Appoints Tribunes to act as Investigator-Ombudsmen in actively inquiring into government and ability to question and prosecute government.

Government to consist of Cabinet of 10-15. At least two must be from lower or upper house. Attorney-General to always be an independent, non-party MP. It is almost certain a government, PM etc. will come from the Senate/upper house given that that is where a government stands or falls - but it will be technically possible for a government to be patriated to the lower house - as long as over half the Senate votes for it.

MPs of communities to be elected for term of two years - alternating years with Senators. The election day to be a Saturday in Spring where the afternoon is a public holiday. So maybe upper house every odd year and community every even year - at these community meetings other community officials to be elected as well as MPs.

It may sound a bit too American for some people. It will probably offend the majority of our very simplistic voters who think a 50 seat FPP elected parliament every 10 years is too much democracy. But it allows there to be effective Maori seats at one level with parties only at the upper level (although Jim Anderton proves that parties can act as de facto "individuals" or vice versa).

Having the lower house of a very wide variety of people who are responsible and accessible at local level would be good - as is the community-funding concept - as a government cannot cut off funding or influence them, and MPs cannot over-spend or be extravagant as the electors are too close to them to allow it - quite apart from the fact that they are only part-time (unless chairmen) and may have only three or four conferences a year.

Rotation of meetings fixtures for lower house:

The lower house could also meet in various locations when not debating the budget. The capital could contain the secretariat and a meeting house with a small staff to support the Tribunes and their prosecution team as well as support staff and meeting rooms etc. for the standing committees or forums. The budget session can be held at the capital because of the nature of the information discussed and feedback between the upper house and officials necessary. A summer session in Wellington (if not capital), Auckland in Winter, Christchurch in Autumn and a ceremonial session on Waitangi Day. Since communities are directly coughing for these services I think it will be pretty streamlined and of low cost. I can see them wanting to have it in Queenstown every other location but how can you be re-elected trying to justify that?

Growing and promoting leadership and expertise:

Having a large lower house also prevents stacking by parties as the scale of manipulation would be hurculean to operate at such local levels in enough places to ever effect a party bloc - and the wipping of hundreds of MPs almost impossible. So from this younger talents can come through. Yes, the dregs will also make it too, the busy-body/know-nothing types, the pompous, the uneducated, all the rich tapestry of life etc. etc. on display in our current 120 MMP house of representatives - only more. But there will be a few who volunteer to take on chairmanships and committee responsibilities who will gain knowledge of the accountability of governance that might have never made it under the current party system. Some very good people suitable for Senatorial roles that can cut their teeth as an MP. More the merrier. The peasant sanity to the aloof senate...

Having a smaller upper house/Senate also creates credibility in leadership and decision-making/responsibilities etc. as there is no room in a 66 seat chamber for the sort of third-rate Alamein Koopu lobby-fodder currently inside a 120 member house. The people contesting the Senate race will be on the top of their game and readily identifiable to voters in the way that the Pita Paraones and Mike Wards of the MMP world are not. Minor parties wouldn't be able to drag in people at number 7 and 8 as now, if we have a split/staggered tenure system as advocated (it could be every second year for a four year term, or every third year for a six year term), then the only people at No. 1 on the list may not necessarily be the leader - At 33 the Greens would be parading their three best candidates because that would be all that are likely to get in - probably only two. They would have to be very on to it. People could focus better on the fewer personalities - more scrutiny. There just simply isn't enough room for under-performing people in a 66 seat chamber where each election is for 33 places.

If there was a no-threshold 33 seat Senate election with the current election results then it would look like this (my maths&stats isn't to hot here):
Those not making it to 3.03% drop out, ie. Act, Prog., UF, MP. 91.2% left over to be redistributed, therefore:
Labour 15 Senators
National 14 Senators
NZFirst 2 Senators
Greens 2 Senators
Seems a little bit unfair for the little guys - but with a lower threshold than 5% and therefore a more acheivable target voters may have pushed them above 3% esp. Act. On a good day Anderton could get in - but not Matt Robson. Very difficult to get your underperformers in isn't it? Rodney could get in, Prebs could, but Muriel Newman? Would Judith Tizard make it to No. 15? Would Bob Clarkson make it to 14? I don't think so either. With no electorate (as a back-door) they are out.


At 29/9/05 11:27 pm, Anonymous Graham Watson said...

I've always preferred bicameral to unicameral for the extra check and balance created.

I don't know about two year periods, this may lead to permanent campaign mode, which in turn risks little getting done and public participation burnout.

I also think the election date should be set to remove this current extra incumbency advantage. If you want it to be the first Saturday in September so be it. I would prefer first Saturday in November as this allows for the campaign to be conducted in fairer weather.

At 3/10/05 4:40 pm, Anonymous Darryl Godfrey said...

I agree with Graham regarding the bicameral system being good for extra check and balance generally, but only where a 'winner takes all' FPP type electoral system is in place, as that would prevent the excessiveness of elected dictatorships that we had up to 1996. National winning less than 35% of the populatr vote and holding 51% of all seats is an example that instantly springs to mind from 1993.

The likelihood of a single party winning an outright majority under MMP is very slim, but even if say Labour or National did win 51%, at least it would reflect what the majority voted for, eh?

MMP does away with the need for a bicameral legislature merely because of its nature - in order to form a government several parties need to learn to effectively work together.

Graham is quite right about voter fatigue from permanent campaign mode that would happen if we had re-elections of some of the MPs every 2 years. Look at the USA voter turnout - need I say more?

At 5/10/05 1:09 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Similar toughts elsewhere:

Personally I favour a threshold no greater than 2%. I doubt this will reduce the "wasted" vote, but it will be far more difficult for anyone to complain if a party fails to cross it.

As for the overhang, the only way I can see of eliminating the problem would be to go back to a two chamber system. This need not be as expensive or complicated as one would suppose. A Senate of 50, elected entirely from party lists, would determine the government, and a House consisting of the country's local body councillors, while not given the power to depose a government, could examine, veto or delay legislation.

Posted by: Whig | 03 October 2005 at 04:56 PM

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