OPINION: The expulsion of Brendan Horan from NZ First raises yet again the question of what should happen to MPs who jump ship, or are pushed out of their parties.
In the case of list MPs such as Mr Horan, the answer is simple. They should be kicked out of Parliament.
Mr Horan has reason to feel aggrieved. If his lawyer, Paul Mabey, QC, is to be believed, Mr Horan, who has been accused of taking money from his dying mother, was not shown the evidence against him or given an opportunity to respond to it before NZ First leader Winston Peters pronounced sentence.
That is not natural justice. Nor is having one's case determined by a single person acting as judge, jury and executioner. In any other workplace, Mr Peters' handling of the matter would be grounds for a case of wrongful dismissal.
However, Parliament is a unique institution in which normal employer-employee relationships do not exist. Leaders lead only at the pleasure of their colleagues. At any time that pleasure can be withdrawn. MPs do not have employers in a legal sense. Short of breaking the law, they can do pretty much whatever they want. Even failing to turn up for work is not necessarily a sackable offence. The allegations against Mr Horan are embarrassing to him and embarrassing to his former party. If true they certainly warrant his expulsion from NZ First.
Before being kicked out of the party, however, he should have been given an opportunity to put his side of the story to his caucus colleagues or the wider party.
That is a matter for the party, however. The courts have traditionally been reluctant to intervene in internal political party disputes.
Of wider concern is the impact Mr Horan's expulsion has on the legitimacy of Parliament.
Last year New Zealanders voted to install eight NZ First MPs in a 121-seat Parliament. They now have seven.
Were Mr Horan an electorate MP he might be able to claim he had a mandate from those who ticked his name on the ballot paper, but he is not. In Tauranga where he stood, he garnered fewer than 5000 of the 36,485 votes cast.
He is a member of Parliament solely because NZ First ranked him sixth on its party list. Now that the party's leader, his fellow NZ First MPs, and presumably the party, have lost confidence in him he represents no-one other than himself. His mere presence in Parliament distorts the will of the people. Mr Horan says his core values have not changed and he will continue to vote in accordance with them, but that is not good enough.
NZ First supporters are entitled not just to eight votes, but to eight MPs working actively on their behalf - in select committees, in the House, and formulating policy.
Mr Horan should do the honourable thing and resign. To prevent future such affairs sullying the reputation of Parliament, waka-jumping legislation should be reintroduced. There is no basis for list MPs to remain in Parliament after parting company with the parties which put them there.
- The Dominion Post