Panel encourages 'conversation' on constitution

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Last updated 15:33 05/12/2013

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A panel set up to advise on constitutional changes has called for "the conversation to continue", but has not recommended a formal written constitution or changes to the number of MPs or Maori seats.

However, it noted "a reasonable level of support" for a longer term of Parliament than the current three years.

"Any change to a longer term should be accomplished by referendum rather than by way of a special majority in Parliament," the panel said.

The panel's strongest recommendation was on the status of the Bill of Rights Act, with a call to examine how it could be changed to limit Parliament's ability to pass laws that are inconsistent with it.

Panel co-chair Professor John Burrows said the law was seen as a fundamental part of the protections in the constitution.

"It's also apparent that people would support a review of the act to explore whether it can be made more effective," he said.

A review would look at adding more rights to the act, including economic, social, cultural, environmental and property rights.

The panel also called for consideration, with public input, of a fixed election date alongside the consideration of a longer term.

Under current constitutional rules the prime minister sets the election day, up to a final allowable date.

The final report of the 12-member panel, set up in August 2011 under the support agreement between National and the Maori Party, was released today.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said there was "no sense of an urgent or widespread desire for change" from the meetings, hui and submissions to the panel.

The Government would consider the panel's report and recommendations "including how the conversation might continue".

The panel said there was no broad support for a "supreme" constitution although there was considerable backing for entrenching elements of the constitution, which would require more than a bare majority of Parliament to overturn them.

But it noted that existing constitutional protections could be brought together into a single statute.

The panel recommended setting up a process to work on options for the future role of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples said the Treaty was fundamental to New Zealanders' nationhood and their sense of who they were. The panel recommended no change to the existing representation of Maori in Parliament "while the conversation continues". It recommended no further work on the size of Parliament.

It called for the Government to investigate how Maori representation in Parliament might be improved and how local government processes and decision-making could better reflect the interests and views of tangata whenua.

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It also noted the discrepancy in the size of electorates that affected representation of those in larger electorates, particularly Maori and rural seats.

The panel found no consensus on the so-called "waka-jumping" law, affecting MPs who left their parties, and made no recommendation.

It recommended further discussion on the status of local government, the role of the Declaration of Independence, the role and function of the public service, the role of the head of state "and symbols of state" and an upper House of Parliament.

- Stuff

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