David Farrar - By the numbers
Nick Smith first stood for elective office while at secondary school. In 1983 he stood for the Rangiora District Council.
He did not get elected that time, but was elected three years later in 1986 aged 21. During this time he also managed to get an honours degree in civil engineering, and then a PhD.
It was in 1986 that I first met Nick. I was a new Young National, and he was the New Zealand Deputy Chairman.
Even back then he was incredibly hard working, and was a real go-getter. In 1988 at the age of 23 he became a regional deputy chair for the main National Party - I suspect the youngest Deputy Chair in the party's history.
It was little surprise that he won selection for Tasman in 1990 as a 25 year old, and beat Labour (and later ACT) MP Ken Shirley.
In 2002 local councils were given the power of general competence. It meant they could do anything at all, so long as a majority of councillors voted for it. Any amount of spending could be justified so long as it contributed to the social, economic, cultural and environmental wellbeing of their communities.
For the life of me, I can't think of anything that wouldn't be justified under those criteria. A local council could probably build its own air force and claim it was essential to their social wellbeing.
Since 2002 the rates homeowners and businesses pay have increased by 7 per cent on average, almost double the average rise in the previous decade. This is well beyond wage growth, which means a higher proportion of what we earn has to be spent on rates or rent. Local authority debt has also quadrupled from $2 billion to $8 billion.
A lot of spending goes on council staff salaries. In the past eight years these have gone up a total 86 per cent, compared to 9 per cent in the previous eight years.
The Government announced this week a package of reform measures for local government. The two most likely to have an impact on rates are the proposed new focus, and the proposed fiscal cap.
Another of the major issues about MMP being reviewed by the Electoral Commission is how party lists are ranked. Under our current law, the party lists are "closed", which means once submitted by the political party, they cannot be changed by voters.
What this means is that list MPs are indirectly elected to Parliament. You can't vote for or against a particular List MP. You can only vote for a party, and the party has determined the order of its list.
This means that if there is a very unpopular candidate highly ranked on the list of a party you support, you can't stop them becoming an MP except by not voting at all for the party. Very few people are prepared to change their party vote just because of one candidate they don't like.
It is a reality that with the major parties, the top ranked candidates are effectively guaranteed to become MPs.
Hence, some people think that party lists should be "open", which means voters can re-rank the candidates at the polling booth. This would allow them to promote a lower ranked candidate who has more popular support, and demote a higher ranked candidate they don't like. It would remove from political parties the ability to unilaterally protect MPs by giving them high rankings.
One of the privileges members of Parliament have is they they can't be sued for defamation for statements they make in Parliament. This privilege has existed for hundreds of years and is generally regarded as desirable as it allows MPs to expose wrongdoing without being silenced by injunctions and lawsuits.
However, there is a great responsibility on MPs to get their facts right, and to apologise when they get it wrong. They can defame people under the protection of parliamentary privilege, and their victims have no legal recourse.
Winston Peters has a long history of making allegations under parliamentary privilege, and having the vast bulk of the allegations turn out to be without substance. I had hoped that these days were behind us, but this week we have seen two serious allegations made by Peters under parliamentary privilege.
For two weeks Peters has been asking Local Government Minister Nick Smith about financial management issues at the Auckland Council. I was puzzled as to why he was asking questions to the minister (who has no operational responsibility for the council), and not just writing to the mayor (or the Auditor-General) if he has issues of concern. The answer, it seems, is because of the protection of parliamentary privilege. On Tuesday he asked in Parliament:
Has the minister received, had communicated to him, or requested any reports that Deloitte, a supplier of services to the Auckland Council and its auditor, contrary to section 254 of the 2002 Act has provided free overseas travel and gifts to the council's chief financial officer, commonly called Deloitte McKenzie?
The second issue being reviewed by the Electoral Commission is that of whether or not List MPs should be able to stand in by-elections.
This is an issue because if someone who is already a Member of Parliament wins a by-election, it means that (presuming they resign as a List MP before being gazetted as an Electorate MP) the next person on that party's list will enter Parliament as a result of the by-election.
As usual, I like to start by looking at the actual history under MMP. Since 1996 we have had six by-election.
In the 1998 Taranaki-King Country by-election the ACT candidate was Owen Jennings who came second. If Jennings had won, then Anne Dill, the number nine candidate on the ACT list would have entered Parliament.
The 2004 Te Tai Hauarau had no List MPs as candidates.
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