Four-year term would give politicians too much time

23:06, Feb 08 2013

I still remember the wise words of former New Plymouth MP Ron Barclay.

It was about 1977 and he was the guest speaker at the weekly meeting of Waitara Jaycee, of which I was a member at the time.

We lived in Waitara for eight years and the small, but active, membership of the club did a lot of good work in the community - and had some top guest speakers. Barclay was one. After nine years in Parliament, from 1966-75, the Labour MP retired, but he was still gracious enough to accept our invitation.

At the time, there was a debate raging about whether New Zealand's parliamentary term should be increased from three years to four. Proponents said that in year one the Government was busy settling in, in year two they actually did some good, and in year three they were preoccupied with being re-elected, rather than doing what was right.

The theory was to give the Government another year and they would achieve more. There was an element of truth in that cynical view and someone asked Ron what he thought about it.

His relaxed look and manner disappeared in an instant. "Whatever you do, don't let them [the politicians] do that, it would be a disaster. We don't have an upper house or any sort of checks and balances on what the Government does. You have to keep it at three years, because that's the only time the Government is answerable to the people."


Obviously the wording may have been a little different, but I assure you the intent of what he was saying is perfectly captured. That's why I was surprised to see John Key bringing it up this week and even more surprised to see Labour leader David Shearer agreeing with him. Whatever next? Gareth Morgan opening a cattery?

But to get back to the point, let's acknowledge that the introduction of MMP has changed the nature of parliament and that the two main parties have had to be mindful of the policies and wishes of their coalition partners, which has theoretically brought a milder approach from them, with compromise the name of the new game.

So therefore Barclay's concerns would no longer apply, right? Wrong. The trouble with MMP is that the minor parties now wield an influence way beyond their electoral support. In recent years the Greens have been the perfect example, and perhaps their main parliamentary achievement was helping consign Helen Clark's Labour Government to the opposition benches by getting some of their more extreme ideas to be part of the Government's policy: How much water we were allowed to shower in; what sort of light bulbs we could buy . . . the list went on.

The majority of voters rightly decided they didn't want that much Government in their bathrooms and lives and elected John Key's National Government. I know the Greens were never formally part of the Labour coalition, but given the eccentricities of the egocentric Winston Peters, Clark was right to curry favour with the lentil-eaters.

Another good example was chucking away a mere $11 million on a doomed 'Buy New Zealand' campaign. Everyone knew it wouldn't make a scrap of difference. But the earnest Greens wanted it, so Helen kept them happy with our money.

And it's not only Labour. Our pragmatic prime minister is just as prone to chucking money into his partner's pet projects. Ever the dealmaker, in the past four years we have seen Key allowing the Maori Party to wield influence over the Government way beyond its mandate. It may not even win any seats at the next election, but its legacy could be felt for generations to come as the Constitutional Advisory Panel, stacked with iwi members, sets about suggesting our country's constitution is rewritten.

That was part of the price for Key to get into bed with the Maori Party and this one seemingly innocuous request, may yet prove to be the main act of consummation.

So here we are again in 2013, debating the merits, or otherwise, of the four-year term.

It doesn't matter which political tail is wagging which government dog. Leave the term at three years so we can quickly chuck out the sillier governments before they can do too much damage.

Over the years, I've had to grudgingly concede that Australians know how to win at sport.

When the fries are down, the Ockers tend to grit their teeth and do whatever it takes to win. You couldn't help but admire them - until it transpired this week that drug use is endemic.

A 12-month Australian investigation into the integrity of professional sport uncovered the truth in a damning report, and it seems our neighbours are a country full of Lance and Alana Armstrongs.

Oh dear.

Taranaki Daily News