Editorial: So we're all agreed then?

19:21, Dec 10 2012

TVNZ's Q+A audience was treated to a rare spectacle at the weekend: politicians of four different stripes agreed with each other that a three-year parliamentary electoral term is too short.

Australia has a three-year term, too, but Germany, Denmark and Japan are among several countries with four-year terms. Britain, Canada and France are among those with five-year terms.

Most countries have an upper house and other mechanisms to keep their governments in check. We can hold a government to account only through the ballot box. A longer electoral term hence would give more power to the executive and less to the people.

But MMP's proportional representation has provided a more effective safeguard against executive abuse than first-past-the-post did, and the electorate re-endorsed this at the referendum conducted last year.

Many sound reasons can be advanced in favour of a longer electoral term, as Mainfreight chief executive Don Braid pointed out on Q+A when invited to put one big idea to a panel of politicians. He noted that we and the Aussies are competing with countries with four- and five-year terms which enable their governments to make longer-term and better policy decisions. We get short-term populist policies, "which in turn is giving us a twisted and poor-performing economy". The hard calls we need are sometimes avoided.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, United Future leader Peter Dunne, Justice Minister Judith Collins and Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei all saw merit in four-year terms. Ms Collins said three years was a long time when you are in opposition but in government it takes a year to get a start on what needs to be done, a year to consolidate, and the third year is spent campaigning on everything done so far. This was "simply not long enough". Four years would be much better.

Most importantly, Ms Collins said the public have to vote on the matter. She's right. The issue was put to a vote in 1990, when 69 per cent of those who voted rejected the idea. But the electorate then had just been riled by a Labour Government which, most notably in its second term, treated public opinion with disdain. The introduction of MMP is one of many changes since then. Revisiting the matter is to be commended.