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Keeping The Waka Stable

6 May 2002

Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton has announced he will not stand under the Alliance banner at the next election. In this commentary he answers criticism over his position …

When I first came into government I used to have a saying that ‘one day in government is worth a thousand days in opposition.’

These days I sometimes think the exchange rate has moved a little, and a day in government is worth a bit less.

Despite the battering I’ve taken from a few commentators over the last few weeks I still think it’s worth it.

The position is very simple: I’m an Alliance MP, and I will remain an Alliance MP until the next election.

That is exactly what we promised to do before the last election and it is what the Electoral Integrity Act requires.

I will make no apology for standing at my post and remaining determined that this work continues.

But I won’t be standing under the Alliance banner at the next election.

Internal relationships in the Alliance simply stopped working, and one way or another the problem had to be resolved.

Once the Alliance had melted down, what were the options?

Some people say we should have thrown the towel in and resigned immediately.

That would have broken our commitment to be stable constructive coalition partners.

More importantly, it means that the Government would fall just because back-room officials on the Alliance Council didn’t want a constructive role in government. So they would get their way and we would have an election because unaccountable party officials want it that way.

Some people say we should have immediately jumped to a new party.

That would have had the same effect, of course. It would have triggered our exit from parliament and an election and breached the commitment we gave at the last election to make a co-operative contribution to the government.

Some people say we should have waited until just before an election to announce that we could not stand with the Alliance. But wouldn’t it be deceitful to secretly prepare to quit the Alliance and spring a last minute surprise on the nation.

Others say we should have done nothing, which would have resulted in candidates in whom we do not have confidence and who won’t commit to the positive programme of the Clark-Anderton government. That would be a fraud on the people of New Zealand.

In my view there is only one option that had integrity and honesty once the Alliance had blown apart: That was to do exactly as we said we would -- Keep our commitment in this term of parliament to remain as Alliance MPs and as constructive partners in the government.

The criticisms that have been made of me depend on a fallacious claim that I have already abandoned my post, when that will not happen before the parliament rises.

The issue of concern is what happens in this term of parliament.

We are not going to do what defectors from the Alliance and NZ First did in the last parliament. They left their parties, and voted against the policies they were elected on.

The group of MPs who support me are keeping our word: No one can name a single policy that we stood on at the last election which we have voted against in this parliament.

The Electoral Integrity Act exists to preserve the proportionality of parliament.

The proportionality of parliament has not been upset in any way.

The formation of a new party at this stage of the electoral cycle is a very significant task for those who have undertaken the challenge.

It will be made even harder when none of the MPs supporting me in parliament will be joining it before this parliament rises.

It is a sign of our commitment that we will honour our pledges until parliament rises and only join a new party vehicle to seek a fresh mandate after we have met our obligation to this coalition government and this parliament.

The public knows that the Opposition will condemn us no matter what we do. They have blustered themselves to predictable heights of make believe indignation for the benefit of television cameras. Well that’s their job, I suppose. Although I sometimes wish they would try to address serious issues of policy.

But the constitutional position of MPs would be seriously compromised if the comments of National MPs were taken seriously.

There hasn’t been a peep from National about the behaviour of the Alliance Council and the threat its actions posed to a very popular and progressive government.

Are they really so afraid of their own President, Ms Boag, that they would let unaccountable party presidents dictate to elected members of parliament?

That would be a recipe for poor government and weak leadership.

What we have done is identical to what the Green party did before the last election. They announced they would stand separately from the Alliance at the 1999 election, but would remain Alliance MPs until then. Back then there was not a word of criticism from the Opposition about their conduct.

What’s changed? Our position is the same today as it was when we signed the coalition agreement in December 2000. There is a lot of predictable complaint from the National and Act parties – but that has more to do with their understandable political strategy to attack me than with on any important constitutional principles.

I am proud of the difference that the Clark-Anderton coalition government has made. I am proud of the contribution of my colleagues to this Government and I am determined to do my best to see that it is re-elected.


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