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Dunne on the Duynhoven case

Dunne on the Duynhoven case

United Future leader, Peter Dunne, says there's a major hurdle to overcome before his party's eight MP's can vote in favour of the law that will allow Labour MP Harry Duynhoven to remain an MP despite his applying to renew his Dutch citizenship.

Mr Dunne told Parliament, which is considering the legislation under urgency, "This is not a simple case of an MP breaking the law and Parliament fixing it in a way that might not happen in other circumstances.

"By every admission, the provisions Mr Duynhoven breached are ancient and obscure. Moreover, it is widely conceded that he did not deliberately seek to breach the law, although I readily accept the maxim that ignorance of the law is no excuse.

"It is clear that the provisions in the Electoral Act were crafted at a time when the world was a vastly different place.

"In the 1850s when the world was essentially divided between the British Empire and hostile Europe, the issue of allegiance to foreign powers was a very real one. Even as late as World War Two, as the detention of alien nationals in our country shows, the issue was still extremely relevant, and understandably so.

Mr Dunne said today, "Indeed, it could be argued that there are certain powers today - the so-called Axis of Evil, for example - where the same could be held to apply, and where we would be properly concerned to have MPs declaring various forms of allegiance.

"However, none of this applies in Mr Duynhoven's case. New Zealand has long enjoyed the closest of relations with the Netherlands and there has never been a suggestion that any action of allegiance by an individual to the Netherlands poses any threat to New Zealand's security or national integrity.

"That raises the question: Is banishing Mr Duynhoven from Parliament a reasonable response? He has committed no crime, and would be eligible to stand again for Parliament immediately, without any penalty.

"While relevant in a general sense only, issues relating to the cost and practicality of a by-election are not in my mind critical to the question of whether Mr Duynhoven should be disqualified.

"There is a general legal principle in favour of retrospective validation of actions where such validation is beneficial either to the individual or to the group concerned.

"Parliament regularly passes validation Bills to cover the actions of local authorities and others caught in similar situations, for example.

"The issue here is essentially whether in Gilbert and Sullivan's famous phrase, "the punishment fits the crime."

"I do not think that Mr Duynhoven's disqualification would be a reasonable "punishment" in this case, especially since he would be immediately eligible to stand again for Parliament.

"At the same time, I do not think it reasonable to create a situation whereby any other MP can now with impunity for the balance of this Parliament at least apply for dual citizenship, or nationality, and not be held to account the way Mr Duynhoven has been.

"In common parlance, the law in this instance has clearly become an ass, and it is unreasonable to penalise Mr Duynhoven by it.

"Therefore, I favour a limited amendment to the law to validate Mr Duynhoven's election, pending a thorough review of the provisions in question. If there are other MPs who may have been caught in a similar way to Mr Duynhoven, but who have chosen to remain silent and let him take the rap, as it were, I do not believe they deserve the ongoing protection of the law.

"Therefore, should other cases subsequently come to light it is my strong view that any such MPs who have stayed silent now should not enjoy the protection of the law in the future.

"I intend moving an amendment to that effect in the committee stages of the Bill and the fate of that amendment will have a powerful effect on how United Future votes in the final instance," said Mr Dunne.

He said it was pertinent to note that the case of National's Dr Nick Smith had been raised in the context of the government legislating to protect its own MP only.

"I believe Parliament should act to protect Dr Smith from being prosecuted by the Solicitor-General for alleged contempt of court, since he was doing the jobs all MP's must do and that is to advocate on behalf of their constituents," he said.

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