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Rod Donald Speech On Party Hopping Bill

Speech by Rod Donald MP
Co-leader Green Party Aotearoa
In Parliament Debating Chamber
On Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill - First Reading

Wednesday, 22 December, 1999

The Green Party is fundamentally opposed to this anti-democratic piece of legislation, and we are outraged that it is being introduced under urgency in this House.

MPs must retain the right to be answerable to their own consciences, and political parties must not be allowed to take away from voters the power to unelect members of Parliament.

Those are the key arguments, and they have not changed in the 26 months to the day since the Cullen bill was first introduced. But two crucial events have occured since then.

The first is that voters learnt at the election that they do have the power to dump MPs who leave their parties without good reason. The Alamein Kopus are well and truly gone, and all the other defectors with them.

Meanwhile, the Greens have been re-elected in our own right. I would like to remind the House that had this bill existed prior to the last election, we would have been removed from this House and denied our opportunity to stay here for the full parliamentary term.

I do not think voters will now want to give up that power that they exercised on election day.

Secondly, the bill before us, while seemingly less draconian than the original Cullen version, is actually no better. I can see that there has been one change from the original Ladley draft, but it still leaves us with the situation where, if an MP has been evicted, forced out, of his or her party, he or she is denied the opportunity to declare him or herself an Independent in this Chamber or to join or form another political party.

That is quite ridiculous.

This or any other piece of legislation cannot distinguish between the Jim Andertons and the Alamein Kopus of this world. Jim Anderton, as other speakers have already said, exercised his conscience. He claimed that his old party left him and that he remained true to its principles.

Alamein Kopu had no good cause, but she is the price of democracy, and she is gone.

At the end of the day, it is better for voters to throw her out than to give people like Winston Peters the power to toss out the Neil Kirtons of this Parliament from the House.

Anderton, as I said, would have had the power to toss Jeanette Fitzsimons and me out.

[Winston Peters Interjection.] (We got here because 15 Green candidates stood in 1996, and we got 3.25 percent of the vote in the seats where we stood. That meant we were entitled to more than the three MPs that we got, because seven of the Alliance's top ten candidates were Greens at the 1996 election.)

It is vital that MPs are not turned into party robots. Anti-defection legislation is designed to gag outspoken MPs and crush dissent, which is why in Germany, the home of MMP and the country that suffered Hitler's reign of terror, they do not have anti-defection legislation. In fact, they have enshrined in their basic law - article 38 - that MPs are "representatives of the whole people, not bound by orders and instructions, and subject only to their conscience."

As former Labour Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer says: "MPs should make honourable undertakings, not legal undertakings. They may be coerced by argument, by public opinion, but not by stand-over tactics in closed rooms by party leaders."

This bill is insidious.

Tony Ryall: Why is this member propping up the Government?

ROD DONALD: Because it will do a darn sight better job than the previous Government ever did. This bill is insidious. It is an affront to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, notwithstanding what the Attorney-General said, because section 13 states: "Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief, including the right to adopt and to hold opinions without interference."

That is at stake with the denial of those rights to members of Parliament. That is why considered opinion throughout this country is strongly opposed to this type of legislation.

Many submissions on the Cullen bill opposed it both in principle and in detail. The Electoral Commission, for example, and I urged Government members to take the trouble to read the submissions and said that the bill addresses only one aspect of proportionality.

Yet that seems to be the only substantive argument that the Government is putting up.

There are eight other situations where proportionality can change in the course of a Parliament. This bill does not address a single one. The Victoria University academics opposed the bill. MMP author Philip Temple opposed it. The Electoral Reform Coalition did, and, as I mentioned before, so did Geoffrey Palmer.

There were, in fact, only 15 submissions on that bill, despite Alamein Kopu having just left the Alliance. So the level of public concern was not as great as some would care to make out.

The prospect of another bill coming to Parliament has prompted strong editorial opposition. I would like to quote briefly a few of them. Under the headline: 'The authoritarian Cullen bill is an insult to Kiwi voters' the Independent stated last week:

"Among their other election day accomplishments, voters disposed to the party-hoppers whose antics help to undermine public confidence in Parliament and in the electoral reforms introduced in 1996. By doing so they upheld the faith in them expressed last year in an Independent editorial challenging the need for legislation to discourage malcontents from abandoning their parties. Party leaders should not be given the power to coerce MPs to toe the party line and act contrary to their consciences," the editorial contended.

The New Zealand Herald of 30 November under heading: 'To whom are our MPs answerable?' states:

"No doubt Labour and the Alliance have heard a great deal of disgust from soundings for their election campaigns but they ought to be careful about changing an important constitutional convention on the strength of that. The disgust is symptomatic of failures deeper than party-switching and requires solutions more sophisticated than an oppressive parliamentary rule." It goes on to state: "Who owns a political party - its parliamentary leaders, its executive council? Jim Anderton did not believe so when he left Labour and remained in Parliament proclaiming that he alone was true to the party's principles. Voters are the best judge of MPs who follow that course. It would be infinitely wiser to leave it to them."

The Sunday Star - Times of 5 December in respect of the anti-defection bill stated:

"This is to jump on a popular bandwagon and leave important principles behind in the dust. The party-hopping bill gives far too much power to parties and reduces the hallowed independence of MPs. The electorate is wrong to think all defectors are as bad as the gang which switched sides in the last Parliament."

Even the Dominion, which is not a paper I often quote, stated:

"The judgment should be left to the voters. Legislation that will add to the control of the political parties over selection and remove the voter even further from the process is unwise and dangerous."

It had a second crack on 17 December, which I particularly like:

"Already the Greens have made an admirable start to establishing themselves as the political force by opposing the Government's needless party-hopping legislation."

And needless it is. We are not India, as Simon Upton pointed out, which has had a string of defections from parties and prompted them to introduce this sort of legislation in 1985.

We are not Bolivia, which also has an anti-defection bill, and a system similar to MMP.

We are not Zambia, which has a party-hopping bill specifically designed to prop up single-party rule.

We are not South Africa, despite the fact - and I agree with Mr Anderton - it was tested in their constitutional court and ruled as acceptable.

Indeed, we are not even Malaysia, where their constitutional court took the opposite opinion and decided that party-hopping legislation was unconstitutional.

More significant, we don't have recourse to a constitutional court or any other higher authority, as one of the other members on the Opposition side referred to before.

That is why we must be very, very careful before we proceed down this road. There is not one single longstanding parliamentary democracy in Europe that has anti-defection legislation, and I urge members on the Government side to consider very, very carefully the submissions that will come to the select committee.

If the strength of those submissions is anything like the strength of those that came before us 2 years ago, then in all honour they must be duty-bound to vote down this legislation. Certainly, we should deal with the issue of leader's funding, which people who leave a party pick up.

That is something that can happen in the Parliamentary Service Commission, and certainly we need to do something about section 71 of the Electoral Act, which the previous National Government - now the Opposition - blocked from coming through the House, which would have required parties to spell out in writing how they go about selecting their list members, which, of course, is the root of the problem that we are dealing with here in relation to Alamein Kopu and the Alliance, but I pray to this House that the Government will not proceed with this bill once it has heard the arguments against it.

ends


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