The Government’s bill to reduce the drink drive limit, introduced after my own member’s bill was drawn from the ballot received 1st reading today.
We started the day having morning tea with members of the New Zealand-Netherlands Society, Manawatu & Districts before heading to Massey University for the main business of the day.
Palmerston North and the Dutch city of Wageningen have a special relationship. Wageningen is home to Food Valley, the food innovation hub of the Northern Hemisphere. Here in Palmerston North, we are developing Food HQ, the Southern Hemisphere equivalent.
Many of our research, business and community leaders have visited Wageningen and the relationship is gradually developing. The ambassador and I arranged his visit in the interests of further developing that relationship.
The ambassador was given a presentation by the Riddett Institute the Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE) located at Massey University that is focused on food innovation. Following that, we met with senior Massey University staff and then researchers who have a particular connection with the Netherlands.
Finally we met with Mayor Jono Naylor and PNCC CEO Paddy Clifford. Jono has himself visited Wageningen, leading a city delegation.
Building our food innovation expertise is about giving New Zealand comparative advantage in world markets. While we need to compete, we also need to collaborate and there is a fine balance between the two. Building relationships with partners who can help us increase our innovative capacity is important if Palmerston North is to take advantage or all the opportunities food innovation presents us with.
During the last session of Parliament, under urgency, a very good piece of legislation was passed – the Medicines Amendment Act.
Amongst other things, it extends prescribing rights to health practitioners other than Medical Doctors in certain circumstances. There are many benefits to this but of particular interest is the fact that people in rural areas where doctors can be hard to come by will more likely be able to access prescriptions from nurse practitioners and other health providers.
The sad and truly bizarre thing is this legislation could have been passed seven years ago. But unfortunately the National Party and Tony Ryall in particular chose to play politics rather than do what was right for the health of the nation. The fact that the Labour Government could be defeated on this issue was more important to National than better healthcare.
The legislation has now passed, with the backing of Labour in opposition. We prefer to put the interests of New Zealanders ahead of petty politics.
Last week I had the good fortune to have another bill drawn from the member’s ballot. This time it is the Electoral (Adjustment of Thresholds) Amendment Bill.
Before I get in to the detail, I must acknowledge Her Worship Hon Lianne Dalziel who, while still an MP, drafted this legislation in response to the Government’s failure to implement the recommendations of the Electoral Commission Review of MMP. After Lianne left Parliament to take up the Christchurch mayoralty, I took over the bill and – lucky for me – it was almost immediately drawn.
The bill does two things:
- It removes the coat-tailing provisions of MMP whereby winning an electorate allows parties to bring list MPs in too. If a party wins an electorate it gets that seat in Parliament but all parties must reach the threshold to bring in list MPs.
- It reduces the threshold from 5% to 4%.
I make no apology for the fact this is in response to what is perceived by most New Zealanders as one of the biggest weaknesses of MMP.
Probably the best example of the problem occurred in the 2008 election when NZ First, with over 4% of the vote, got no MPs while ACT with 3.2% got 5 MPs on account of Rodney Hide winning Epsom because National and ACT did a deal.
The fact that party leaders can make deals to help smaller parties that will prop them up in government get more MPs is probably the greatest source of complaint about our electoral system.
But this is also a response to National’s failure to follow through on a promise.
It was National’s idea to have a referendum on MMP. It was also National’s idea that, should MMP be retained, there would be a review around some of the issues including those my bill addresses. The public was lead to believe that by voting for MMP, we were also voting to have some of the problems with it sorted out.
But when the Electoral Commission review resulted in recommendations to do just that, National and its support parties ignored them. Why? Pure self-interest.
It doesn’t suit National to do away with coat-tailing because it relies on John Banks and Peter Dunne to prop up the current government.
National’s reason for not making the changes to our electoral law is that there is no consensus around the recommendations.
What they mean, of course, is that there is a lack of consensus between political parties. There is a strong consensus in the public (and if I’m wrong about that, we can test my hypothesis by sending the bill to select committee for public submissions). People are sick of the coat-tailing. We know that already.
But what I find even more interesting than the claim of no consensus is the idea that lack of consensus for change is consensus for the status quo. Of course there is no consensus around the current situation. Many political parties want change. In terms of parliamentary representation the status quo has just a one vote majority. If proposals for change are to be dismissed for lack of consensus, why not the status quo?
I guess my progressive leanings are on display here but I can’t stand the conservative adage that in the absence of consensus for change we naturally default to the status quo.
In the absence of consensus, we should seek consensus. If anyone can point me to the work Judith Collins did to seek consensus between political parties on these issues I’d be very happy to see it.
Electoral Commission Recommendations
Another point of attack against my bill is that it does not implement all the review recommendations, in particular changes to the overhang rules. I would simply point out that members’ bills have to be extremely tight in their focus. The fact this bill is able to do two things is on account of the fact both can be achieved by amending just one clause of the Electoral Act. If National wanted all the recommendations implemented or a consensus over which ones to implement it should have done the work. We would have been happy to work with them.
Finally the right have been saying this is all very convenient now, but why didn’t Labour act earlier – even suggesting we have done deals in the past.
The non-partisan Electoral Commission review occurred after the MMP referendum which was held concurrently with the last general election. This bill is a response to the government’s failure to respond to the recommendations of that review. The timing has in fact been controlled by the National-led Government.
As for deals, the suggestion that we did a deal to keep Jim Anderton in Wigram is ludicrous! That decision was firmly in the hands of the people of Wigram. Nuclear weapons would not have unseated Jim no matter who was or wasn’t standing against him!