Last week I made numerous speeches in Parliament as my National Party colleagues and I did everything we could to stop the passage of an appalling piece of legislation, misnamed the Electoral Integrity Bill.
Better known as the Waka Jumping Bill, “integrity” doesn’t get a look in, and it is notable that the same three parties that inflicted the disgraceful Electoral Finance Act upon the nation in 2007 (Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens) have dealt another blow to our constitutional democracy with this latest travesty.
That is not “just a partisan statement” on my part. The Bill was roundly condemned by submitters and experts, all of whom were ignored by the Government because the Bill’s passage was part of Winston Peters’ price for forming the current government.
He argues that MPs should not lightly switch parties or policies after they have been elected, and I have no argument with that, but that is not what this Bill is about. Instead, it gives party leaders absolute power to expel any MP who upsets them, forcing them out of Parliament altogether.
Mr Peters has a long history of inconsistent positions on issues and falling out with his MPs and his current colleagues are now extremely vulnerable. He was himself a “waka jumper” 25 years ago having originally served as a National MP, and he has never completed a full term in any of the three previous governments in which he has been a minister.
Many former New Zealand First MPs feel deeply aggrieved by the way he has treated them, and now this Bill gives him chilling powers to intimidate his current colleagues into submission.
Most MPs are fiercely loyal to our parties and we’re proud to promote our policies. But we must have the ability occasionally to speak up when we feel something is not right, or may be detrimental to our electorates, without fear that our party leader may expel us from Parliament for doing so.
That is why every constitutional expert who submitted to the Justice Select Committee strongly opposed the Bill, as did the Law Commission and (in an unprecedented move) Parliament’s Office of the Clerk. It was especially disappointing to see Green MPs, who – while publicly opposing the Bill – voted for it at every stage, tarnishing the legacy of their founding co-leaders Jeanette Fitzsimons and the late Rod Donald.
Government MPs made no attempt to justify their positions during the marathon debate, leaving Justice Minister Andrew Little carrying the can, yet each of them voted for it. I hope to be a member of the next National-led Government that is determined to repeal it.