Red Alert

A Four-Year Term?

Posted by on May 18th, 2010

We’ve just passed the half-way mark of this term of Parliament. As a first-term MP I can tell you it has flown by and I can’t believe we will be back into election year next year.

A lot of people in my electorate have commented that our 3-year term seems incredibly short.

Most have stated a preference for a four-year term, but wouldn’t want to go as far as five years.

I guess under FPP we didn’t want to wait too long before we got to tell our MPs how they were going. But under MMP would we be better off with a slightly longer term?

(Not to say I don’t relish the chance to go back to the ballot box next year!)


31 Responses to “A Four-Year Term?”

  1. Trevor Mallard says:

    Terms are too short when in government and too long when in opposition. But I agree with you.

    Was it back in the mid 1960s that we voted for longer drinking hours and to keep Parliaments short in a referendum?

  2. Shane says:

    Back in 1990 (along with the election that year) this question was asked, well over two thirds of people said no to a four year term.

    The last referendum on the same issue was in 1967 where a similar percentage were opposed to a four year term.

    http://www.elections.org.nz/elections/referendum/referendums.html

  3. Trevor – there were referendums on the term of Parliament in 1967, and 1990. The referendum that abandoned six o’clock closing was also 1967 (having earlier been rejected in 1949).

  4. beaten to it! Shouldn’t have gone looking for the info on six o’clock closing :-)

  5. Loota says:

    Four year term is preferable, but will only pass if the public is convinced that it will be part of a plan to increase the accountability and productivity of their MPs and Ministers, not decrease it.

  6. With the public’s faith in MPs, political parties, and governments being so low, I think the public is more likely to want *more* democracy and accountability not *less* democracy and accountability. Politicians wanting longer in power, and the public having even less say, would be seen for exactly what it is.

    If anything we should be shifting to annual parliaments. That would be a much more democratic demand, and it would reflect that reality that New Zealand MPs and political parties are now campaigning constantly anyhow. And we should have mechanisms for the instant recall of MPs. This is a demand that’s growing in popularity around the world – especially in the recent UK election.

  7. Ianmac says:

    Baldrick and Spud have a very cunning plan.
    When National is in power the term shall be 3 years.
    When Labour is in power the term shall be 5 years, thus providing an average of 4 years which should please everyone.

  8. Idiot/Savant says:

    Annual Parliaments is the only demand of Chartism we haven’t won yet :) But given the length of our legislative cycle – six months wonking, then at least six months to pass a bill, its probbaly unrealistic. Unless you want to see poorly drafted crap, or Parliament in a permanent state of urgency and public input and scrutiny through the sleect committee process replaced with taking revenge through the electoral process.

    As for three vs four years, I favour keeping politicians on a tight electoral leash. So, judging from those referendum results, do the rest of the public. What’s surprising is that so many of our politicians have completely failed to get the message.

  9. given the length of our legislative cycle – six months wonking, then at least six months to pass a bill, its probbaly unrealistic. Unless you want to see poorly drafted crap

    Couldn’t having a bunch of different eyes on a bill over an extended period have positive benefits? We could require that each reading take place in a different Parliament so that we’d be pretty damn sure we want to pass thing when it happened!

  10. Spud says:

    Again, can’t read comments no time, but a lot of damage can be done to a country in three years, I think four years would be too long to wait to lynch a bad government. Also, if a government is good, like the last Labour one, then they can get their mandate renewed every three years. It is more democratic to have elections more often. More times for publie to have their say. 5 years would be depressing. :(

  11. Chris says:

    I prefer four years for the more solid achievements that can be done, but three for the tight leash. On balance, I would go for a four year term with a very tight tight leash and instant recall of MPs.

  12. Idiot/Savant says:

    Couldn’t having a bunch of different eyes on a bill over an extended period have positive benefits? We could require that each reading take place in a different Parliament so that we’d be pretty damn sure we want to pass thing when it happened!

    Possibly too sure. Three years to legislate to solve a problem would mean a polity constitutionally incapable of responding to events. Realstically, you would need a bypass to allow necessary legislation (which pops up occasionally) to be passed quickly. And politicians being politicians, this would end up being abused to become the norm. Or else they’d just end up doing more stuff through regulations rather than primary legislation, which reduces political oversight. The UK parliament – which has an undemocratically long five year term is already moving in this direction…

  13. Iain Lees-Galloway says:

    It’s interesting the way this discussion is going because it’s just so different from what I’ve heard from people face to face. Literally not one person I’ve spoken to had a problem shifting to 4 years.

    On the issue of accountability, I wonder if a longer term would mean the electorate would expect a Government to acheive more in the time since the last election so it wouldn’t be able to get away with the ‘it was the last lot’s fault’ argument so much?

  14. Idiot/Savant says:

    I think four years would be too long to wait to lynch a bad government.

    My thoughts exactly. As for “lynching”, elections are the democratic alternative to stringing politicians from lamp-posts.

  15. Idiot/Savant says:

    Iain: how many of them have raised it with you, as opposed to the opposite?

    FTF, people tend to be polite. On the internet, we have no such restraint.

  16. Loota says:

    I.S. said:

    My thoughts exactly. As for “lynching”, elections are the democratic alternative to stringing politicians from lamp-posts.

    Is a democratic alternative always necessarily a better alternative? Just sayin’ :P

  17. sammy says:

    Countries with longer terms tend to have a second chamber, or some other diffusion of power (e.g. federal). Also, local/regional elections (much of Europe) or mid-terms (USA) or State elections (Aus) act as a kind of political restraint on the government – a chance for voters to “send a message”.

    We have none of that. I don’t want to rely on a phone call from Colmar Brunton to keep a government in check.

    The one tool we do have is MMP. Let’s make sure that’s safe, before we think about giving governments longer terms.

  18. Iain Lees-Galloway says:

    I/S – I don’t consider disagreement to be impolite!!

    I would say it’s 50/50 whether I raised the topic or the other person did. No doubt only those who are in favour of change would raise it with me.

    I do wonder if under MMP (long may that remain) a referendum would get a different result to those held under FPP.

  19. Iain Lees-Galloway says:

    @Sammy – Good point about second chambers. I spent a week at Westminster last year and came to the conclusion that MMP achieves for NZ what the House of Lords achieves for the UK in terms of restraining and slowing down the Government.

  20. Expat says:

    Hi, long time reader, first time commenter. Please be gentle.

    The idea of a four year cycle makes sense, as three year terms mean that any legislation is only ever drafted with the upcoming election in mind (in other words, lots of short-term programmes for short-term gain, rather than the longer-term view normally needed for legislation to actually have any effect). Of course, four years as opposed to three will hardly change that, but it might give a bit of extra time to fairly judge the effectiveness (or not) of a new programme.

    From the USA (where I’m currently sitting), there are scary things afoot: with ‘mid-term’ elections this year (replacing the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate) and the current anti-incumbent mood, anything Obama is just starting to try and put into action might be stymied before it gets off the ground. Two years, at least, is far too short a time for an elected leader/government to be judged.

  21. rainman says:

    Give me a decent practical long-term vision for NZ and I will consider your suggestion of a longer term in government. Until then, no.

  22. Spud says:

    Darn, no time to really get into this thread :-(

    “I prefer four years for the more solid achievements that can be done, but three for the tight leash.” – Agreed, but if the country doesn’t want whatever is trying to be achieved then is it really fair to have a four year cycle?

    “so it wouldn’t be able to get away with the ‘it was the last lot’s fault’ argument so much?” – The last three governments were all in for at least six years. But at least they were elected in for each three year chunk. No length of term is going to change the “the last government had X amount of time to get this right” every government will use this line. :-(

    @E xpat – Hi :-D Welcome to the lion pit :-D

    “legislation is only ever drafted with the upcoming election in mind (in other words, lots of short-term programmes for short-term gain, rather than the longer-term view normally needed for legislation to actually have any effect).” You make a good point. :-) However, I still think it’s important that the public have a chance to have their say every three years because three years is a long time. People get degrees in this length of time. If people want the polies in any longer then they can vote for them, because making long term plans is not a right it’s a privilege.

  23. James Caygill says:

    I totally support a four year term, and come at it from a “policy cycle” POV.

    I think it’s more unrealistic to expect governments to implement policy solutions quickly and for voters to reach informed decisions on the merits of those solutions in a triennial system than in a quadrennial.

    Sure there’s a balance between “good governance” in this sense and democratic accountability and I personally think that four years strikes this balance better than three or five.

    I think the changes we see in Parliament between elections, since the advent of MMP, although no 100% attributible to it, have deomstrated that our elected representatives are aware of public opinion and respond in many wonderful and chaotic ways to this. An election is not he only time we get to voice ouropinions – they are simply the most important time.

    I’d love to see a change to s17(1) of the Constitution Act 1986 which moved us to a four year term, but did it in a way that gave no obvious benefit to an incumbent or an opposition – ie make the change soon, but have it come into force in three cycles’ time, say all elections held after Jan 1 2020 or something….

  24. Loota says:

    rainman said

    Give me a decent practical long-term vision for NZ and I will consider your suggestion of a longer term in government. Until then, no.

    Now this is a very sensible request.

  25. Anne says:

    Hello Expat. Know what you mean about commenting for first time. Nothing worse than getting flattened by some troll before you’re even up and running. By and large this is a polite blog site so do continue commenting. :)

  26. Jeremy M Harris says:

    Absolutely bloody well not..!

    3 years, and fix the terms so PMs stop playing silly buggers with dates…

  27. Spud says:

    @Jeremy – agreed! :-D

  28. Blair Rogers says:

    Yip – you Pollie’s can have 4 years….

    … but only if there is also a limitation on the length one can be an MP. 5 terms max (a max of 20 years) – then your out and not allowed back in any way shape or form.

    Sounds fairer now.

  29. Martin says:

    Yes I support four-year terms. What the hell, raise it to five years. It gives the govt more time to implement policies. In NZ it always seems like we’re getting prepared for the next election. While elections are a cornerstone of democracy, politics shouldn’t just be about elections.

    This is what annoys me about this govt. It goes on about it’s campaign promises. Whoopty bloody doo!! I’m not worried about hearing about the campaign promises as I am about what the govt’s doing to resolve unemployment, protecting state assets, improving employment conditions etc.

  30. Spud says:

    Aw, but some of our great politicians, such as Goff, have been there for more than 20 years :-D

    Five years, man if I had a tory government elected and knew that they were going to be in for five years I’d leave the country. :-(

    The polies have more than three years to implement their policies it’s just that they have to face the music every three years during their reign, which to me is fair. And it keeps the governments from getting too comfortable. :-D

  31. Spud says:

    @Idiot / Savant – I know what you mean, people do keep their views to themselves more in person.