The decision to support Winston Peters’ beloved caucus-cementing bill is bad karma for the Green Party and at least as big a threat to our democracy as anything the National government did, writes Geoff Simmons
With the Green Party now lending its support (under the guise of “coalition stability”), the infamous “Waka Jumping Bill” will soon pass into law. This will make our acting prime minister Winston Peters happier than a bottle of 15 y.o. single malt, because this bill is his idea.
Supporting this bill is bad karma for the Green Party, and releasing their ministerial diaries will not be enough to cleanse their democratic aura. The “Waka Jumping Bill” is at least as big a threat to our democracy as anything National did in government, such as neutering Environment Canterbury or making a joke out of the Official Information Act.
So why aren’t the public up in arms? I think the problem is that “Waka Jumping” sounds kinda enjoyable; like something that might happen the day after Waitangi Day as a way to blow off some steam. The name really doesn’t get to the heart of how comprehensively crap this piece of legislation is.
Here’s five alternative names for this piece of bog roll masquerading as law.
1. The “Do As I Say Not As I Do (Or Said Back Then) Bill” aka The “Hypocrisy Bill”
Many readers won’t remember this but Peters himself was once a member of the National Party. He was Muldoon’s protégé, which explains his obsession with returning New Zealand to the 1970s; the days of Stubbies, long socks and taking the country to near bankruptcy.
The platform he gained by being an outspoken critic of the 1990 National government he was part of allowed him to go on to set up NZ First. When passed this Bill will prevent anyone in Parliament doing the same. What takes the cake though is that when Michael Laws left National to join NZ First in 1996, Winston stated:
MPs have to be free to follow their conscience. They were elected to represent their constituents, not swear an oath of blind allegiance to a political party.
Winston isn’t alone on Hypocrite Hill here. The Green Party are sitting next to him, sharing their hummus and crackers. They also got their start thanks to waka jumping, and now they are kicking out the ladder to make sure others can’t follow. Former leader Rod Donald will be spinning in his grave.
2. The “Tau Henare Memorial” Bill
So why is Peters so anti switching parties? In 1998 – two years after the statement he made above – Winston lost eight of his 17 MPs, including Deputy Leader Tau Henare. All of a sudden the shoe was on the other foot. Since then, Peters has led a 20 year mission for revenge against this betrayal. Brendan Horan’s performance in the 2011 Parliament can only have added salt to the wound.
The real problem here isn’t the ability to switch parties. The real problem is the ability of Peters to select candidates that are committed to his values… whatever those might be.
3. The “Respect My Authority” Bill
This Bill will give all power to the leader of a party. If any party member disagrees with him or her, then they can be dismissed forcing a by-election or replaced with the next person on the list. Heaven forbid anybody think for themselves.
Parties have a tendency to drift away from their values in the pursuit of power. Peters believed Bolger’s National did that in 1990, and Tariana Turia believed Clark’s Labour did that over the foreshore and seabed.
The only way to stop that drift away from values in between elections is for MPs to follow their conscience and vote against their own party. This legislation removes that possibility, making the leader of the party all powerful. So between elections party leaders will be able to do what they like, and nobody can do anything about it.
We know what that is called, and it ain’t democracy.
4. The “No New Ideas” Bill
Every minor party in Parliament over the last 30 years has splintered from either Labour or National. This legislation would make it much more difficult for that to happen again. Given the difficulty of getting over 5% threshold in an election (which I’m pretty familiar with…), that means no new parties in Parliament, and no fresh ideas or perspectives in our democracy.
We are already struggling to get young people to vote, and why would they bother if the majority of Parliamentarians can’t get their head around the fact that red meat is about to be replaced quicker than you can say “nylon”?
5. The “Everyone Has Their Price” Bill
Peters clearly made this law a bottom line in his coalition negotiations. That should be scary enough for NZ First supporters since he didn’t declare that prior to the election.
The far scarier thing is that Labour and now the Green Party are willing to sign away their souls in their pursuit for power. These are the same parties that made a lot of kerfuffle about trading away our sovereignty under the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This legislation is no better than that, nor the neutering of Environment Canterbury that they cried foul over. It seems everyone has their price.
To restore their karmic balance on this Labour and the Green Party urgently need to make good on the pledge they made in opposition to implement the findings of the Electoral Commissions’ review of MMP. This included lowering the threshold for new parties to get into Parliament to 4% rather than the current 5%. This will make it easier for smaller parties to get into Parliament, bringing new ideas and new voices with them.
The only way stop this ratty piece of legislation is if a few Green MPs with integrity cross the floor to trap and dispatch it for good. Ironically, if they don’t this vote would have been their last opportunity.