IN COMMITTEE Caught on the Hop

One of the first agenda items to be considered by the new Justice and Electoral Select Committee will be something called the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill which, while it purports to be Government Bill, is in fact on the order paper at the behest of NZ First.
That Party is, you will recall, not part of the Government even though its leader is both member of the ruling Executive and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand. The Bill aims to bring back the old Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Act 2001 (known as the Party Hopping Act), which sought to prevent MPs from switching party allegiance mid-term, and whose sunset clause kicked in on September 15 this year. The Bill affects both list and constituency members alike.
NZ First has always had thing about party hopping since the time when most of its high-profile Mori MPs decamped mid-term (described as “waka jumping” on that occasion). However, the issue has never been more sensitive within the Party than it is right now.
Opposition parties are alleging that NZ First may be about to witness new wave of defections in the wake of Winston Peters’ decision to renege on his election time promise to spurn the baubles of office and accept them after all. Were just couple of NZ First members to defect, Peters could find himself without enough of Parliamentary party to justify his newfound high status.
So, just when we had seen the last of the party hopping Act, it is back. Or is it?
Its legitimacy has always been questioned by constitutional experts because it appears to frustrate the wishes of the electorate by giving political parties the power, under certain circumstances, to dismiss elected members from Parliament. It got through the House once in the wake of earlier excesses, but in recent times the issue has pretty much died death.
Whether or not the House will be willing to re-instate it now – and allow it to be strengthened by removing the previous sunset clause – remains to be seen. The new Justice and Electoral committee that will consider it does have Labour chair but it does not have majority of Labour members on the committee. In fact, this time around none of the committees do. Nor, significantly does it have NZ First member to fight Peters’ corner.
The committee could report back with seriously modified Bill, or even recommendation that it be scrapped. Furthermore, the committee just might find itself backed by the new assembly in which the official Government, even with NZ First’s support, does not have majority.
Will one of the first acts of frisky and independent-minded new Parliament be to throw out Bill instigated by, and frustrating the wishes of, the formerly frisky and independent Winston Peters? Or will Peters’ bacon be saved this time by the very people whom he famously spurned at the 11th hour and 59th minute in 1996 when he chose National as his coalition partner?
Either way someone’s going to be hopping mad.

Julie Collier is editor and publisher of Select Committee News.

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