Monday, August 23, 2004

Separation of Powers

In an earlier posting. I dealt with the questions of a written constitution, sovereignty and conventions. I concluded that we cannot (short of a revolution) avoid parliamentary sovereignty but we can enact (and even entrench) "constitutional provisions" which allow us to specify the mechanics of our system of Government. In this posting I'm looking at some specific ways in which we could fine-tune our current government mechanisms without requiring any revolutionary change to our constitution.

IMHO (for reasons covered elsewhere) we should not look to dramatic constitutional change. The worst problems of "unbridled power" arise from executive dominance of parliament rather than the other way around and are (or can be) largely fixed by MMP and some minor associated constitutional changes which I discuss here. The purpose of these changes is twofold -
(1) To make it much harder for a government to capture parliament
(2) To make it easier for a legitimate government to govern without a captive parliamentary majority.

The changes are -

(1) Lose the threshold. The present 5% threshold gives undue prominence to the outcomes in particular electorates and distorts voting patterns in the party vote. It also creates the risk that parties with substantial (nearly 5%) do not get represented which is undemocratic. (Try National 42%, NZ First 3%, UF 1%, Act 1%, Labour 38%, Green 4%, Alliance 4%, PC 1%, MP 3% with Act, Green, Alliance and MP failing to win electorate seats). If we lose the threshold people can concentrate on voting naturally (ie for the candidate and party they like best) and a genuinely representative parliament will result. The threshold also encourages aggregation to larger parties (eg the split of Greens and the PC from the Alliance COULD have reulted in both Greens and Alliance getting 4% with no electorate seats - OTOH a voter should be able to vote green without having their vote counted as red, brown or electric purple. (Mind you it's even tougher if you want to vote grey).

(2) Formalise parliament's role as an "electoral college" choosing the executive. This could be done by exhaustive ballot to appoint a Prime Minister who would then appoint the rest of cabinet (or we might have parliament directly elect the Attorney General as that is a constitutionally separate positon). The same procedure could be used to appoint the Speaker although this might conventionally be done by concensus. Parliament would hold a ballot following each General election or if the government is defeated on a confidence issue. A lost confidence vote would require a parliamentary ballot for a new Prime Minister but the old executive would remain in office until its successor is elected (or the old executive reelected) at that ballot. This is close to the "Swedish model" mentioned by No Right Turn but specifies a parliamentary voting procedure rather than relying on the speaker's discretion. If we retain a titular HOS (President or Governor General) than the law could specify that, when appointing/replacing a PM, the HOS must act on the speaker's advice that the house has voted to elect the new PM.

(3) Adopt a fixed parliamentary term. The Electoral Act would specify something like "a general election shall be held on the second Saturday of November in the year 2005 and at three-yearly intervals thereafter". This would be the only time general elections can be held or parliament dissolved. (A no-confidence vote simply means that Parliament conducts a new ballot for the Government).

(4) Limit the size of cabinet to (eg) 12. We used to manage with much smaller cabinets (than the present) in the 50s and 60s and the new State Service arrangements should greatly reduce the need for "Departmental" cabinet ministers. "Operational" departments now have CEOs who are supposedly accountable for the performance of their departments and who are directed (in writing) by cabinet to implement specified govt policies. Appointing a minister in charge of each department appears to duplicate the CEOs function and dilutes accountability. If there is a need for ongoing oversight I'd like to try using select committees. The committee chairs would be an alternative career step for MPs who miss out on cabinet. Committees also allow us to tap into the talents of opposition members and retain greater continuity of experience when governments change.

(5) Relax the rules of collective cabinet responsibility. At the very least the rules should not apply to a Minister voting in the house or advocating in caucus. The minister is wearing his or her MP's hat at these times and it is constitutionally wrong for the cabinet manual to override the MP's duty. I have no particular quarrel with barring a cabinet minister from disclosing cabinet proceedings or campaigning against collective cabinet policy outside the house.

(6) Allow parliament to delegate executive authority to the government - particularly with regard to financial appropriations. The notion that the ability of the govt to raise taxes is a major constitutional issue is an anachronism. The full range of political views espoused by New Zealanders (or covered within the greater Blogosphere) encompasses passionate differences as to how much the govt should tax its citizens (or for what purposes) but does anyone deny that the govt has a right to raise taxes or suggest that it ought not to pay its day to day expenses as they fall due? In the 21st century we might reconsider the convention that a govt falls if defeated on a "financial matter". OTOH this is less critical with a single house since a parliament of a mind to play silly buggers with supply would presumably have the numbers for a no-confidence vote anyhow. (At least the "Whitlam scenario" where the upper house blocked supply until the GG dismissed the govt doesn't arise).

(7) Entrench as much of the constitutional arrangements as is possible (basically the bits relating to the electoral system, role of parliament, speaker, HOS, judiciary, etc) along with a Bill of Rights. This could and should include the role of the Treaty provided that the entrenched provisions are securely founded on a broad concensus (which has yet to be built). To entrench (by a simple majority) a strongly contested interpretation of the treaty (or anything else) is to invite a future legislative challenge to those provisions (eg repeal by a simple majority) to the detriment of our entire constitution.


Blogger Uroskin said...

My preference for changes in the electoral system would be to lose the electorate seats and move to 125 list seats, like they have in Israel and The Netherlands. That would enable us to abolish Maori seats without affecting anyone's ability to get into parliament on pure electoral strength, or be accused of favouring any racial group (be it Maori or non-Maori).

23 August 2004 at 4:41 PM  
Blogger Rich said...

I'd agree with some of your points.

On losing the "threshold", I'd argue that electing one (or more) MPs provides a minority party with less than 5% of the vote with disproportionate influence.

For instance, say the Bogan Party of New Zealand gets 1% of votes and an MP. Even though Labour (say) is generally opposed to (for instance) motor racing on Queen St, they may wind up agreeing to it to keep the Bogans onside. More seriously, Israel in particular suffers from small religious parties dictating an agenda in return for keeping a coalition intact.

Possibly a threshold-free system of PR would work better in a system of "permanent minority government" as you suggest, with coalitions of support building behind particular issues.

It's my belief, however, that the electorate have the right to regularly choose a government and have it (attempt to) pursue a coherent set of policies. If I vote for a major party, I can have a reasonable expectation of what they will do if elected. If I vote for a minor party, I have an idea who they might support and how they might try and adjust the lead parties policies.

Without this, how do you have accountability of a government for the *effects* of its policies?

24 August 2004 at 2:17 PM  
Blogger Greyshade said...

Hans -
A straight list system means that the people lose all ability to vote for individual MPs and makes MPs almost totally dependent on their parties for political survival. This may not matter if you have relatively homogeneous parties but we haven't. My preference is STV which maximizes voters' choice and allows us to express both within and between party preferences but I'm not too hung up on which electoral system we use as long as it's one that gives a reasonably representative parliament.
Rich -
Your argument is the standard one for a threshold. It assumes that it's the bad guys or "extremists" who get filtered out by the threshold but it doesn't always work that way. In practice it's parties that overcompete for a respectable political niche (eg the Alliance) who miss out. But if we do get 1 Bogan (or even 1 Destiny NZ) MP as the price of losing the threshold does it really matter. The British parliament has had MPs aligned to both Catholic and Protestant paramilitary groups elected under FPP without doing any harm. Adolf Hitler got over 30% of the votes in 1931 but even then it was the politicians (not only in Germany) who were prepared to work with him that were the real problem. Obviosuly a threshold would have been no help at all.
I think that MMP (particularly without a threshold) will enable parties to form Governments with support from minor parties but will have more than one option as to who they deal with. The other reforms (fixed parliamentary term, requirement that no confidence vote elects a new government, etc) I suggest should help encourage this.

24 August 2004 at 3:06 PM  
Blogger Uroskin said...

The ability for the electorate to vote for an individual MP (or, conversely, to get rid of a sitting one) is very academic, epecially in "safe" seats. I'd say the power of the voter to elect a particular MP is the same whether under MMP or a one-nation-one-list system. Getting rid of safe seats would be agood aim because it would make party list composers think more of who would appeal to the most people, rather than being a retirement home for unpopular ones.
Minority Government, I think, is a good idea and in tune with political realities, and it gives an opportunity for very minority and new ideas to have a chance in the political arena.

25 August 2004 at 11:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

phentermine[url=]phentermine[/url] phentermine online[url=]phentermine online[/url]phentermine[url=]phentermine[/url]phentermine[url=]phentermine[/url]phentermine[url=]phentermine[/url] c2b42yyb-800182312

2 February 2006 at 9:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What If...Visit Our Web Site at If You are Looking forr advice on build my own house.

12 April 2006 at 10:01 PM  
Blogger James Baker said...

I just came across your blog and wanted to
drop you a note telling you, Friend, how impressed I was with it.
I give you my best wishes for your future endeavors.
If you have a moment, please visit my site:
diet home
It covers diet home related contents.
All the best!

3 June 2006 at 5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice site!
[url=]My homepage[/url] | [url=]Cool site[/url]

29 July 2006 at 1:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good design!
My homepage | Please visit

29 July 2006 at 1:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice site! |

29 July 2006 at 1:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

contact lenses cheap - red contact lenses

14 February 2007 at 5:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

eye glasses accessory : eyeglasses sale

16 February 2007 at 3:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



17 February 2007 at 1:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

absolutely free pcs ringtones sprint - free pcs ringtones sanyo sprint
free midi polyphonic ringtones

18 February 2007 at 5:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mattress cleaner
mattress cover - memory foam mattress

20 February 2007 at 2:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dunlop tires
firestone tires - off road tires

21 February 2007 at 2:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

free mobile ringtones
free nextel ringtones i730

22 February 2007 at 5:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

debt consolidation companies
student loan debt consolidation

25 February 2007 at 8:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

free alltel music ringtones
free funny ringtones - free mobile
- free real music ringtones

4 March 2007 at 5:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

order tramadol
tramadol and acetaminophen: - tramadol used for.

12 March 2007 at 4:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

replica rolex cheap
rolex president - rolex replica fake

15 March 2007 at 1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

airline cheap find tickets
cheap international airplane tickets - very cheap airline tickets

18 March 2007 at 1:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

cheap flight from uk
cheap flight paris - cheap flight tenerife - find cheap flight

18 March 2007 at 9:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

southwest airline com
southwest airline special

19 March 2007 at 2:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

download free mp3 ringtones
free cingular cell phone ringtones | free real music ringtones sprint

22 March 2007 at 9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

cheap mattress
mattress toppers - mattresses

23 March 2007 at 8:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

black contact lenses
colors contact lenses

24 March 2007 at 10:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

cheap fioricet
carisoprodol 350

25 March 2007 at 7:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

tramadol hydrochloride
fioricet online | carisoprodol

26 March 2007 at 11:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

[url=]discount fioricet[/url]
[url=]buy carisoprodol[/url]

29 March 2007 at 1:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

[url=]buy generic viagra[/url]
[url=]viagra uk[/url]

30 March 2007 at 6:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

[url=]air continental airlines france[/url]
[url=]continental airlines presidents club[/url]

1 April 2007 at 12:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

[url=]buy viagra cheap[/url]
[url=]natural viagra[/url]

3 April 2007 at 2:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

[url=]zappos shoes[/url]
[url=]man shoes[/url]

3 April 2007 at 7:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

[url=]auto insurance companies[/url]
[url=]auto insurance specialist[/url] | [url=]auto insurance[/url]

7 April 2007 at 10:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

[url=]free alltel ringtones[/url]
[url=]free kyocera ringtones[/url] | [url=]get free ringtones[/url]

8 April 2007 at 6:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

[url=]download free ringtones[/url]
[url=]free us cellular ringtones[/url] > [url=]mosquito ringtone[/url]

12 April 2007 at 8:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said... - [url=]site[/url] site

12 January 2013 at 9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

jermey piven dating [url=]dating and herpes[/url] online internet dating
local online dating 75287 [url=]dating a guy in the airforce[/url] adult dating dublin
dating ideas mature senior dating dates [url=]dating chat lines[/url] dating sim to heart download

6 February 2013 at 6:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

svg ebook what is the best ebook reader [url=]online ebook resale[/url] how to never pay rent ebook

13 February 2013 at 11:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

submit your site presentation software who makes maya software [url=]meade software binoculor camera[/url] windows 7 bluray software
[url=]Grafica e Editoria - Download OEM, Software Sale, OEM Software[/url] windows ce word processing software

23 February 2013 at 4:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

snap survey software 6 0 serial blackberry desktop software downloads [url=]paris inventory software interface[/url] garmin gpsmap 60c map software
[url=]Braincell GmbH Protectorion 1.0 Deutsch - Software Store[/url] windows vista campatible software

28 February 2013 at 2:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

cvs pharmacy danbury ct biologists in pharmacy [url=]average collections of pharmacy accounts receivable[/url]
eadon pharmacy in gloster ma chritian pharmacy university [url=]abana[/url]
continuum care pharmacy barboursville west virginia michigan pharmacy association [url=]empire plan pharmacy locator[/url]
brooks pharmacy website brooks pharmacy pepperell [url=]lynoral[/url]

8 April 2013 at 3:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

matchmaking personal internet dating dating guide scams
who is mick jagger dating now [url=]dating pregnancy[/url] uniformed service personnel dating
tourette syndrome dating [url=]dating christians not married[/url] kitchener speed dating [url=]hotcat2010[/url] zac efron and vanessa dating

31 May 2013 at 10:31 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home