Fewer MPs?

NZ First MP Barbara Stewart’s Bill to reduce the number of MPs to 100 got its first reading in Parliament this week, and received enough votes to send it through to the select committee stage. The Greens were among the parties voting against the Bill, largely because of the detrimental effect it would have on the representative make-up of Parliament.

Traditionally, the idea of reducing the number of MPs has held a lot of currency with the public, probably because of the unfortunate association of MPs with bad behaviour, petty personal politics, and excess. The public see politicians as lazy, grandstanding, and out of touch with real people – so the fewer of them the better right?

Well, on face value it might sound good, but it just doesn’t stack up. In fact, as Nandor pointed out in his speech to the House on the Bill, the worst behaved MPs are actually the high-ranked senior MPs, and this Bill would get rid of the lowest-ranked list MPs – the best behaved! It would also have a very harmful effect on the gains that have been made in terms of better representation in Parliament for women, Maori and other minorities.

You can listen to Nandor’s speech and hear the arguments traversed in more detail streamed or download it.

What do people think about this issue?

31 thoughts on “Fewer MPs?

  1. The privatising right is anti-govt and anti-social contract with each other and nature, the less representation the better from their point of view. This is also one of the motivations for running down democracy and govt at any opportunity in the eyes of the public.

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  2. The only criticism of our position that I have heard that has any validity IMO is that it is the people’s parliament and the people should decide.

    Of course it isn’t the people’s parliament, it is the Queen’s parliament, but it SHOULD be the people’s parliament. My concern is that by constraining the question to the number of MPs, it puts the solution before asking what the problem is. I believe that we do need a deep and sustained discussion about our constitutional framework, but that needs to take a much broader approach than “should we have 120 or 100 MPs?”

    I guess that is also behind some of the concern around introducing binding Citizens Initiated Referenda – that the yes/no nature of the question is often too constraining to address the problem, and may even prevent identification of what the problem is.

    Having said that I do believe that CIR have a place and that it may currently be too difficult to initiate one

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  3. Luckily the law won’t go through because for MPs to vote for it would be like turkeys voting for christmas.

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  4. Fewer MPs = More Powerful MPs

    More Powerful MPs = More Permanent MPs

    Less power for people, more power for the powerful.

    Not IMHO, the best idea we’ve heard,

    Off Topic-
    Thought you folks had Hams for Christmas… and given the price of Turkey here I wasn’t too surprised to see that… if the price difference were merely the price of treating the birds humanely up until their demise I would be surprised. I wish we could get some cranberries growing here too.

    respectfully
    BJ

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  5. “The Greens were among the parties voting against the Bill, largely because of the detrimental effect it would have on the representative make-up of Parliament.”

    “Traditionally, the idea of reducing the number of MPs has held a lot of currency with the public”

    The problem here with this contradiction is it is based on the false premise that representation is based on the colour of your skin, your gender, and any other form of collectivism that pervades the labels we give individual in society. As you rightly say, if Parliament really were about representation, we would have fewer MPs – because MPs would represent our views which are generally supportive of having fewer people to propose new ways of stealing our money.

    “The privatising right is anti-govt and anti-social contract with each other and nature,” said even. Of course I’m in favour of individual ownership of all property. Individuals protect their own property – the government does not. It is the commons that get polluted, not my land. If someone dumps rubbish on my land then I complain, and if necessary take him to court. It is when land is vested in the government that the worst environmental disasters occur (take any communist bloc country).

    Am I anti-social contract? It’s hard to know actually, given that I never signed one, no terms were set down, and the terms now seem to change when a politician comes up with a great new idea to roll out welfarism. Also, is it the social contract that statists invoke for the creation for the state, or the one they invoke as the justification for tax, on the basis that I choose to live here? Morally, it cannot be both, because the second presumes the first, and the first presumes I existed here before there was a state.

    And lastly, Nandor, do you oppose radical/direct democracy, or do you believe that in principle it is the most morally justified system?

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  6. Stephen Whittington says: “Of course I’m in favour of individual ownership of all property”……..
    the problem being that only fools prefer living in constant FEAR of swindling and being swindled by their fellow citizen, no matter how much property they accumulate at the expense of their neighbour and environment.
    I imagine your Mother or Father never signed a social contract when they brought you up, nor any people you’ve encountered who have been friendly or passed on valuable knowledge (although obviously anything that didn’t involve dollars and cents would be lost on you). The aboriginals people didn’t sign social contracts, but any abnormal individuals who treatened the welfare of the group were put down!
    The oft mentioned communist states were totalitarian, all comes down to the right of a few to profit at the expense of the many, the very thing you support.

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  7. It matters less how many MPs there are, compared to keeping the system relatively stable.

    This 99MP seems like a permanent change in the way that New Zealand’s people are represented by their government… for what seems to be a minor benifit to the people (just a few less seats to pay for) and a long-term benefit for the powerful.

    Screwing with policy is nasty, but ultimately, fixable.
    Screwing with the system is much harder to undo.

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  8. One point so far missed in this debate is the fact that the work of Parliamentarians does not just include sitting in the House.

    There is very important work done in Select Committees etc and the larger group of Members to draw from makes this work more “representative” and effective. (The late) Rod Donald, who was instrumental in Aotearoa/NZs electoral reform, once commented to me (when I asked how well MMP was working) that “behind closed doors when solutions are being sought, support often comes from unexpected quarters” (of the political spectrum).

    Perhaps a Green MP would be willing to comment further on this topic?

    We, the voters, chose MMP as our system of representation after careful consideration. The number of MPs was decided as the appropriate number to make this system work.

    It seems to me that if there are ineffective MPs in the Parliament, it is the responsibility of their Parties to educate them, and if they do not change their behaviour they should be replaced as candidates for Electorate Seats and/or demoted on their Parties’ Lists.

    It is ultimately the responsibility of voters to educate themselves and vote only for the candidates and list orders that will produce an effective Parliament

    Both the Candidate and the Party that I voted for at the last election are extremely hard working and effective in what they do. I have absolutely no complaints about the way in which they represent me!

    eredwen

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  9. Heavens, I don’t have a written copy of the social contract either. Quick, someone notify a second year philosophy lecturer!

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  10. There is a need for reform of the way we choose electorate MP’s -doing so by preferential voting, so each MP is chosen by the majority of each electorate.

    We need MORE electorate MP’s – so they can have more contact with their electorate. This would allow them more time for select committee work research etc. 100 General Electorate MP’s.

    I think we should allow Ministers from without Parliament (able to answer questions in the House) so we can have administrative competence AND executive accountability to parliamentary mandate.

    If we required MMP representation conformity in total outcome, this would require an increase in MP’s (over and above 120) in most elections. But there is really no need to fix a number like 150 for all elections – when in most, 130 or so would suffice.

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  11. SPC: I agree with the introduction of preferential voting for electortate MPs.

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  12. “Heavens, I don’t have a written copy of the social contract either. Quick, someone notify a second year philosophy lecturer! ”

    I don’t do philosophy at university. And if I did, I highly doubt that that would be mentioned.

    Even said “the problem being that only fools prefer living in constant FEAR of swindling and being swindled by their fellow citizen, no matter how much property they accumulate at the expense of their neighbour and environment.” Do I support swindling? Well if by swindling he means fraud, then no I don’t. Fraud is simply a means of theft – perhaps a more clever form but theft nonetheless.

    “I imagine your Mother or Father never signed a social contract when they brought you up, nor any people you’ve encountered who have been friendly or passed on valuable knowledge (although obviously anything that didn’t involve dollars and cents would be lost on you). The aboriginals people didn’t sign social contracts, but any abnormal individuals who treatened the welfare of the group were put down!”

    I’m not even sure what you’re trying to say here. No one signs a social contract. Of course I value things other than dollars or cents. In fact I think the main problem you seem to have is misunderstanding what I believe. That’s evidenced when you say:

    “The oft mentioned communist states were totalitarian, all comes down to the right of a few to profit at the expense of the many, the very thing you support. ”

    Do I support totalitarianism? No. Fascism, communism, racism, most evil ideologies in the world are variations on collectivism. I don’t quite understand what you present as a dichotomy: “few to profit; expense of the many”. I don’t support any act of compulsion, initiation of force, or, as I’ve stated, fraud.

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  13. Steven – When you say this:

    “Well if by swindling he means fraud, then no I don’t. Fraud is simply a means of theft – perhaps a more clever form but theft nonetheless.”

    but then advocate dramatically less government control of the actions of corporations and individuals through law and regulation, you are in essence telling us that you trust corporate boards more than you trust the government.

    The fact that corporations are often quite happy to commit a little fraud in order to increase their profits is not unnoticed here…

    That’s why your ideology gets such a “warm” reception. It permits the fraud to occur by pulling the teeth and sapping the strength of the regulators.

    respectfully
    BJ

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  14. Of course I support less government control of actions. I own my own body and if I choose to take drugs then that’s my choice. That’s a victimless crime.

    And yes, of course I trust corporations more than government – coroporations have no monopoly of force. The acts of democide (killing in the name of the state) in the last 100 years outweigh exponentially those commited by private individuals and corporations.

    Do I support laws against fraud a theft, and for the defence of the right to life, liberty, and property? Yes. The protection of fundamental rights is the only basis of good governance. So I support the state having the teeth to stop crimes – of course. The difference between you and I is that I do not support the notion of providing the government with the ability to commit crimes.

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  15. Stephen – The government either has teeth AND as a result has the ability to err in the use of force, or it has none and can protect no one anywhere from fraud, theft or other maltreatment. YOU CANNOT HAVE IT BOTH WAYS. To trust corporations which are beholden to their owners more than government which is elected by the people, is not as reasonable as you think. Despite the government “monopoly on the use of force”, the corporations have also killed people. How many in Bhopal? How many in Ford Pinto’s? How many from Vioxx? How many from cigarettes? How many…

    The difference between you and I is that I do not support the notion of providing the government with the ability to commit crimes.

    That’s just insulting, it is also QUITE absurd as I pointed out at the top of this post. You can’t have a government strong enough to do the one without it being strong enough to do the other. The only question is whether the government is controlled by the people, or whether it is the preserve of the wealthy and powerful.

    When you grow out of Ayn Rand et.al. you may want to strangle your younger self for some of this stuff… don’t…. it’s just a stage. I went through it myself before I realized that it was the fiction part of the library.

    BJ

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  16. Well I’m certainly not an objectivist at all, although I have read some Ayn Rand, and I find most of it to be hilarious, especially the bromides she trots out in speeches, only to then complain about the very same thing of others.

    The actual difference between you and I is that if an individual chooses to smoke and gets lung cancer (as Ayn Rand did, actually), then that is there choice – it’s noit forced on them by a company. You count those as deaths at the hands of corporatism. It’s not. It’s death at the hands of an individual’s right to liberty, and since they own their body I have no problem with that.

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  17. You count those as deaths at the hands of corporatism. It’s not. It’s death at the hands of an individual’s right to liberty, and since they own their body I have no problem with that.

    Once their opinion is properly informed that is true. How long did it take to get that information to them over the objections of the corporations responsible?

    How many lawsuits did it take to get the corporations to fess up to what they REALLY knew about both the addictive properties and the damage that they were doing to people’s health.

    Responsibility is something you take. It is something I take. It is something that corporations were designed to avoid at all costs.

    BJ

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  18. corporations are ill-moral or at least completely ambigious, it’s not their fault, they are designed for one thing, maximum profit. Their interests are inherently against human rights and environmental responsibility, which are two sides of the same coin since humans, believe it or not, are part of nature.
    The concentration of wealth and power that corporations achieve, when taking over public policy and government, is no different to the same level of influence that corrupt beuracrats, politicians, aristocrats or whateva have, when their interests lead them to war against other countries and/or suppression of human dignities and rights at home.
    Whether it’s corporizaton turning into fascism, totalitarinism communism or whateva, all are anti-govt and democratic power to the people, all are the end point of a concentration of wealth and power put in place by the previous system.

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  19. I would think due to the referendum it MUST go through to select committee unless you really want to spit in the face of referendums.

    —-

    As to the other discussion.

    If you want a government capable of doing complex tasks like protecting the environment and keeping corporations under control it must have extreme powers and to use force quickly and decisively the same things the people who support these changes despise.

    This is where things “go wrong” in that people help someone get into power to achieve some end and then when the person does what it takes to get the job done they talk about power corrupting. Power corrupts – but reality corrupts even more.

    Often the best yo ucan do is to criple your own ability to achieve your own aims in order to cripple the ability o anyone else to do other things.

    Most totalitarians have some sort of general support and may even be elected. Kim jong il or hitler or the communist leaders or not so totalitarian hamas lukud and bush. All are acting on behalf of their people in some sense, they make some assumption regarding what the people need (eg to be equal or to have religious freedom or to be “saved” or to be safe).

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  20. Our young ideologues believe that by the incantation of magical formulae, the absurdly self-contradictory views they hold can become reality. Rather a Maoist approach. So, we have seen :

    * It is possible to have a government which is strong enough to restrain or punish wrongdoers, yet weak enough to be incapable of harming citizens
    * If left to make their own decisions, businesses will never pollute the environment
    * Property rights are absolute. I own the stream that runs through my property, the ground underneath it (presumably all the way to the centre of the earth) and the air above it. In fact, there is no height restriction on this property right — that would be an arbitrary intervention by some illegitimate government — therefore, I not only own a big chunk of biosphere, but an ever-expanding cone of space above it, which extends outwards to infinity, or the end of the universe, whichever comes first. (interesting legal issues may arise if it turns out that my cone of universe intersects with that of some other sentient being on another planet.)

    What our young friends don’t comprehend is that reality is about living with principles which are antagonistic and not reconcileable; and that it is always necessary to negotiate, make contracts, cede parcels of our rights, acknowledge duties, accept restrictions on our freedoms. They are quite right to challenge the current state of things with their moral absolutes, precisely because there are no absolutes in terms of practical application, and the balance of rights and freedoms can be shifted through the debate of ideas.

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  21. and the prize for the best “word picture” of the millenium goes to … alistair!

    “Property rights are absolute. I own the stream that runs through my property, the ground underneath it (presumably all the way to the centre of the earth) and the air above it. In fact, there is no height restriction on this property right — that would be an arbitrary intervention by some illegitimate government — therefore, I not only own a big chunk of biosphere, but an ever-expanding cone of space above it, which extends outwards to infinity, or the end of the universe, whichever comes first. (interesting legal issues may arise if it turns out that my cone of universe intersects with that of some other sentient being on another planet.)”

    “Laughter is good for the soul” (and excellent for overserious blogs!)

    eredwen

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  22. as to free market vs other
    one can view the market as somthing that just has flaws where monopolies occur etc. (you could see environmental misuse as a result of having various assets that are not owned and thus not protected and there not being a open market for certain things. I could produce such an argument to neuter msot complaints.

    Or you can argue you cant fix at least some of those problems and in those context just go for central control or somthing similar.

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  23. Anyone who’s seen what’s happened in California with binding Citizens Referenda can easily see the problems and the power of the concept. Whether such can be introduced here with better results is questionable, but at least the general population is better educated.

    The problems could in some regards be addressed by having a proper bill of rights attached to the constitution… if we had a constitution in the first place.

    The other problems are less tractable. A Citizen’s Referendum incorporates (unrestricted) a power to create impossible demands and restrictions on the formal government.

    I’m not saying they’re a BAD idea, but they are not “the answer to all our problems” either.

    respectfully
    BJ

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  24. In answer to Frog’s question, I think less MPs is a crap idea. It’s only ‘publicly popular’ as a kneejerk reaction to the question “do you wish we had more politicians?”. In practice it won’t lead to any less politicians – it’s not like 20 less MPs will make the Labour party’s membership of thousands shrink, nor the bureaucratic services that are required to fill in for MPs with too many portfolios.

    But what it will do, with 100% certainty, is reduce the clarity of vote for smaller parties. We were supposed to have PR, not a situation where Greens almost miss out on any seats but ACT gets 2 because of Epsom voting tactically, and Peter Dunne’s ridiculous party is entrenched.

    If any reform should happen to MMP it is that the thresholds should be dropped altogether. Then the electorate MPs can focus on that as their sole job, as the system intends. What does Rodney Hide really have to do with Epsom? The small parties can focus entirely on message rather than tactics, as can the voters.

    And yes, we would have more parties, and the really little ones would be completely issue based, or personality cults in some electorate (we already have this). And people could say in parliament what they really think, rather than what their bloc’s leadership thinks.

    Also, we would most likely have some really whacky politicians – there would be some nutjob religious outfit with a seat for sure. NORML would probably get some seats. Each in proportion to their support, as democracy is meant to be. They would hold power in proportion to that. And the coalitions would *really* be exposing their cards by who they allied with, because those little one-issue parties would at least have a clear mandate.

    CIR? Great idea. Bring them on.

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  25. what if you dropped the threshold AND cut the number of politicians?

    Also I note that not only will political parties result from support in the public they will effect support from the public – for example if extremist groups get seats in parliament you should expect extremism to rise.

    Also fragmentation of the parties and proliferation of seats tends towards being like a referendum – the very thing that is arguing against this change.

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  26. I agree there is a lot of wastage in the public service, but my solution would not be to reduce the number of our elected representatives, but to cut out some of the management levels in the public service. Most of these people get more than our elected representatives and do very little useful work (though they might actually work quite hard).

    I worked in a government department as a policy adviser, and policy advice had to go through 3 levels of management before the minister even saw it. Most of the work I did was killed or altered beyond recognition before it got to the Minister. The managers also insist on project plans for all projects, even small ones, so that we often spend more time writing project plans than doing the projects. These plans have to be read and signed off by managers, with the results managers are working late at night doing basically bugger all.

    At one stage, the minister wanted some technical information on gene biochemistry. One of our advisers knew something about this, and the sensible thing would have been for her to tell the minister about it. But first we had to have a project plan drawn up, with managerial approval, and then the adviser was allowed to tell, not the minister – that would have been too easy – but a higher level manager, who was then allowed to pass on the information to the minister!

    I could give many more examples of inefficiencies caused by too many managers, but find the whole thing rather depressing. Needless to say not all government departments suffer from managerial constipation, and there is fierce competition to work for those that actually allow advisers to do what they are paid for and give advice.

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  27. Nandor said: “The only criticism of our position that I have heard that has any validity IMO is that it is the people’s parliament and the people should decide.”

    How about: the people in 1999 said they wanted fewer MPs. 99 in fact. They voted overwhelmingly for this. So can we have it now please?

    Or do the Greens not believe in democracy anymore?

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