24 Jan 2019

Govts often abuse Electoral Act to stay in power - Nick Smith

7:16 pm on 24 January 2019

Both major parties have changed the law to benefit their own re-election chances, Nick Smith says, as he puts forward some ideas on electoral reform.

Former minister Nick Smith.

Nick Smith says the Waka Jumping Bill is a recent example of a government trying to help its re-election chances. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The National Party has some big ideas around how the country's electoral laws could change, and has unveiled them in a speech to a Rotary Club in Nelson.

Dr Smith, who is his party's electoral law reform spokesperson, told those gathered he wants feedback on five proposals, including extending the political term from the current three years to four, and banning foreign donations to political parties.

Another thing he's looking at, is making it so 75 percent of Parliament has to vote in favour of a change to the Electoral Act, before it can be made. He outlined several examples where he said governments have made changes with their more-than 50 percent majority, to make it more likely they would be re-elected.

He used the Waka Jumping Bill which passed last year as a recent example, but says it's happened for decades.

"There have been some pretty appalling abuses of our Electoral Act by governments wanting to ensure they are re-elected," he said.

"In 1945, the first Labour government after 10 years in office and with support waning, rewrote the rules for setting electoral boundaries so as to clinch a fifth and final term in 1946."

He said National was not without blemish in this area, and referred to the Member's Bill in the name of National MP Paul Quinn, which limited the voting rights of serving criminals in prison.

Dr Smith said this issue is pertinent because the government is toying with making changes to the five percent threshold, to the one seat electorate rule and to the enrolment rules "in ways that would advantage their own re-election in 2020".

Initial figures show one in 10 people did not take part in the census.

Nick Smith says the last census was "a shambles". Photo: 2018 Census/YouTube

The MP for Nelson is also proposing an earlier census, given the "shambles" of the last one. He suggests the next election be conducted on the 2017 electorate boundaries and the next census brought forward to 2021 so a proper redistribution can occur for the 2023 elections.

Dr Smith said the ideas aren't National Party policy, but rather ones he hopes will be discussed by experts in electoral law, National Party members, other parties and the wider public.

"We welcome feedback. It is part of a wider programme of fresh thinking that National will be engaged in this year as we develop our future plan for New Zealand."

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