23 Nov 2020

Support growing for four-year parliamentary term, poll shows

7:07 am on 23 November 2020

Momentum to increase the parliamentary term to four years seems to be growing, an election law expert says after a new poll.

Signs around Christchurch

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Conducted by Research New Zealand, the survey of 1000 people showed 61 percent support moving from a three year term to a four-year term.

About 25 percent were against it, and the rest were undecided.

The leaders of both the Labour and National Party have said it's a good idea.

Otago University law professor Andrew Geddis said with results from just one poll so far, it's still too early to get a solid indication of people's stance, but the results suggest there's been a large swing in opinion since the idea was roundly rejected in two previous referenda; in 1967 and 1990.

"New Zealanders may be thinking 'look we've got some big problems on our plate: we've got a housing crisis, we've got climate change, we've got increased inequality - big changes [may] need to be made.

"And if big changes need to be made, perhaps our politicians just need a little bit more time to do so before they have to go and run another election campaign."

Prof Geddis said the main argument for reform was that the three-year term doesn't give governments enough time to enact their policies, because they have to spend so much time campaigning.

He said the argument against is that elections are the only way to hold governments properly to account.

"We don't have a written constitution, we don't have courts that can overturn legislation, we only have a single house of Parliament, so a majority there can allow you to do anything."

He said a four-year term would bring the country closer in line with the rest of the world.

New Zealand is one of only nine countries to hold an election every three years.

Prof Geddis said term lengths were one of the few things protected by a "super majority" requirement - changing it would require support from 75-percent of MPs.

The other way is if a majority vote for it in a referendum.

"Because of this being such an important issue, and so core to holding government to account, I think it is almost inconceivable that members of Parliament themselves would make this change without a referendum.

"It just doesn't seem to me legitimate for them to do so."

He said given there had been two referenda in the recent election, he was uncertain there'd be appetite for another one in 2023.

"The other thing is, of course, there is no way that the law change could take place, I think, straight after a referendum. You'd have to have the referendum and then another term, and then have [the change] take effect.

"Simply because you don't want people to be voting on who [they] think is going to win at that election."

The survey showed younger respondents were less in favour, with 53 percent of 18 to 34 year olds in support, compared to 62 percent of 35 to 54 year olds, and 67 percent of those aged 55 years or older.

He said perhaps younger people place more value in having the vote because it's novel to them.

Prof Geddis said perhaps older people would like to see the change as they've seen governments come and go and things have not changed as much as they would like.

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