Heather Roy

14 July 2020

I spoke on this topic on the Radio New Zealand Panel with Wallace Chapman on Bastille Day. If you would prefer to listen you can do so here.

Bastille Day, the French holiday recognising the uprising by French commoners in 1789 who stormed the fortress holding political prisoners and sparking the French Revolution,  seems an appropriate day to talk about our constitutional arrangements in New Zealand. I often wish kiwis would get fired up about some of the important issues lurking in the background about the way New Zealand is governed.

Two things particularly bother me :

  1. The Christchurch Mosques Shooting and COVID-19 have both highlighted gaps in our constitutional arrangements. Illegality surrounding some police searches of properties following the attacks and illegal orders about crowd gatherings should not be tolerated in a free society.  I think our lack of a written constitution means we don’t have the focus we should on the future of New Zealand. We lack a vision of what New Zealand could be.
  2. We suffer from short term thinking and we’re the poorer for it.

I believe we need to move to a four year electoral cycle. Our very short three year electoral cycle disincentivises long-term change because the next election is always just around the corner. It takes a new government the best part of a year to settle in, then the second year is when the real work is done. Before you know it the third year rolls around  and inevitably the politicians’ focus turns to being re-elected, to the exclusion of the real work of government. Projects deserving of cross party support and longer-term thinking are shelved or abandoned while parties try to convince the public how different they are from each other. Effective policy development is the loser.

The best example I can think of is the $100 million dollar Mental Health package the previous National Government was about to launch just ahead of the 2017 election. It was a mix of programmes which deserved and had good support, including of the Mental Health community ahead of the 2017 election. One of the first things the Labour-led government did when it came to power was withdraw that funding. Now, three years later, it has decided to put some of these projects back on the agenda – much too late for the many who needed the services in the interim.

Andrew Little in his capacity as Justice Minister did moot electoral reform at the end of 2018. He indicated he was willing to consider a referendum but this seems to have been lost in noise of the two referenda that have been attached to this year’s election.

One of the problems we have is topics like cannabis reform and euthanasia capture peoples minds. They are emotive subjects which people instinctively feel strongly about. Unfortunately the boring but more important issues like a constitution and electoral reform fail to resonate with the public and slip down the priority list in favour of short term projects. We need an uprising by the people to make it happen!