Thursday, 10 February 2011

Hone and Hide have a point

Hone Harawira and Rodney Hide may both have a point.

Both of them are at odds with law they’ve given their vote to. And both are blaming being in coalition for the problem.

Hone is complaining that what the Maori Party has got in return for going into coalition with National government isn’t worth what they’ve given away—and, specifically .  Now, Tariana herself responds that Hone “has no respect for this [MMP] environment. He doesn’t have any respect for the coalition agreement that we all signed up to and that we all agreed to.” And she points out that when the Maori Party has only two ministers around a cabinet table of 22, then they will always have to give something away—as they did with the parts of the Foreshore and Seabed (Replacement) Bill that has got so far up Hone’s nose.

And Rodney? Well, he’s right in the gun as Minister for Local Government for delivering to Auckland legislation that allows Len Brown’s Auckland Super-Council to hand power to a $3.4 million board of 38 unelected Maori. How does Hide respond? His law but not his fault, he says. Echoing Tariana he argues that with only two ministers around a cabinet table of 22, there was nothing he could do to stop his law being changed. (Echoing his excuses when he said he had no choice about siding with John Key when the PM attacked one of Rodney’s own MPs.)

Thus do minority ministers become lapdogs.

What Hone and Hide and Tariana are all describing is the process whereby minority coalition partners under MMP are buried when in Government—as virtually every coalition partner under MMP has been.

The Maori Party may escape the curse of the Alliance, NZ First, Mauri Pacific and Te Tawharau because even if they implode over the rumblings from Mt Harawira the Maori Party itself will always get deluded racists to vote for them in the racist seats in which they stand.  But for the ACT Party, oblivion now beckons as inevitably as it did for its predecessors who made lapdogs of themselves.

But is it inevitable that minority parties under MMP will always face oblivion?

Not if they don’t go into coalition it isn’t.

It’s argued by the uninformed and unthinking that coalition and “confidence and supply” are necessary to give “stability” to government. These agreements  work, these people say. Minor parties have to sign up to them.

What crawling, abject, self-serving nonsense.

If “confidence and supply” agreements have “worked,” then they have worked only for the larger party, which in every coalition formed to date has chewed up, swallowed then spat out its minor partners.

And they’ve hardly worked for New Zealand either, since some of the worst law we’ve seen in the last fifteen years has been either the product of a minor party (Sue Bradford’s tail wagging everyone’s anti-smacking dog, for just one example); been used to make  a beard of the minor party (as Hone recognises has happened  with Chris Finlayson’s Marin & Coastal Bill);  or has been foisted on a minor-party minister in the hope and expectation that if things do go wrong it will bury them and not the major party (Auckland’s super-sized bureaucracy, for example, in which Rodney Hide invested his party’s dwindling political capital—and which he’s now lost altogether).

We’ve ended up in short not with good law, but with law that often even the law’s authors won’t stand behind.

So in that respect, signing up to coalitions and “confidence and supply” agreements are bad for New Zealand, bad for New Zealand law, and disastrous for the minor coalition partners themselves. 

But still the dumbarses keep signing up to take the (short-term) baubles of office.

Is that they only thing a small political party can do?

No, it’s not. Instead, they could stand on their principles—if they had any.

Instead of signing up to either coalition or “confidence-and-supply” agreements,” they could make the cast-iron promise that as a party they would vote en bloc for any measure that moves in the direction of their principles without any new measures moving the other way.  In the case of the Libertarianz, for example, they could promise support for any measure that moves  towards more freedom (however small the move) just as long as there is no new coercion involved.

That would stability without the need for lapdogs,  and more stability than we’ve seen in the past 15 years.

Because that’s a cast-iron promise that any major party could take to the bank-or, at least, to the Treasury benches. It would work as a “ratchet,” moving the country towards the minor party’s principles more effectively than having two ministers enjoying the baubles (and blame) of office.

And it would have every politician and every political journalist in the country assiduously studying what the minor party’s principles actually mean, so they’d understand enough about what was being promised to at least sound knowledgeable.

It’s a win-win for everyone, especially for minority coalition parties for whom coalition is just a death warrant for .

If they have any principles, they should stand on those instead.


  1. And one would argue this is the way MMP is actually supposed to work, i.e. collaboration on individual issues, based on their substance, not on ideological dogma, and the subsequent hammering out of overall coalition deals. Such an approach would dramatically limit parliament's opportunity and scope to create legislation as it would bog the process down to deal with far greater level of detail.
    This method would however require a much stricter separation of legislature and executive, as well as a much better systems of principles and controls between the government branches, and between government and individual power, i.e. a solid constitution.


  2. ACT has no ministers around the cabinet table. They are both ministers outside cabinet.

  3. Trouble with collabaration on individual items is you may get nothing done unless a party with 3% support decides to. Whichever way you go deals have to be done under MMP.
    I have some sympathy for Hide as in principal devolving power to its lowest level is good practice and right to let Auckland decide if they want maori representation.He has been blind sided by the stupidity of Auckland voting in Brown when there were enough signs prior to the vote on what directions he takes and his attitude towards accountability.

  4. David, that's part of my point, it's a good thing if government has all sorts of problems "getting things done", the less they "get done" the better it tends to be for the general populace....
    In my view, "doing things" that only garner the support of 51% is a clear sign that these things are not really worth doing anyway.

  5. "If “confidence and supply” agreements have “worked,” then they have worked only for the larger party, which in every coalition formed to date has chewed up, swallowed then spat out its minor partners."

    ...and then in the next paragraph...

    "since some of the worst law we’ve seen in the last fifteen years has been either the product of a minor party (Sue Bradford’s tail wagging everyone’s anti-smacking dog"

    Can't be both, can it?


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