Three or four years?

The New Zealand Initiative has an interesting debate in its weekly email update.

Oliver Hartwich

Elections are about choosing people we trust and task with decision-making on problems we may not even know at the time of the election. If you are uncomfortable with that then you have not understood the concept of parliamentary democracy.

The more substantive problem with three-year terms is that it leaves little time for parliamentary work. With new MPs and positions reshuffled, it takes the best part of a year for a new parliament to start functioning. Parliament also typically descends into a pre-election campaign well before the likely end of its term.

Currently this leaves just about one year for good, substantial governance. Increasing electoral terms to four years would double this quieter mid-term period when parliament can properly fulfill its role as the legislature. It would allow more time for good law-making, and it could well result in a better quality of policy. It might even encourage governments to undertake necessary reforms, even if their positive results do not materialise immediately.

Luke Malpass

The arguments for four- (or five-) year fixed parliamentary term can be summed up as stability, predictability and giving government time to implement its agenda. By having a longer fixed term, government governs better.

This is all well but ignores the basic principle that liberal democracies are founded upon: fear of tyranny. This fear is institutionalised through checks and balances to limit power of government.

I’m inclined to agree with Luke. The actual checks and balances in a liberal democracy have been demonstrated to be quite weak – especially in the face of determined political pressure to subvert or undermine those checks and balances. In the Westminster system, for example, the executive has (substantial) control of the legislature and citizens are reliant on the judiciary to keep the executive in line. Now that works well in some cases – the Malaysia option was struck down by the High Court, but only because it was inconsistent with Howard era legislation. But in other cases not so well – the expropriation of private property has been ruled to be valid in the case of tobacco plain packaging. Our High Court is hardly unique in that regard, the US Supreme Court did something similar in the Kelo case and its work around in the ObamaCare case.

So Luke’s point about tyranny is decisive. The only way to keep the bastards honest is to throw them out of office. That means shorter not longer electoral periods.

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47 Responses to Three or four years?

  1. Rabz

    That means shorter not longer electoral periods.

    Quite so.

    For definitive proof of this truism, look no further than those toxic labor clowns in NSW.

  2. Rabz

    Incidentally, Herr Hartwich is citing the exact same reasons that were used at the time in favour of four years terms in NSW and we all know how well that worked out.

    Just an observation, is all.

  3. Sinclair Davidson

    Rabz – indeed. A few years ago there was a lot of talk about four year fixed terms at the Federal level, right up until the NSW state government hung in there for far too long.

    Speaking of Oliver – be sure to vote for him in the sexiest NZ economist competition. Eric Crampton is a contender too, but that photo does him no justice.

  4. Pedro

    Count me on Luke’s team. People decry populism, but WTF, it’s supposed to be a representative democracy. The buggers work for us, not the other way round.

  5. Brett

    The checks and balances are being worn down or removed.

    The legislature is increasingly removing or curtailing access to the courts; and its too expensive for most people any way. If you can afford to and are allowed to go to Court, you then must contend with judges appointed for their political ties or known political prejudices.

    Parliament sits less, and more of the business of government is done behind close doors under the cloak of the executive, and away from the prying eyes of the nosy public. The politicization of the public service is complete, so there is no longer any real fetter in that way.

    Politicization of judicial and senior public service appointments does immeasurable harm to separation of powers and the checks and balances that supposedly protect us from the excess of government.

    And of course large segments of the MSM have ceased to be journalist and become political boosters.

    So elections are about all the hapless voters have left; so now the campaign begins to decrease the frequency of elections.

    Fixed terms are a rotten idea; and the last Labor government in NSW, and I suspect the current Federal government, have amply demonstrated just how long 3-4 years really is when you have a bad government in power.

    At the very least fixed terms should be complimented by a recall mechanism.

  6. Rabz

    vote for him in the sexist NZ economist competition

    Ahem – I think there’s some Spinal tap type confusion going on here…

    [Yes, yes. Fixed. Thanks. Sinc]

  7. Robert C

    The problem with the argument that three year terms only allow one year of actual government (thankyou Yes, Minister), is that it assumes the government changes hands at every election – that’s not the experience of the last 80 years of Australian politics. Here in SA we have four year fixed terms for local government, which is ridiculously long.

    Personally, I don’t think terms should be fixed at all unless there is a popular recall mechanism.

  8. Gab

    Count me in for the shorter term. Bad government – throw them out as soon as possible. Good government will get re-elected.

    fixed parliamentary term can be summed up as stability, predictability and giving government time to implement its agenda. By having a longer fixed term, government governs better.

    heh. Imagine a gillard government being given another year to display its version of stability, predictability and time to implement more of their policies. *shudder*

  9. H B Bear

    I would need to be convinced it takes 12 months for a new Minister to get on top of a department, particularly if they have been a shadow minister. The idea that a 3 year term leaves one year of actual decision making is stretching the argument.

    Re-election for a competent government after a single term is generally a given. The idea of a fixed four year term of this clown collective, Oakeshitt and Windbag is some kind of democratic hell. No thanks.

  10. alan moran

    I am for longer Parliaments if they are cost cutters and deregulationists. Shorter Parliaments if they are Gillariadista spend and regulators. THat makes me more comfortable with the castrated shorter Parliaments on balance. Of course, if there were some real constitutional rules that stopped expropriation, impeded regulations that oppress and confined Parliament and governemnt to spending no more that 15% of GDP and regulating only for common issues, then I’d be for 7 year Parliaments.

  11. hzhousewife

    Perhaps we could limit the number of times one person can get re-elected? Four year terms, two chances. Three year terms, three chances. Kick you out after 8 or 9 years, smaller super but for more people, less likely to feel that the job is theirs for LIFE.
    I personally refuse to vote for anyone RELATED to another prior parliamentarian, don’t expect we could make it a rule and break the father/son dynasty thing though.

  12. Ronaldo

    The Chartists wanted annual general elections so that citizens would have proper control over their parliamentary representatives. And that was in the 1830s!

  13. Norma

    It need not take a year to settle in. See Newmann.
    It can take more than 1 year. See Baillieu.

    A good Government does not require a year at the end of their term to start trying to get themselves reelected. It will happen anyway.
    A bad one uses more than a year. See Gillard’s NDIS and Gonski.

    Leave it at 3. Then if the voters decide they want a change for trivial reasons rather than poor performance, and elect a bummer, 3 is better than 4.
    Abbott should have won in 2010. NSW Libs let him down, not to mention those despicable independents in National Party territory.

  14. Just move to rolling elections. One seat a week, three year terms.

  15. Fleeced

    I used to support longer elections, but as I’ve gotten older, I think three years is about right. Any longer and you def. need a recall mechanism.

  16. Fleeced

    I used to support longer elections…

    Or longer terms, I should say… The current election has been going on for 3 years – far too long.

  17. Chris

    Fixed terms are a rotten idea; and the last Labor government in NSW, and I suspect the current Federal government, have amply demonstrated just how long 3-4 years really is when you have a bad government in power.

    Why would an unpopular government go to an election early anyway? In general they’re going to hang on as long as possible. Fixed terms just remove the advantage that a government (good or bad) has in choosing the election date when the polls look good for them.

  18. Brett

    Why would an unpopular government go to an election early anyway?

    For political advantage; most likely a short-term blip in the polls or avoid an election after further damaging revelations.

    Fixed terms also cause governments to delay delivering economic and social benefits to the community until it suits its campaign strategy.

  19. Rococo Liberal

    Sinc

    You really seem to be having trouble with the tobacco case. The Plain Packaging law does not lead the Government to appropriate any property. The Constitution says that appropriation can’t be done unless there is fair compensation.

    The Kelo Case dealt with the actual power to take and said that private people could take if it was in the public interest. That means that the US is probably the least free country in the civilised world.

  20. Token

    Count me in for the shorter term. Bad government – throw them out as soon as possible. Good government will get re-elected.

    The jury is in on fixed trerms. It has been tried and failed.

    4 year fixed terms has not stopped the US devolving into a democracy where the ruling class maintain power by promising an endless string of unfunded and un-sustainable level of spending.

  21. Bruce

    Here in NSW we were ready with our baseball bats at least a year before the last State election. My arm got tired, but the day when it came was wonderful and very satisfying.

    My arm is getting very tired again. I vote for 3 years.

  22. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    Well, I’m with everyone else on this. Norma put it very well. We’ve seen how bad it can get (or have we, could it yet get even worse?). Three long, long years is quite enough.

  23. Infidel Tiger

    I’d be happy to vote every Saturday to ensure neither side got a thing done.

  24. Sinclair Davidson

    Rococo Liberal – you’re quite right; I have a lot of trouble with the tobacco case. You seem to be of the view that I don’t understand what the argument is. I do understand and am calling “Bullshit”.

    The judiciary have created created a loophole in the constitution that assists the executive to avoid paying compensation.

  25. I thought the issue with the tobacco packaging was that the company had spent a lot of money establishing a brand, and the government took that away. That was the loss without compensation, and the reason the Tobacco companies were taking it to the UN.

  26. With terms for Governments, there is always Stalins “Discipline of the Revolver.” I vote Gab to be the Chief Disciplinarianess. (Yes I know the weapons aren’t revolvers – call it poetic licence.)

  27. Gab

    Thanks, Winston. I’ll even wear black leather and wield whips and chains with the expertise of ye olde western whip-cracker and nunchaku kazoku, whilst sporting stilettos. ‘Whips and chains, I like the girl’, although I do admire the art of strategic application of electrodes. :)

  28. Sinclair Davidson

    Winston – here is the loophole the High Court have manufactured:

    “To bring the constitutional provision into play it is not enough that legislation adversely affects or terminates a pre-existing right that an owner enjoys in relation to his property; there must be an acquisition whereby the Commonwealth or another acquires an interest in property, however slight or insubstantial it may be.”

    Importantly, the interest or benefit accruing to the Commonwealth or another person must be proprietary in character. On no view can it be said that the Commonwealth as a polity or by any authority or instrumentality, has acquired any benefit of a proprietary character by reason of the operation of the TPP Act on the plaintiffs’ property rights. In this respect I agree with the reasons of Gummow J[86] and the reasons of Hayne and Bell JJ[87].

    So the government may take your property, but as long as it doesn’t take your property for itself, then they haven’t taken your property.

    That is as dumb as it sounds. Think of the following analogy: every now and then I confiscate the kids’ ipods (or similar electronic gadget). I don’t do so to play with it myself yet the child knows full well I have taken their property.

  29. C.L.

    …it is not enough that legislation adversely affects or terminates a pre-existing right that an owner enjoys in relation to his property; there must be an acquisition whereby the Commonwealth or another acquires an interest in property, however slight or insubstantial it may be.

    That is extraordinary. Utterly disgusting.

    So the government can steal my stereo and give it my next-door neighbour.

  30. Gab

    yet the child knows full well I have taken their property. Fascist.

  31. C.L.

    Snic is worse than Franco, Gab. We all know that. :)

  32. .

    So the government may take your property, but as long as it doesn’t take your property for itself, they they haven’t taken your property.

    That is as dumb as it sounds.

    Yes, and they have gone against case law dating back to WWII, for no reason other than to rubber stamp Government policy.

    The WWII cases note that sophistication to avoid restrictions on Government policy would end in the uprooting of the rule of law.

    As it has now.

  33. Sinclair Davidson

    Gab – even my children describe me as an evil bald fascist gnome. Except the number one daughter but everyone else reckons she is a suck-up. :)

  34. Gab

    Suck-up? She sounds diplomatic to me. :)

  35. C.L.

    This is why I doubt the conventional wisdom about the jurisprudential innocuousness of a new constitutional preamble. The High Court just invents shit all the time. Its ultimate test seems to be, ‘what is the luvvie consensus on this?’

  36. Sinclair Davidson

    CL – there is a post up at Quadrant Online making that very point. Just gone up.

  37. Token

    So the government may take your property, but as long as it doesn’t take your property for itself, they they haven’t taken your property.

    Isn’t this similar to the “logic” the ABC Groupthinkers gave that Jonathan Moylan didn’t commit a crime as he didn’t profit from his fraud?

  38. J.H.

    Three year non fixed term in office. Definately. We have enough trouble with a corrupt political class as it is.

    Give any political elitist class an inch and they take a mile. Look at Putin for example. Six year terms.

    Before you know it Six year terms are not enough and suddenly you have El Presidente’ for life… Which, depending on circumstances, can be shorter than 3 year terms. But terribly disruptive ;-)

  39. J.H.

    ….. Also. Don’t forget Queensland’s abominable “Native Vegetation Act” from the Labor government period, that stops farmers from clearing their own land, even regrowth areas…. A farmer owns the land, but not what’s on it. Native trees and wildlife….

    If you can’t clear your land. You cannot farm your land…. In essence then, you don’t really possess or own your land… You simply have a lend of it from the government with certain obligations that constrain you while taking all the risks with no ownership. It’s collectivization under another name…. Same with fishing access. Same with forestry. Same with mining.

    The Socialists love to bang on about, “Resources belong to ALL Australians”….. But when you then say to them. “Cool, so being an Aussie citizen gives me the right to go dig it up, farm it, fish in it, or cut it down.”…. They go, ” Oooh no. The Government will decide who can do what, where, when and how.”

    So being an Australian means nothing then?… It’s what type of Australian you are. Which means…

    …They were fukin’ lying when they said “The resources belong to ALL Australians.”

    Otherwise farmers would have made a fortune years ago from coal and other resources under their land and not Mr Obeid and fam’ when Government, Obeid, McDonald and others decided that, “This resource that belongs to All Australians.”, now could be used…. and look! Wadda ya know. It all just happens to be owned by the Obeids…. Funny that.

  40. So the government can steal my stereo and give it my next-door neighbour.

    That is what taxation does.

  41. So some agent of the government can just walk into my loungeroom, demand the keys to the 380, and give my car to someone else?
    Does this government have any bloody clue as to the bottle of maggots it has opened?

  42. Gab, the leather and chains were assumed to be part of the role.
    “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but whips and chains excite me.”

  43. Eyrie

    I’m in favour of fixed terms. About 5 years with hard labour is about right for most politicians. If they haven’t actually been charged with something it is just that nobody has found out yet.

  44. .

    Otherwise farmers would have made a fortune years ago from coal and other resources under their land and not Mr Obeid and fam’ when Government, Obeid, McDonald and others decided that, “This resource that belongs to All Australians.”, now could be used…. and look! Wadda ya know. It all just happens to be owned by the Obeids…. Funny that.

    I’m cool with the Obeid coal deal. I just want to be able to time share their/our yacht!

  45. Jazza

    Reminds me of a conversation at a friendly lunch last Wednesday.
    A friend who is along term volunteer in local radio and has numerous and wide contacts on both sides of the political divide, asked us how we could be certain there would be an election at all this year.
    Of course the constitution was mentioned but he then propounded the following: Mussolini and Hitler both delayed democratic activity and told their peoples tales that allowed them to virtually turn their countries into autocracies and we know how bad things were before they were toppled/stopped.
    So what would you do if this government we are suffering announced that the fiscal shape of the world meant they had decided it would be best for our interests if they remained in power another year to right the economy etc–who would denounce them or rally the people against them, with any chance of a favourable press etc?
    When we protested and one other friend mentioned the GG atc, he asked us how much faith we had in the MSM, the ABC, the GG and the head of the defence forces, given the latter two were Labor appointments and the media was in the main blatantly barracking for their preferred ‘side”.We had to admit he made lots of sense, though round the table nobody would own to believing Gillard and her puppet masters would dare to try it–his final point was to enumerate many ways in which this awful government has curtailed our freedoms or is planning to–and he declared Labor currently not only untrustworthy but guilty of creeping communism.
    Scary thoughts stayed with me all day as I wouldn’t put any power grab past Julia Gillard if she thought she had a good chance of succeeding, the woman is utterly unscrupulous and as egocentric as Rudd, whom I’ve disliked and mistrusted since I first laid eyes on him and watched him being interviewed on ABC when he was in shadow Foreign Affairs. My mind screamed FAKE and I wondered why till he began his presentation of “Mr Sheen the Howard Lite for you, Australia” in 2007
    Cheers All!

  46. Jim Rose

    remember that federalism makes oz different to Nz.

    in a federal system with an effective upper house elected by proportional representation, power is spread over different levels

    Different parties in power at various levels at the same time, all worried about losing office by going to far away from what the majority wants.

    The will of the people is constantly tested and measured in a federal system with elections at one level or another every year.

  47. Jim Rose

    In the UK parliament, those crazies to the right or left of you, when they win, are tempered by an occasional general election only once every 5 years.

    Little wonder that UK Labor reconsidered devolution, an assembly for London, and regional government after 15 years of Maggie Thatcher, good and hard.

    Unfettered power loses its shine when it must be shared with your opponents.

    Too many ideas of the Left assumed that they are the face of the future, rather than just another political party that will hold power as often as not.

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