09 December 2012

Should Brendan Horan stay in Parliament?

Having read the allegations and counter-allegations coming from Brendan Horan's family, I figure that it's best not to comment directly on them.
But, the fact is that he has been expelled from the NZ First caucus and will, for the time being, sit as an independent MP. So, this raises one of the issues with MMP: Should a list MP who has been expelled from caucus automatically be expelled from Parliament too? Many of us might jump to the conclusion that, by law, someone in Horan's position should not be permitted to stay on as an MP at all. But I suggest that we first look at both sides of the argument.
First, I'll argue the case against automatic expulsion from Parliament.
If such a law existed, there would be much more risk involved for a list MP if he/she wished to challenge an unpopular party policy or to expose wrongdoing within the party. Accusations could easily be trumped up against a renegade MP in order to justify expulsion from caucus, and hence from the House altogether. It's easy to imagine a situation where this could have consequences that the public might find undesirable. In Horan's case, he is still maintaining that the allegations against him are false, and so automatic expulsion from the House would seem to be unfair, unless and until the allegations were to be proven. If he were to resign voluntarily as an MP even, that could be interpreted as an admission of guilt, even though he has a right to be considered innocent until proven guilty.
Furthermore, before the last election, the NZ First party list, as published, did have his name on it. Hence, it could be said that those who voted to put NZ First into Parliament were in effect voting partly for Brendan Horan too. So, to argue that he has no personal mandate to sit in the House is not quite correct.
So, let me turn now to the counter-argument: that someone in Horan's position should have to resign (or be sacked) as an MP. The people who voted for a party gave that party a mandate as a whole, and they expect their party to be proportionally represented in the House. The loss of one of their list MPs (by voluntary resignation or by expulsion) then reduces that party's proportionality. Hence, the party should be able to call on the next person in line on their party list to occupy the former member's seat. No-one wants a lame-duck independent MP sitting on an expensive salary achieving very little. Would it not be better to see the former party representative expelled from the House and replaced by a more effective member who can represent those who voted for that party?
Even though there is presently no law to force such an independent MP from the House, we might argue that there is at least a moral obligation for an MP in Horan's position to leave. But, we could easily also say that there is a moral obligation for him to stay, so long as the allegations are unproven, and in order to discourage party leaders from bullying their list MPs into obedience.
If, on the other hand, the allegations against him were to be proven, then that would lend strength to the argument that he does not deserve his seat in Parliament.

04 December 2012

Expect the unexpected

There's a long tradition in this country of having Englishmen come here to tell us what to do. The latest in this series is Dr Daniel Franklin of The Economist, author of a book looking ahead to what the world may be like in 2050.
Dr Franklin advises us that the world is changing faster than ever, and hence we need more than ever to be anticipating the trends, as far ahead as 2050. His premise, although it doesn't contradict the conclusion, certainly does not support it. If things are changing faster than ever, then prediction becomes ever more prone to uncertainty. What we plan for, based on projections to 2050, may be missing the whole point of the unexpected things that will in fact shape the way things turn out to be.
While Dr Franklin is looking 38 years ahead, I thought it instructive to look 38 years into the past, and to ask if New Zealanders (let alone the rest of the world) could have anticipated the real changes to come that were to shape our country's destiny.
So, let's go back to 1974, before Norm Kirk's untimely death, when New Zealanders saw themselves as  facing uncertain times ahead thanks to the oil crisis and the disappearance of a secure market for produce in the UK, but also saw themselves as a caring and responsible community that had made an international stand against nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific. What were the real-world events to come that were to shape what was then to be our future?
Here's my pick:

  • The country would tear itself apart with violent demonstrations against the Springbok Tour in 1981.
  • A future Labour government would radically and rapidly roll back the state in favour of free-market fundamentalism.
  • French secret agents would bomb a Greenpeace vessel in Auckland Harbour.
  • The Cold War would end, and the Soviet Union would break up into its constituent republics.
  • We would adopt proportional representation.
  • A National government would make major settlements of past grievances based on the Treaty of Waitangi.
  • A thing called 'the internet' would irreversibly change our relations with one another and with the rest of the world.
  • China would be on the way to becoming the world's largest economy, and New Zealand would be the first country to sign up to a trade agreement with that then closed communist state.
  • Gambling and prostitution would legally become two of Auckland's growth industries.
  • Same-sex couples would be allowed to legally marry.
  • Rugby would become a profession and the All Blacks become a part of an international commercial franchise.

Not all of those events was entirely unpredictable in 1974, but many of them were. And those that were predictable were not, in my recollection, actively anticipated. If we are to believe that change is now even more rapid than it was 38 years ago, then we must expect the unexpected. It is the unimaginable events which we (including editors of The Economist) cannot anticipate that will probably be the real vectors of the future.