National was firmly and rightly opposed to such an anti-democratic piece of legislation. But Jami-Lee Ross’s volte-face on quitting parliament means they’re more than entitled to invoke it to throw him out of parliament, writes Liam Hehir
Jami-Lee Ross has reneged on his stated to intention to resign from parliament and run as an independent in the resulting by election for Botany. He’s going to stick around in parliament instead.
Was Ross was ever delusional enough to think he could win re-election? It’s hard to say. He wouldn’t have had a snowball’s chance, of course, but it’s not like he’s has been a paragon of sound-decision making lately. Perhaps he believed that it was his winsome charm, and not his blue ribbon, that has seen him home in Botany to date.
Of course, it only delays the inevitable. The next time he faces the voters – if he ever faces the voters again – Ross is toast. In a few years, he’ll be lucky if people can get his name right in a pub quiz.
But this is bad for National. Real bad. Out of parliament, Ross would have quickly faded into obscurity as a discredited crank. Remaining inside, he can continue to throw muck at National. With parliamentary privilege, too, offering a legal shield.
It must be very tempting for National to think about that newly minted anti-party hopping law. One note to the speaker is all it would take. From Simon Bridges to Trevor Mallard: signed, sealed and delivered – and gone.
But National opposed that law. Quite loudly and in no uncertain terms, in fact. It was dictatorial, contrary to democracy and an affront to the institution of parliament. So there’s no way they could now turn around and use such an insidious instrument, right?
On the other hand …
When the law was passed, Simon Bridges quite clearly reserved his right to use it while it was on the books. And this makes a certain amount of sense, too. After all, people take advantage of laws and rules they disagree with all the time.
Remember when National cut the top marginal income tax rate from 38% to 33%? Did you think this was a bad idea? If so, have you sent an extra cheque to the IRD every year? Or have you dutifully donated the extra money to charity?
God have mercy on your soul if you invested it or put it towards a holiday or a new car or something.
Or, let’s say that you thought Working for Families is a bad idea, as many people did at the time. Did your principled opposition to “communism by stealth” and “middle-class welfare” lead you to forgo the tax credits on offer? Maybe if you are a puritanical libertarian, but the chances are you just quietly pocketed them.
Or what about MMP? The National Party opposed proportional representation, of course, preferring first-past-the-post (as did Labour) Does it follow that National are hypocrites for putting up a party list in every election since 1996?
So that’s the argument for National using the law. It’s not about having it both ways, it’s about playing by the same rules as everybody else as long as those rules are in place.
Should the law be changed back? Yes. But for everybody, not just for one party.
And yet …
It is a bad law. It’s not the end of the world or the death of democracy, but it is a bad law.
The fact that (for the time being) voters are more apt to vote along party lines than for individual candidates is beside the point. The waka-jumping law treats members of our sovereign law-making body like employees of opaque political parties (except, of course, that employees generally have more rights).
There is a rationalisation for National using this law to rid itself of Jami-Lee Ross. it’s probably just good enough to let them get away with doing it. With some embarrassment, of course.
But National Party MPs are going to have to ask themselves what they are first and foremost: members of parliament or members of the National Party?
There is one thing of which I am certain: somewhere out there, Winston Peters is smirking.