Waka-jumping bill a question of integrity - Jeanette Fitzsimons

Jeanette Fitzsimons
Jeanette Fitzsimons Photo credit: Newshub.

Former Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons has found herself on the side of National, submitting against a bill the Greens are set to support.

Widely respected by the Greens and still deeply entangled within the party, Ms Fitzsimons must be chuckling at the oddity of the situation she's in.

She says the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill is lacking the word in brackets.

"You can't legislate for integrity. Integrity is a question of judgement. It's a question of conscience," she said.

The bill in question is what's colloquially known as the 'waka-jumping bill', although it would be more accurately nicknamed the stay-in-your-waka-or-get-pushed-overboard bill, because it will allow a party leader, with support from two-thirds of the caucus, to eject and replace disgruntled members. 

At the moment, seriously disgruntled MPs have the freedom to join or create another party if they fall out with their own.

The Greens have historically supported the ability of MPs to do that, the argument being MPs should be able to speak up according to their conscience.

This time around, the Greens are likely to support the legislation.

A leaked Facebook post earlier this year showed the Greens felt they had to support the bill as they hadn't explicitly raised their objection to it during confidence and supply negotiations, and it's a promise made to NZ First in its coalition agreement. 

Ms Fitzsimons, though, said she believes there is "nothing in the Labour-Green agreement that obliges the Greens to vote for the Electoral Integrity Bill."

The ability to jump off the party waka has been used many times in the past. Tariana Turia founded the Māori Party after she left Labour over the belief the party betrayed Māori over the foreshore and seabed.

Notoriously, Brendan Horan was expelled from the New Zealand First Party after being accused of taking money from his mother for gambling, claims he denied. He remained in Parliament as an independent.

In Select Committee on Thursday, Ms Fitzsimons said defectors who have remained in Parliament "out of self-serving motives" are punished by voters. Within three years, "they are dispatched and never heard from again," she said.

"It's a very short time to put up with them being there in order to not create the much worse harm of kicking out people who have acted with integrity to support the principle on which they thought they were elected, only to find their party is now doing something different."

Ms Fitzsimons said there are few people with a greater commitment to their party than her.

But she said if the Greens were to suddenly vote for the death penalty, for increased fossil fuels or for invading another country, she "would leave and start a new [party] because [her] commitment is to the set of ideas and the philosophy, not the bureaucratic structure."

Referring to former Greens Kennedy Graham and David Clendon, who withdraw from the party list but remained in Parliament in protest against former co-leader Metiria  Turei, Ms Fitzsimons said she would " would defend to the end their right to freedom of conscience".

"I strongly disagreed with the stance of my former colleagues Kennedy Graham and David Clendon took on the actions of co-leader Metiria Turei, and I was highly critical of the way they went about it which was unnecessary and damaging, but I would defend to the end their right to freedom of conscience and to express their views in opposition to the rest of the caucus, without being thrown out of Parliament."