Report on New Zealand parliamentary scrutiny suggests more politicians, longer terms

A report has suggested longer parliamentary terms and more politicians would help ensure Governments focus on long-term issues.

On Tuesday evening, a report, titled "Foresight, insight and oversight: Enhancing long-term governance through better parliamentary scrutiny", was released from Victoria University of Wellington and staff at the Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives.

It examines Parliament's "susceptibility to short-termism" and quality of long-term decision-making.

After nearly 60 interviews and meetings with MPs, former MPs, Government officials, and academics, the report found that the present system of parliamentary scrutiny of Government performance was typically labelled inadequate.

"The general agreement was that the House currently undertakes relatively little scrutiny of long-term policy problems or the quality of anticipatory governance," the report said.

No one reform would generate the transformative change needed, so a "concerted, holistic and systematic approach" was needed.

Report co-author Jonathan Boston, a professor of public policy at Victoria University of Wellington, said consideration should be given to Parliament running in four-year terms, with an increase of MPs from 120 to 150.

"The current three-year Parliaments, as well as reinforcing a short-term bias in ministers and MPs, contributes to a substantial turnover rate of MPs," said Prof Boston.

"New Zealand also has a particularly small Parliament compared with most similar-sized democracies. 

"Consequently, the relatively small pool of MPs has implications for the number and size of select committees, which in turn affects the amount of business that can be conducted in the committee system."

He said extra costs associated with the recommended changes were outweighed by the potential for better governance, savings in future costs, and significant social and environmental benefits.

"By improving, we will put more pressure on Governments to perform, we will give citizens better information about how well Governments are performing, and we will have a better quality democracy and a safer prospect for future generations," Prof Boston told Newshub.

"If we fail to address climate change, if we fail to protect biodiversity, if we fail to protect the quality of our freshwater, this will have huge implications for future generations. So it is really important that Governments are held to account."

The report also recommended:

  • Change the size and structure of select committees - for example by establishing a Committee for the Future or a Governance Committee
  • Add a new committee function or subject area relating to long-term governance
  • Improve the Government's long-term reporting, including better reporting of progress towards long-term objectives
  • Enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of select committees, particularly during their financial scrutiny activities
  • Encourage cross-party pre-legislative consultation to foster durable legislative solutions
  • Encourage committees to undertake more forward-looking inquiries
  • Track and follow up on the Government's progress in implementing select committee recommendations
  • Boost the use by committees of advice from Officers of Parliament and independent experts, including the possible appointment of a Chief Parliamentary Science Adviser
  • Consider establishing a cross-party futures forum of MPs working in association with respected research organisations and sector groups to examine long-term issues
  • Explore possible policy, legislative and constitutional reforms.

The full report can be found here.