David Seymour wants four-year parliamentary terms, but with a catch

ACT leader David Seymour wants parliamentary terms extended to four years, to give the Government of the day "time to implement its agenda". 

"The current three year cycle is relatively short by international standards and limits the ability of a Government to adopt a longer term approach, implementing the agenda it was elected on," he said.

Seymour has introduced a Member's Bill to change the existing three-year to four from 2026.

"Even a prepared Government needs time to implement its agenda which involves robust policy work, consulting the people affected, drafting laws, passing them through parliament, and implementing them. Doing that in a three year cycle is difficult and results in poorer law-making."

The catch is, select committees would have to be controlled by the Opposition - not the Government. 

"Simply extending the term of Parliament bears a risk of overweighting the powers of the executive branch of Government without necessarily assisting in good policy making. It is important to enhance the accountability that can be imposed on the executive by the legislature.

"People were captivated by the Epidemic Response Committee, and not just because they couldn’t leave their home during lockdown. They saw a select committee with an opposition majority and an opposition chair. It asked questions they wanted answers to, and calling witnesses the Government would have preferred not to hear from."

National's Simon Bridges headed the Epidemic Response Committee, as the then-leader of the Opposition. 

"We need Select Committees to be an independent voice of the legislature to ask probing questions, scrutinise government actions, and reflect the submissions of the public to the Government," said Seymour.

The change would need to be approved by voters in a referendum, according to Seymour's draft Bill.

"The Bill would give Governments the time they need to introduce their manifesto while also giving legislation the scrutiny it deserves. These two things combined can only be good for democracy."

Appearing on Newshub Nation on Saturday, Seymour said it would also be good for the media.

"For political editors and journalists, it would be fantastic - there would be so much more to report on in select committees."

"Political editors and journalists also like elections," host Tova O'Brien hit back. "Would you really want another four years of Jacinda Ardern?"

"It's not about who the person is," said Seymour. "Under ACT's policy this doesn't come into effect until 2026. Who knows who the Prime Minister will be then - maybe you'll have your wish and it'll still be Jacinda Ardern... the way I look at it is I'm a person, then a Kiwi then a politician. My job is to try and make things better in the long-term." 

David Seymour on Newshub Nation.
David Seymour on Newshub Nation. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

As a Member's Bill, it will only be debated if it's drawn at random from parliament's traditional biscuit tin, unless it's taken up by the Government. 

There have been two prior referendums on four-year terms - in 1990 and 1967. Both failed miserably. 

But the idea has the backing of Victoria University's Governance and Policy institute, who said in 2019 it would help politicians plan for the future.

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