National led government formation
NZ General Election 2008
by Anthony Haas, Asia Pacific Economic News Bureau, Parliamentary
Press Gallery, Wellington,
The new prime minister, his National ministers inside cabinet
and support party ministers outside cabinet were sworn in by Governor-general
Anand Satynand in time for Mr Key to attend the APEC
leaders meeting by 20 November.
Members speaking to congratulate the Speaker's team referred to their
role in maintaining freedom of speech and impartial conduct of Parliament's
The election and government formation process were conducted under the
mixed member proportional (MMP)
system, and its associated evolving
conventions. Electors had two votes, one for their preferred electorate
candidate and one for their preferred party. Half the seats in a normal
120 seat Parliament are held by MPs selected for party lists. The size
of New Zealand’s 49th Parliament is 122 seats, an increase of two
seats over the normal 120 seats. The additional seats are because the
Maori Party won more electorate seats (five seats) than its entitlement
under the party vote (three seats).
In addition to a consideration of these issues, it will give New Zealanders the chance to have their say on the Mixed Member Proportional representation system that has formed the basis of this country's parliamentary elections since 1996.
This will take the form of a binding referendum, and if a majority of voters decide they want to consider other electoral systems, the new Government will offer them a choice of a range of systems to replace it."
Participation in voting
Decisive result under MMP
Labour won 43, Green eight on election night adjusted to nine in the
final count, Progressive one, putting 53 MPs onto the opposition benches.
New Zealand First won no seats, attracted 4.21% of the vote and Act, which
attracted 3.72% of the votes, ended up with its five seats. Under the
MMP system, parties who get less than five percent of the vote do not
get into Parliament unless they win an electorate seat. Act’s leader
Rodney Hide won the Auckland seat of Epsom, and New Zealand First’s
leader Winston Peters lost his bid to regain the Tauranga seat.
"This cluster of Ministers and related portfolios demonstrate that getting the economy going will be front and centre of our priorities in office" Mr Key said in announcing his new ministry.
Mr Key's acute awareness of the economic challenges is well placed, and draws the Sword of Damocles, a classical Greek legend, to mind. The Sword of Damocles is frequently used to epitomise the imminent and ever-present peril faced by those in positions of power. More generally, it is used to denote the sense of foreboding engendered by the precarious situation, especially one in which the onset of tragedy is restrained only by a delicate trigger or chance.
"I am acutely aware that the economic challenges we face include forecasts which show rising unemployment. National wants to provide New Zealanders with some financial security in hard times. That is why we announced the transitional relief package during the election campaign to help those worst hit by redundancy, and why it will be implemented in government" the new PM said.
The electorate’s decision to provide a clear majority to John Key’s National Party meant that he was able to negotiate to form a government without the competition from his opponents that had characterized previous elections under MMP. One strong view, led by business leader Peter Shirtcliffe, presented to the electorate in the 1990s when it chose MMP to replace the first past the post system (FPP) was that decisive government, including economic management, would be undermined. National went into the 2008 election campaign calling for a referendum on the future of MMP. The more multicultural and gender balance in the Parliament now is a consequence of MMP. So too are the evident inconsistencies shown by the place of Act inside this Parliament, and NZ First’s place outside it.
Balancing Act, Maori and UnitedFuture
The Maori Party is supported by a majority of electors who were said by pre-election pollsters to favour Maori Party accommodation post election with Labour. Labour did not get enough electoral support, or indications of minor party support, to be able to form a government in November 2008. Maori consulted in a culturally appropriate way, through hui, and co-leaders Dr Pita Sharples and Mrs Tariana Turia, opted to be ministers outside Mr Key’s cabinet. This Maori accommodation with National supercedes the long period when Maori MPs were within Labour in Parliament. Mrs Turia had left her ministerial post within the Clark Labour government to co-lead and form the Maori Party, sparked by Clark’s introduction of the foreshore and seabed legislation. Maori and National entered their November 2008 relationship agreeing to review that legislation, not to abolish the Maori seats and to consider constitutional change. Mrs Turia signaled her intent to leave Parliament by the 2012 election. He co-leader Dr Pita Sharples became Minister of Maori Affairs, and Mrs Turia, Minister for the Community and Voluntary sector, in the Key led government.
UnitedFuture’s Peter Dunne, who had been revenue minister in the Clark Labour led coalition, opted to support the prospective Key government, and became revenue minister outside Mr Key’s cabinet.
Peter Dunne accentuates his centrist and commonsense approach. Mr Key, by getting UnitedFuture and Maori Party confidence and supply agreements, counterbalance’s the Act orientation. Should one or other support parties oppose a National led government proposal, Mr Key can turn to the other support party to help him pass contentious legislation.
Positions outside cabinet help parties maintain their identity, which becomes electorally significant in later elections.
The loyal Opposition
Her tenure – now ready to be worked over by the historians and other pundits - produced more than a Labour Party without destructive factionalism – it also contributed social democratic policies. Commentator Colin James credits Ms Clark with success internationally, and a mixed record at home. Former National MP Dr Marilyn Waring credits Ms Clark with support for evidence based policy formation and outcomes based policies for NZ. Dr Waring commends Ms Clark for a role as roving special representative of the UN Secretary-general.
Helen Clark’s deputy Dr Michael Cullen, her finance minister, resigned the day after her. His legacy includes the introduction of the NZ Superannuation Fund and KiwiSaver, intended to increase New Zealanders’ savings and provision for retirement income.
Three days after the election, Phil Goff came from Labour’s caucus meeting unopposed as new leader, offering to support the National government on national interest policies but proposing also to hold it to account.
As soon as he became Labour leader Mr Goff said he would support a yet to be defined consensus in changes to the Electoral Finance Act introduced by Mrs King during the Clark years, and opposed by National and others.
Mr Goff’s first ministerial appointment was in the 1984 Lange government. He had been foreign minister early in the nine years of Clark Governments, but had to stand down for Winston Peters to become foreign minister in a deal negotiated by Ms Clark with the NZ First leader.
Mr Goff and his deputy Annette King have substantial ministerial experience, are backed by a caucus of experienced and new MPs, and are supported by Ms Clark and Dr Cullen for an indefinite period as back benchers. Helen Clark became Labour opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs, and Dr Cullen, shadow leader of the House. Mr Goff and the leader of the Progressive Party Jim Anderton – a former Labour Party president - agreed he should be an opposition spokesperson on agriculture, following the conventions established when the Labour-Progressive coalition operated in government.
The 49th New Zealand Parliament
Bill English, deputy prime minister and finance minister, immediately became acting prime minister.
The topics at APEC included response to the global financial crisis – a reality which will affect the Parliament, government and people of New Zealand significantly.
Diversity in Parliament
National and Labour parties have succeeded in getting ethnically duiverse Kiwis into Parliament. The Maori party has brought more Maori into Parliament. Smaller parties have had ethnically diverse candidates.
The new MPs who moved the 2008 Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne illustrate how new Prime Minister Key has had his own hand on moves to make the National Party more diverse. An MP born in Samoa, Peseta Sam Lotu-iiga, and an MP born in Korea, Melissa Lee, movingly spoke about their journeys to become Kiwis, and New Zealand Parliamentarians.
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