Dunne: Another clean-out of Parliament on the way

With the average tenure for MPs just a little over six years, and with a large number of current senior MPs set to depart, former minister Peter Dunne asks if we should be concerned about a lack of continuity and depth of experience in our Parliament.

The first anniversary of the 2017 election clocked over recently. That also set the clock ticking for about a quarter of our MPs who will be entering the final two years of their Parliamentary careers. Some will be thinking about retiring, while for others electoral defeat is looming, predictable for some, but unexpected for others.

At the 2014 election, 22 sitting MPs stood down, while another eight were defeated, a turnover of one-quarter of the House overall. In 2017, another 22 MPs stood down, and 12 lost their seats, meaning that just over half of Parliament had been turned over in just two elections.

Given that the average tenure over the long term for MPs is a little over six years, this turnover is not surprising, and puts the lie somewhat to those who disparage MPs for being in office too long.

There is no reason to suspect that the 2020 election will be different, with another twenty-odd MPs standing down of their own volition and around another ten being dispatched involuntarily by the electorate.

So, leaving aside those who might he headed for defeat, who might those choosing to stand down be?

Starting with the Labour Party, demoted former ministers Clare Curran and Meka Whaitiri must be leading contenders, as must be Speaker Trevor Mallard, who has freely confessed to having cleared out his office during 2017, having not expected to be re-elected then.

Trade Minister David Parker seemed to indicate earlier in the year this would be his last term, and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor is another who might consider his time has come. Senior Whip and former minister Ruth Dyson, mysteriously overlooked when the ministry was formed last year, is another long term MP who could make this her last term.

Not accounted for here, but more likely than not based on past experience, will also be an unexpected announcement to quit from a more a junior MP who has either not adjusted well to Parliamentary life, or who feels they have not got the promotion they deserve.

Over the aisle, quite a lot of change is in store for the National Party.

Former Prime Minister Sir Bill English and former ministers Steven Joyce and Dr Jonathan Coleman have already gone, and there has been much speculation that former Speaker David Carter and former minister Chris Finlayson are keen to go.

Another clutch of former ministers - Anne Tolley, Gerry Brownlee and Dr Nick Smith - are all unlikely to hold senior positions in a future National-led government, and could look to move on. Two other long term MPs and former ministers, Nicky Wagner and Jacqui Dean, might do likewise. One more name to add this list might be Michael Woodhouse, although he may feel he has a few more years to contribute just yet.

As well, there will be some backbenchers, for example Kanwaljit Bakshi, Nuk Korako, and Ian McKelvie, plus one or two others, who might not fancy the prospect of either another three years in Opposition, or, if in government, more time as a backbencher. Likewise, Dr Jiang Yang may decide to stand aside if the vague but persistent whispers about his links to Chinese intelligence agencies persist and intensify, and now there must also be questions about Jamie-Lee Ross.

...the whole of Parliament is virtually turned over completely every three or four elections.

As for the Greens, keep an eye on Gareth Hughes. He clearly upset the party bosses during the Meteria Turei affair, which probably explains why he did not become a Minister or Under-Secretary last year. Having been passed over then, he is unlikely to gain office next time, assuming the Greens remain a party of government after 2020.

That leaves New Zealand First. The speculation about when Winston Peters will stand aside is perennial, but a Knighthood for services to New Zealand in the 2020 New Year's Honours List might be too tempting to turn down. Having reached his apogee as Defence Minister, Ron Mark might feel the time is ripe to go too, and Tracey Martin, who has seemed increasingly out of sorts with her portfolios and party colleagues of late, could also feel likewise.

Now, that amounts to a total of 23 MPs - pretty consistent with long term average. But there could be additions, given that electorate boundary changes are due before the 2020 election. Some MPs could well find themselves in seats redrawn to be unwinnable, and may not fancy their chances on the party list, so may find standing aside altogether more preferable. And there will always the unexpected surprise announcement nearer the election.

All this will occur before the voters have their say, and compulsorily retire up to another ten MPs or so.

Aside from the personal consequences for MPs of this rate of change, the constancy of change means that the whole of Parliament is virtually turned over completely every three or four elections. Many would regard that as a healthy trend against atrophy and stagnation in the political process.

But, whoever and how many MPs leave Parliament in 2020,  in a country with no Upper House nor any foreseeable or justifiable prospect of restoring one, and few other constitutional checks and balances, this turnover does raise questions about the importance of continuity and the need for experience in government. The naive travails of this current government demonstrate this amply, a point those calling for more an even frequent turnover of MPs might care to ponder.

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