upton-on-line launched

  • Simon Upton
Crown Research Institutes

Cabinet Minister Simon Upton today dispensed with the industrial age reliance on  broadsheets and the wireless with the launch of his daily Internet column, upton-on-line.

The column will pass comment on the politics of the day in the lead-up to the Election on 27 November.

Upton-on-line will be posted overnight, every week-night on Mr Upton's well established and award-wining website:

www.arcadia.co.nz

"Upton-on-line will talk direct to the thousands of New Zealanders interested in politics during the election campaign.

"My comments will be partisan, clearly, but I'm keen to publish lively responses from readers.

"It will become an indispensable bookmark for those wanting to keep up to date with the 1999 campaign", Simon Upton predicted.

Attached (for those who have yet to log on) is the first article:

Referendum on number of MPs the result's in no doubt, but the implications haven't been thought through.
ENDS

Contact: Paul Goldsmith 04 471 9794 025 477 982

Referendum on number of MPs the result's in no doubt, but the implications haven't been thought through.

If ever there was a referendum with a forgone conclusion, the one to reduce the number of MPs from 120 to 99 has to be it. So the plea of the seventy-odd learned scholars to preserve 21 MPs from liquidation is, in a quite literal
sense, of academic interest.

Their contention is that a smaller parliament will lead to domination by the Executive.

I can certainly attest to the perils of an over-bearing Executive, having witnessed the dying years of the Muldoon era near the bottom of the caucus heap. Then, there were 21 backbenchers against 26 office holders (Cabinet Ministers, Under Secretaries, Whips and other hangers-on). The result was that those in the Executive, combined with those who fervently believed they were about to be annointed, always enjoyed a solid majority.

(The only real opposition was provided by Waring and Minogue, joined later by Quigley). We paid the price with dysfunctional caucus discussions on everything from the "Price freeze" to "Think Big".

But the academics' argument only holds true if the Executive remains as large as it currently is.

Those supporting the call for a smaller number of MPs have to answer this question; how many members are they willing to shave from the Executive (in order to avoid Cabinet domination of the governing Caucuses)? And then, have they thought through the implications of a smaller Cabinet on the machinery of government?

I support a much smaller inner Cabinet, but I'm not so sure you can dispense with more Ministers outside Cabinet. Under the Public Finance Act, Ministers have to be accountable for a huge range of Departments and Crown entities.

Shrinking the Executive beyond a certain point would make the discharge of these accountabilities impossible. It simply wouldn't do justice to an organisation that chews its way through $36 billion annually.

Or is it the plan to shrink the size of government radically? There are supporters for that position but I don't think it's where many petition supporters are coming from. They may not want too many MPs but they still want large dollops of tax and spend.

To make a smaller Cabinet workable you'd have to look at radical amalgamations of government departments and hand a lot of power and discretion back to bureaucrats.

Of course, none of these arguments will have any impact on the outcome of the referendum. I haven't the slightest doubt that most New Zealanders want a small parliament and they'll get it. The behaviour of parliamentarians won't improve one iota, but then again, the promoters of the referendum never said that it would.

A Quick Observation.

Meanwhile, a comment made by Pete Hodgson on Monday caught my eye. He wrote in an article on industrial relations published by the Herald,

"the idea, that, for example, the journalists of the New Zealand Herald might strike in favour of a multi-employer settlement in support of journalists at the Gore Ensign beggars imagination."

That, Mr Hodgson, is precisely the point. The public's imagination was beggared on a regular basis in the bad old days of boilermakers and wharfies.