Jeanette Fitzsimmons urges Greens to abandon waka-jumping bill support

Jeanette Fitzsimons speaks on her Waka-Jumping Bill submission at Parliament. Photo: Shane Cowlishaw

Former Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons has urged the party to abandon its support for legislation that she says goes against its core values.

The waka-jumping bill, formally known as the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill, is part of New Zealand First’s coalition agreement with Labour.

It would force list MPs out of Parliament if they quit or were expelled from their party, while electorate MPs would face a by-election.

Academics, past politicians and the Human Rights Commissioner have all voiced their concern about the bill, which they argue would damage democracy.

The Greens have been an uneasy partner in supporting the legislation to select committee, and Fitzsimons told members she hoped current Green MPs would change their minds.

“I don’t want to criticise what happened [during coalition negotiations]. What I’m hoping is that the submissions that are being made to you here and the opportunity for more time and reflection … will give the party an opportunity to review its decision before the second reading.”

There was nothing in the confidence and supply agreement between the Greens and Labour that forced it to support the bill and she doubted the Government would fall if they decided to vote against it.

She described the title of the bill as misleading as you could not legislate for integrity, which was a question of judgement and conscious.

“A party in itself is not what matters, it is what it stands for is what matters. If a party abandons its political principles it doesn’t deserve the blind allegiance of its voters.

“If my party started voting for the death penalty or invading another country of a massive increase in the use of fossil fuels I would leave and start a new one if necessary because my commitment is to a set of ideas and a political philosophy, not to the bureaucratic structure and MPs have got to be free to exercise that judgement.”

Shortly before last year’s elections, the Greens dealt with dissent within their own ranks when MPs Kennedy Graham and David Clendon were expelled from caucus after publicly criticising the actions of then co-leader Metiria Turei.

Fitzsimons said she believed it was wrong that the two had been kicked out of caucus, even though she disagreed with their view and how they had expressed it. Under the proposed bill, both Graham and Clendon could have potentially been kicked out of Parliament.

It was important MPs retained the ability to speak out against their party without such fear and that had long been a Green party principle, she said.

“I remember one occasion when Nandor rang me from the house and told me ‘I’m going to vote differently on this bill’. We tolerated that because we respected the individuals and we respected their conscious.”

Speaking to media after the hearing, Fitzsimons said there had been a lot of conversation within the party about the bill and several longstanding members had expressed their concerns to the caucus.