What the constitutional review said (and what I said it would say, revisited)

The Government's seemingly never-ending constitutional review has finally delivered its report. Which is a good excuse for me to go back and test how accurate my predictions about its content were.

The Government has just released the results of the "Constitutional Review" it agreed to hold as a part of the National-Maori Party governance agreement. I can't link you to it yet, because it's embargoed until 3pm today.

[Update: Here it is as a pdf file ... but be warned, it is over 170 pages long!]

But back in 2010(!), when the review was first announced, I made a series of predictions about what the review would say. Time to see how those went ...

  • The size of Parliament.

This will not change. We need the MPs we have (see the Justice and Electoral Committee's report on the "99 MPs Bill" a few years ago), but there is no way MPs will put forward a recommendation for even more of them to be elected.

Nailed it! The report recommends that the Government "does not undertake further work on the size of Parliament".

  • The length of terms of Parliament and whether or not the term should be fixed.

The recommendation will be to move to a 4 year parliamentary term, with fixed election dates as the quid-pro-quo. The "inside the beltway" view is that 3 years just isn't enough time to get government business done, but the public just won't vote for extending the parliamentary term. A recommendation that this should happen - tied to a fixed term, to take that advantage away from the PM - will allow MPs to do it for themselves.

 A near miss. The report "notes a reasonable level of support for a longer term" and recommends that the Government "sets up a process, with public consultation and participation, to explore what additional checks and balances might be desirable if a longer term is implemented". It also recommends that the Government "sets up a process, with public consultation and participation, to explore a fixed election date in conjunction with any exploration of a longer term."

So - not quite a full throated cry for change, but enough that the political parties can start working towards what they want.

  • The size and number of electorates, including the method for calculating size.

The number of electorates will stay the same, but there will be a recommendation to increase the permitted variation in population between electorates to 10% (up from 5%). This will allow some larger electorates (see most of the Maori seats, Westcoast-Tasman, Clutha-Southland) to shrink a bit in geographical size.

Again, pretty close. The report "notes the discrepancy in geographic size affects the representation of people in larger electorates, particularly Māori and rural electorates" and recommends the Government "sets up a process, with public consultation and participation, to explore ways to address the discrepancies."

  • Electoral integrity legislation.

This will be deemed unnecessary (unless there is a meltdown within a party between now and 2013). Since the "Waka Hopping Law" disappeared in 2005, this problem has largely resolved itself (Chris Carter being the present exception, and 2011 will solve that).

Nailed it. The report "notes a level of concern about MPs leaving the parties they were elected with, especially list MPs, but no consensus about a solution", and so "the Panel makes no recommendation on this topic".

  • Maori representation including the Maori Electoral Option, Maori electoral participation and Maori seats in Parliament and local government.

The Maori seats will stay in place "until Maori themselves decide to get rid of them". There's no way Maori will want to see these removed, especially with the Maori Party in a position of influence at the present. And there's no way a report coming out under Pita Sharples name will say anything different to what Maori want, even putting aside his obvious self-interest in the question.

I'm claiming this one, too. The report "notes the Panel’s advice that the current arrangements for the representation of Māori in Parliament should remain while the conversation continues." A conversation that we're going to hear a lot more about ... and which basically means "let's keep talking, because we don't know what else to do."

So this is a call for the status quo to continue into the foreseeable future - by which I mean, the seats stay until Maori decide otherwise.

  • The role of the Treaty of Waitangi within New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements.

Having said these are just my predictions about what will be recommended, I honestly don't know what will happen with this. I just don't. It is the biggest question that will get addressed, and its the one with the most potential to blow up in a major fashion, but how it is likely to get answered (indeed, how it ought to be answered) is something I just can't say. A cop out I know, but there's always known unknowns in any enterprise...

A cop out that was shared by the report. While it "continues to affirm the importance of the Treaty as a foundational document" (who doesn't?), it also resorts to the status quo of "support[ing] the continued development of the role and status of the Treaty under the current arrangements as has occurred over the past decades", while considering different moves in the future and begging "the people of Aotearoa New Zealand to continue the conversation about the place of the Treaty in our constitution."

In other words - this is too hard, let's not deal with it now.

  • Whether New Zealand should have a written constitution.

The answer to this will be "no", at least insofar as a "written constitution" equates to permitting the judiciary to override Parliament on any particular matter. MPs like parliamentary sovereignty, and there isn't enough of a public (or academic) swell of disagreement to force them to abandon it. So we might "write down" a few more of our constitutional rules - enact some conventions into legislation, change some prerogative powers into statutory ones - but we won't be going for a full U.S. (or even Australian) style constitution.

And so it was. The report "notes that although there is no broad support for a supreme constitution, there is considerable support for entrenching elements of the constitution." But what such "entrenchment" might look like is then deferred for the future, after the "conversation" continues, because "people need more information before considering whether there should be change, in particular information about the various kinds of constitution, written and otherwise, and their respective advantages and disadvantages."

  • Bill of Rights issues.

As above, there won't be a recommendation for entrenchment of this instrument. There may be some tinkering with the rights therein; the review outline mentions property rights as a possible addition, which will trigger calls to put social and economic rights in as well. I also think it's likely that the courts will be given the express power to issue (non-binding) declarations of inconsistency. But that'll be as far as things go.

OK. I got this last one a bit wrong. The report goes further than I thought it might do - while it doesn't call for full entrenchment, it certainly thinks the NZBORA could do with more surgery than I expected. So, the call is for the Government to:

set up a process, with public consultation and participation, to explore in more detail the options for amending the Act to improve its effectiveness such as:
› adding economic, social and cultural rights, property rights and environmental rights
› improving compliance by the Executive and Parliament with the standards in the Act
› giving the Judiciary powers to assess legislation for consistency with the Act
› entrenching all or part of the Act.

So there we go. I'm quietly happy with my score, and I'll be back to post more fully on the report and what it means (and doesn't mean) at a later date. But given that it'll be open slather on talking about it from 3pm onwards, and given that I have to go pick up my daughter from school at that time, I wanted to be one of the first up on it.