Chris Finlayson always stood out as an exceptional talent in the Key-English Cabinets and his work in progressing treaty settlements is one of the great legacies from that period of National government.
So, at a time when New Zealanders’ faith in the role of the State has been severely shaken by government agencies “spying” on citizens, Finlayson applied his formidable intellect in his last speech in Parliament to point the way ahead.
He told a crowded House in his valedictory he had great respect for the institution, but there will be much to do in the years to come, including reviewing the role of the State.
“We need to continue to update our constitution…. We need to review the Treaty of Waitangi Act. There have been some complaints recently that insufficient attention is paid to the tribunal’s recommendations; it would help if they were more practical. The “shares plus” decision, for example, was described as incoherent and ignoring basic principles of company law”.
Turning to the relationship between Parliament and the courts, Finlayson said:
“One of the things that amazes me in this place is that there really is a lack of practical understanding of the separation of powers. For example, the Ministry of Justice constantly fails to recognise the judiciary as a separate branch of Government, and sometimes the courts overstep the mark with Parliament when they go too far with Parliamentary privilege.
“We passed the Parliamentary Privilege Act. Now, Parliament must deal with the consequences of the prisoner voting case. Parliament could nullify the decision, as we did in 2014, or recognise the court’s jurisdiction, provided Parliament makes it clear that there is no jurisdiction to strike down legislation. This will be an intensely important issue for Parliament in 2019. I shall be watching it with great interest from the sidelines”.
On Parliamentary terms, Finlayson believes they should run for four years: three years is too short.
“A longer term will make for an effective Parliament. The proposal to lengthen the term failed in a referendum many years ago. It’s time to revisit the issue.
“How long should MPs be permitted to serve? Imposition of term limits is a non-starter, but I think there should be a compulsory sabbatical after five three-year terms or four four-year terms — don’t look at me like that. A break would allow MPs to re-enter the real world and, if they are odd enough to want to come back, well, they can do so”.
Finlayson sees party funding, which has been in the limelight recently, as another key issue due for reform. He has become concerned about funding of political parties by non-nationals.
“That’s why I think both major parties need to work together to review the rules relating to funding. I have a personal view that it should be illegal for non-nationals to donate to our political parties. Our political system belongs to New Zealanders, and I don’t like the idea of foreigners funding it. Similar concerns are now starting to be raised in other jurisdictions, and we need to work together, without recrimination, to ensure that our democracy remains our democracy”.
On how should MPs be paid, he believes the key principle is that those in public life should have no say in what they are paid – their pay should be determined by an independent body. This principle has been undermined in recent times, and so all MPs are going to need to work together over the next year to establish the principles for remuneration once and for all, and then leave the issue to the remuneration authority. There will always be criticism of MP’s pay.
Finlayson noted that when he delivered his maiden speech in November 2005, he said the liberal conservative was concerned to govern for the public good and the national interest, confident in the knowledge that this is a great country full of talented and decent people.
“Other countries have problems; New Zealand has a project—an exciting, sometimes difficult, but nevertheless achievable project. As I give my last speech in the House today in the same place where I started, I stand by those words. I’m very pleased to be going, but grateful I’ve had the opportunity to serve.
“There will be much to do in the years to come, but can I ask my colleagues if they would mind attending to the following for me: reviewing the role of the State. I think the SOE model is past its use-by date; in particular, Landcorp needs to go and its farms need to be sold to iwi. In my nine years as Minister for Treaty of Waitangi negotiations, I regret to say,I always found Landcorp difficult and uncooperative”.
Finlayson’s last message was to the voters: “NZ needs a liberal conservative Government in 2020. Some say we have no friends; I think friendship’s overrated — just a joke. But I actually think we’re turning back into a two-party State”.