Banks resignation highlights use of supermajority voting

John Banks has resigned as an MP but a cross-party supermajority in parliament will over-ride the need for a by-election in Epsom.

New Zealand could use a supermajority to appoint our next head of state so the Epsom decision will be a great opportunity for Kiwis to see how supermajority voting works.

The Epsom by-election vote is necessary under Sections 129 and 131 of the Electoral Act. As soon as the Speaker declares the Epsom seat vacant the Governor-General has 21 days to issue a writ (to the Electoral Commission) to hold a by-election. If the vacancy occurs within six months of a general election however, parliament can stop the writ being issued.

Under the Act the decision can only be made by a supermajority of MPs. This means 75%  - 91 out of 121 - MPs have to support it and in the current parliament only the Labour Party has enough MPs to reach the 75% threshold (National and all non-Labour MPs number only 87).

Supermajority decisions ensure the government of the day consults and reaches a consensus with opposition parties. Supermajorities are also a way to entrench legislation. Certain sections of the Electoral Act (See Section 268) are protected and cannot be repealed or amended except by public referendum or a parliamentary supermajority.

New Zealand Republic supports the use of supermajorities in reforming our head of state. If indirect election (by a parliamentary vote) is chosen by voters as the best way to select a Head of State then a supermajority would be needed.  We also advocate that no democratically selected head of state could be dismissed except by a supermajority. 

It is important that the Head of State is politically neutral and the appointment has widespread support, especially as the office-holder may be called on to act as an independent referee on constitutional issues. A supermajority vote in Parliament is one way of making sure the right person is chosen for the job and the legitimacy of the role is maintained.

Instead of an unelected Head of State and a Governor-General appointed and dismissed by the Prime Minister New Zealand would have an independent Head of State protected by a supermajority.

The finer details of how this might work would need to be decided by an independent constitutional commission. Our blueprint for the selection of the Head of State proposes this and builds in tried-and-tested constitutional safeguards. The blueprint also ensures that these technical rules and safeguards are robust and fit-for-purpose.

The two-stage referendum process builds in an independent constitutional commission to review these aspects - dotting the i's and crossing the t's before NZers have a final vote whether to move to an independent NZ HoS. Supermajorities are part of the answer to our head of state problem. You can read more about our proposals on this website.