Thursday, August 16, 2018

A contempt of Parliament?

Today in the sparring over the waka-jumping bill, Nick Smith reminded everyone of something we'd forgotten about: NZ First's dubious attempts to coerce their Members of Parliament:

NZ First leader Winston Peters has defended a clause in the party's constitution which hold MPs liable for a $300,000 penalty if they resign.

The clause states that every member who is elected as a New Zealand First list MP or constituency MP, must sign a "resignation obligation contract" which imposes a "liability for liquidated damages in the sum of $300,000" if they resign or are expelled from caucus or the party.

Peters said a lot of time and money was put on the line and "no one is entitled to jeopardise it and just walk off without any regard to the proportionality of the vote at election time, that's why it's important".


National MP Nick Smith asked Justice Minister Andrew Little in Parliament whether the Government supported MPs being subjected to legally binding contracts requiring them to pay $300,000 if they fell out with their party.

Little said he had no knowledge of such an arrangement and it sounded hypothetical.

Clearly, its not: its part of NZ First's constitution. And, as Andrew Geddis explained last time this came up, its clearly unenforceable: no court will touch a contract which purports to determine whether someone is an MP, and any attempt to enforce such a contract (that is, to financially punish someone for being an MP) would be a clear contempt of Parliament. But while the clause may be unenforceable, like a lot of other illegal contracts, it still may be treated as binding by its victims and influence their behaviour. So its worth asking: insofar as it threatens MPs in the course of their official duties, is the rule itself also a contempt? Hopefully the Privileges Committee will give us an answer.