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Thomas Wynne: Proxy voting- Is MP travel more important than Parliament?

Sunday 17 March 2024 | Written by Thomas Tarurongo Wynne | Published in Editorials, Opinion


Thomas Wynne: Proxy voting- Is MP travel more important than  Parliament?
Parliament of the Cook Islands. Photo: SUPPLIED 23090623

To proxy or not to proxy is the question being discussed at vaka meetings as Government has decided on a course where proxy votes, or votes counted when absent, will be included when Parliament sits, writes Thomas Tarurongo Wynne.

But what is a proxy vote and how does it work, and what does that mean for the work of Parliament here in the Cook Islands and for those public servants we have elected to serve us in Parliament?

This question raises so many more and top of mind for many I am sure will be, does that mean our Members of Parliament will be out of the country more than they are at the moment? And how will this affect the decisions made in Parliament with potentially fewer of our MPs in country with the limited days through the year that Parliament currently sits? And that raises another question, around the efficiency of Parliament with it often sitting no more than 20 to 25 days in a year and this being the norm for quite some time.

Having worked in a Parliament here and in Aotearoa, it was clear the power of Parliament and its ability to direct the course of a country – and quickly. 

Discussion in the Cook Islands on proxy voting for our Members of Parliament will be a clear reflection of what we believe their job is and how they do that. Whether we think Parliament has any real effect on our daily lives and whether their primary role as MPs is to cut down trees, dig graves and blow the roads, or to read, analyse, critique and develop legislation that lifts the lives of all Cook Islanders. Or maybe it’s a bit of both?

Being out of the country should be balanced with a high threshold of what is the actual benefit to our country. And why travel to exotic places with little return to the lived lives of our metua, mapu and rikiriki is and should be met with resistance from the voting public.

Proxy voting is not just about a vote when absent; it is a vote when the decision has been made that travel to a meeting or conference is more important than the work of Parliament at home.

How that decision is made and why, should not only meet the scrutiny of the Cabinet table but more importantly the table of public benefit and opinion.

This discussion is not just about the work of Parliament, but more importantly our understanding and value of the work of Parliament, what we as voters believe is the priority and work of our elected officials, and whether we fully understand the direct result of legislation being fit for purpose in the dynamic world we all find ourselves in.

Policy is only meaningful when we have legislation that resources it, both human resource and fiscal or monetary resource.

Travelling the world to talk about a policy or strategy that has little effect on the ground is pointless and to be quite honest a waste of public money and time.

How many of us in agencies feel hamstrung by a lack of budget or human resources to meet our requirements?

Meanwhile so much time and energy are poured into strategies and policies; paperwork and great booklets and diagrams but they are not able to move beyond the paper they are written on because the legislation developed in Parliament is old, not fit for purpose or simply do not meet the needs of the people we are working with.

This is the role of Parliament, to ensure the legislation is fit for purpose, and more than just the needs of a budget, or a supplementary budget.

If Parliament can meet to agree to change the legislation settings of the Ombudsman so they can remain in work and not have to retire, as has happened in Aotearoa, then we see how it can have a real effect for good if they only sat more often – and that the tools of Parliament, like the Crown Law Office, had more budget, more human resource and more opportunity to feed into Parliament the change we all so desperately need.


graham roper on 18/03/2024

There are many underlying questions in this editorial that need further exploration. Having a proxy vote assumes that the papers/evidence have in fact been read, and debated before a vote is undertaken. Proxy votes allow for more PM driven rules and regulations to be passed purely on political following. Could it lead to - "oh, while you were away we changed some rules using your party proxy vote."? The issue of value for money on overseas trips also needs further exploration as there is little to no evidence that positive outcomes come from these trips. Was it an overseas trip that purchased the $1.7m of electric cars? What benefits did this spending add to the needs of the Cook Islands? The Ministry of Health is another good example. The Minister of Health and Mr Williams seem to always be on "travel duties" at considerable expense, yet they still 'cry poor' for funding much needed staff training and general service delivery. Can I challenge the Minister of Health and Mr Williams to provide details of amount travel, the costs of travel, reason for travel and if any, real outcomes that have improved the Wellbeing of Cook Islanders and it visitors?