National Party President, Peter Goodfellow; veteran party activist, Gavin Cook and former leader Jim McLay on by- election night in 2019 in McLay's old Northcote seat. McLay is the chair of the party's review of its election performance.

The National Party is proposing to limit the ability of its Caucus to change the party leader.

And it says “bad behaviour” within the party leadership needs to be called out.

Proposals were emailed to members last night asking whether they agreed that Caucus should continue to have the sole power to set the rules and processes for leadership bids or whether the party board should have a role in the management of a leadership bid process.

Currently, the Board has only a right of veto over whoever the Caucus selects.

In the Board’s paper, members are asked whether the Board needs “to be engaged in the process earlier to opine on a fair process as well as an acceptable result.”

The paper said that the Panel set up to review its election performance reported that strengthening leadership was a key task for the Party.

“Leadership at all levels of the Party needs to be considered to ensure adequate support and upskilling is available, and existing leaders set the right example,” it said.

.It listed key themes as:

• Bad behaviour needed to be called out and dealt with quickly across the Party.

• Succession planning across all levels of the Party needed to be encouraged, and talent developed to take on roles in the future.

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• The Party Leadership process needed to be considered and hard coded into the Constitution to create consistency and clarity.

The Panel said National needed to convey a clear alternative vision for New Zealand than the current Government, including a modern policy outlook that would appeal broadly.

What will complicate the debate about how the leader be selected is another proposal, also sent out last night, proposing that the Board consider appointing two “independent” directors.

The proposals originated in a review of the party’s governance headed by the former party leader, Jim McLay, who ironically was rolled in a coup in 1986  in a not dissimilar way to how Simon Bridges was toppled by Todd Muller last year.

McLay’s review has now been translated into a series of questions by the party board, which will be discussed at regional party conferences starting this weekend and then voted on at a special constitutional conference on June 26.

In what is likely to be a widely opposed proposal, the Board is asking whether “they should have appointed Board members to supplement elected members to address skill gaps, experience gaps. and to increase diversity.”

McLay and his team recommended four elected Board members, two appointed directors and one position dedicated to an experienced and widely accepted Maori director under Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership.

But that could mean that three non-party members played a critical role in the election of the party leader if the leadership proposals were accepted.

But the proposals go further, and members are even asked whether an appointed board member could be party president – though how a non-member could be the president of a party is not explained.

Other questions include:             

  • Should the appointed directors be appointed by the Board or by a separate (and independent)  Board appointments committee, and who should make up this appointments committee?
  • Should appointed directors be Independent’, and to what degree should they be independent?
  • Should the Party be prepared to support the costs of appointed directors, and should appointed directors be remunerated?

The review Panel noted a need for National to commit to diversity across all levels of the organisation and made four detailed recommendations including embedding diversity “into National’s DNA across the membership. Caucus, candidates, and Board” and rebuilding a diverse, representative Caucus.

Apart from the proposal to appoint a Maori board member, the Party is also grappling with the Treaty of Waitangi.

This has been provoked (in part) by the fact that the Party now has only two Maori MPs, only one of whom (Shane Reti) is fluent in Te Reo.

POLITIK understands that Leader Judith Collins has been told by iwi leaders the Party has consulted about its Maori MP shortfall that the Party needs to embrace the principles of the Treaty before Maori would regard any efforts to recruit candidates as anything other than tokenism.

Between 1988 and 2002, the Party’s principles acknowledged the Treaty as the country’s founding document.

That position was agreed upon after an acrimonious debate at the Party’s conference in Rotorua in 1988. It was moved by the late Sir Grahame Latimer and opposed by Winston Peters.

But acknowledgement was removed from the Party’s principles by Stephen Joyce in a review after the disastrous 2002 election loss. That move may have paved the way for Don Brash’s Orewa speech of 2004 when he said, “We should do away with vague and undefined references to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in legislation and government documents.”

The Party followed that up with a decision in 2005 not to stand candidates in Maori seats, which it has continued to this day.

However, after she took over the leadership last year, Judith Collins said she favoured standing candidates in the seats; but the Party President, Peter Goodfellow, told her there was not enough time to implement that last year before the election.

And now members are being asked whether they support the Treaty being added to the Party’s Constitution “in the Vision and Values section?”

National also ran into trouble last year with candidate selections.

These blew up in public in  Auckland Central when party members accused the party president and board members of interfering in the selection. But there were more widespread complaints across a number of electorates because Party President Peter Goodfellow had personally sat on pre-selection panels.

National’s selection process sess potential candidates be pre-selected to a shortlist of five by a panel.

That shortlist then goes before a selection meeting made up of delegates appointed by branches according to how many members they have.

The Board may step in and select the candidate themselves if the electorate has less than 200 mem

bers.

Members are now being asked whether that threshold should be raised to 600 members. If passed, that would bring a large number of electorates into direct selection, thus breaking with National’s long-held tradition of local selection.

The party appears to be not actually voting on the proposals at its regional conferences but using the meetings to explain the proposals and to receive feedback on them. then the aprty is planning a special conferecne which wil lactually allow delegates to vote.

But whether National’s problems last year were structural or were a consequence of its own leadership changes, lacklustre candidates, and the extraordinary situation caused by Covid is a question members may well ask.

Is it necessary to radically restructure the Party when the real problems may have been human failings? After all, the same constitution they now want to revamp brought them the three election victories of the key Government.