8 Dec 2016

More by-elections than you can shake a stick at

9:41 pm on 8 December 2016

Analysis - David Shearer's apparently imminent exit from Parliament means taxpayers look set to spend $3 million on by-elections this term.

Left to right: David Shearer, Winston Peters, Michael Wood

An MP on the way out and two by-election winners, left to right: David Shearer, Winston Peters, Michael Wood Photo: RNZ / Supplied

That would pay the annual salaries of 63 graduate nurses or 54 graduate police officers.

Mr Shearer, the MP for Mt Albert since 2009 and Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, has been put forward to lead the United Nations' mission in South Sudan.

His departure would prompt a by-election in the Auckland safe Labour seat - its second since Mr Shearer replaced Helen Clark in 2009.

It would be the third this parliamentary term, and right on the back of the Mt Roskill by-election, where Labour's Michael Wood claimed the seat vacated by Auckland Mayor Phil Goff by more than 11,000 votes, though the Electoral Commission will release the official result next week.

Last year, NZ First leader Winston Peters stomped to victory in the Northland by-election. That was six months after voters elected Mike Sabin (he resigned for personal reasons).

Each by-election costs the taxpayer about $1m, the Electoral Commission says. By comparison, the flag referendum cost $26m and a general election costs about $30m.

A million dollars seems a lot to put someone in Parliament for less than a year, though others, like Christchurch East MP Poto Williams and Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross, have held their seats in the following general elections.

Had John Key resigned from Helensville, it could have matched the 39th Parliament's (1979-1981) by-election record - excluding those sparked by death - of four. By-elections were a little cheaper then. The Electoral Commission put the cost at $750,000 to $900,000 each.

Some media commentators have floated the idea of an early, or snap, election.

Political commentator Claire Robinson earlier said neither major party would want it. National would want to embed Bill English as leader, while Labour's Andrew Little and Green Party co-leader James Shaw needed more time to prepare, she said.

There was little public appetite either: "Most people think three years ... is short enough between normal elections," she said.

"I'm sure National will be assessing whether there is benefit in going to the polls in early 2017 so they can ride National's current high levels of popularity and to catch Labour and the Greens under-prepared.

"They will also be looking to recent snap elections in Australia, which have not worked out particularly positively for Australian incumbent governments."

"On balance, I would pick they will hold an election late in 2017," Ms Robinson said.

Labour has said the party would be ready for an early election if it happened, and Mr English - who is expected to be confirmed as Mr Key's replacement on Monday - did not say today what timing he would favour.

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