Hang On A Minute, Mate

Published: Tue 19 Oct 2021 11:27 AM
Peter Dunne quietly omits some salient facts when arguing for retention of MMP’s coat-tailing provision that allows a party to add list seats if it wins one electorate and achieves more than 1% or so of the party vote. First, the 1986 Royal Commission under Justice Wallace based their version of MMP on the German system where a party needs at least 5% of the party vote or three electorate seats to achieve Bundestag representation. For New Zealand, with its smaller population, the Commission thought 4% and just one electorate seat appropriate.
They recommended no separate Māori seats, no separate Māori roll but no threshold for Māori parties which they thought would achieve the best Parliamentary representation for Māori. Māori thought this might be like turkeys voting for Christmas. But there is still only one Māori party in Parliament with just two seats. Most other Māori MPs remain enclosed within the two traditional major parties. No-one bothers to examine whether, in fact, Māori representation and coalition influence might have been better served by the Royal Commission model.
The one major recommendation that Justice Wallace, and some of his colleagues, regretted in later years was the coat-tailing rule. This followed its consistent and cynical manipulation in the Epsom electorate by National and ACT. National never wanted MMP and created the so-called Campaign for Better Government to oppose it in 1993, and run by National Party luminaries.
The primary anti-MMP advocate, Peter Shirtcliffe, persuaded John Key to have another referendum in 2011 in the hope that MMP would be ditched. Some of us prevailed on then Justice Minister, Simon Power, to add a provision that if the vote was to keep MMP, then a full review of the system would be carried out by the Electoral Commission to try and correct anomalies, such as the gerrymander of the coat-tailing rule.
The thorough nation-wide review in 2012 came back with some modest recommendations which included lowering the threshold to 4% and abolishing the coat-tailing rule. There was strong support for both. By then Judith Collins was Justice Minister and when she was asked in the House whether or not the government would implement the Electoral Commission’s recommendations, she simply stood up and said, ‘No.’ National’s cynicism runs deep.
But Labour is not off the hook. They said they would make the changes if elected in 2014 and were still running with it for 2017 before the big fudge set in, now kicking the can down the road even further to, maybe, 2026. Labour does not particularly want the threshold lowered and can live with the opportunity to gerrymander the one-electorate rule.
Its enthusiasm for electoral reform may be measured by its dismissal, under the cover of the last Christmas-New Year holiday period, of the bill to repeal the anti-democratic, waka-jumping law demanded by Winston Peters as a bottom line in coalition negotiations back in 2017. Despite heavyweight legal and expert constitutional support, Labour declared it saw no good reason to change this infamous law. Probably because the bill was sponsored by National’s Nick Smith. There is no mention of looking at this law in Justice Minister Kris Faafoi’s 5 October announcement of an electoral law review.
The title of the report by the 1986 Royal Commission, set up by the best justice minister in recent history, Geoffrey Palmer, was Towards a Better Democracy. Under the direction of our current Justice Minister, this is clearly a low priority for Labour.
**Dr Philip Temple ONZM was a lead campaigner for MMP in 1992-1993 and author of the best-selling 1992 book, Making Your Vote Count. He was given a Wallace Award by the Electoral Commission for his ‘contribution to public understanding of electoral matters.’

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