MMP disadvatages rural people

National is considering offering a two stage referendum on MMP. I would prefer a Royal Commission which considers not only our voting system but electoral finance and other constitutional matters as well.


However, if there is a referendum I’ll be voting against MMP, as I did originally and for the same reasons – it gives too much power to parties, and poorer representation for individuals especially those of us in the country.


If you judge MMP by the increase in women MPs and a more varied ethnic mix it has succeeded in making parliament more representative. But that has come at the cost of reduced representation for rural people.


The addition of list MPs increased the size of parliament. Most of those extra MPs are urban and more likely to use the few occasion they visit the provinces for media opportunities to spread the party word than to serve the people. The extra list MPs also resulted in fewer electorates and that reduction in number led to an increase in their size.


Under the new boundaries the Clutha Southland Electorate is 38,247 square kilometres; West-Coast Tasman is 38,042 square km and Waitaki is 34,888. The largest North Island Electorate is Taranaki King Country at 12, 869 square kilometres. The smallest is Epsom at just 23 square kilomeres.


Clutha Southland and Waitaki together cover the same area as 33 electorates from Northland down to Otaki plus part of Rangitikei. No matter how good MPs are or which party they represent, it is physically impossible for them to give the level of service to their constituents over that area as city MPs can. And if it’s bad in general electorates, it’s much worse in Maori ones: Te Tai Tonga is 161,443 square kilometres – covering Stweart Island, all the South Island and part of greater Wellington.


The number of South Island electorates is set at 16 so after every election the South’s population is divided by 16 to get the number of people in each electorate. This time it is 54,296 plus of minus 5% or 2,714. There could be an improvement by allowing a 10% over or under because another two or three thousand people wouldn’t make much difference to the area of a city electorate but it would in a rural one.


When it’s the list vote that counts it wouldn’t affect the proportionality of parliament. But something MMP proponents haven’t considered is that carrying on with the present system unchanged will because the North Island population grows so much faster than the South, each time the boundaries change there are another couple of general seats added in Auckland which is two fewer list seats.


So even if a referendum favours MMP something will have to change before the proportionality gets any more out of kilter.

6 Responses to MMP disadvatages rural people

  1. truthseekernz says:

    Interesting post. The problem for rural people is really the declining proportion of the population they number. In any democratic system based on one person, one vote, smaller groups will have trouble.

    Under MMP, the two major parties do make considerable efforts to ‘shadow’ each others local seats. In the Otaki electorate – mostly rural – Darren Hughes is the local (Labour) MP, but Nathan Guy (list) also has offices in the main street of Levin. The same thing happens to the south in Mana, where the local Labour MP is shadowed by (list) National MP, Chris Finlayson. These places are also represented actively by the Greens (Sue Kedgley) and at least one NZ First MP claims to do the same. That means rural voters in Otaki have direct access to at least 4 MPs, each from a different party, whereas under FPP they would have had access to only one. I lived in Otaki for several years and that area was well represented by all these people and rural voters could approach any of them as “their” MP.

    If we returned to FPP, the same problem would face rural voters in each electorate had the same population – and they must in order to be fair and democratic. Auckland will still have 50% more electorates than the whole South Island.

    If you dump MMP, you lose the choice it has allowed. You may not have ever made use of that wider choice, but many other voters have. I’m not sure it is good politics to back a party that has not staked itself out as the party that wants to take away a vote that actually elects people from voters everywhere – including rural voters. I can understand a voter who always votes National and National always wins where they live being happy to dump MMP. I can’t see anyone else in that area thinking it’s a good idea. They currently have a vote that actually counts. You would tak that away. How do you think they will feel about that and the party that wants to do it to them?


  2. truthseekernz says:

    “has not staked” should be “has now staked”


  3. truthseekernz says:

    Thinking further, if you want to have more rural electorates, you’d need to have more than 120 MPs. No matter how you slice it, Auckland’s 1.4m people will have many more MPs than the whole South Island.


  4. homepaddock says:

    The problem is not that cities and Auckland in particular, have more seats than the provinces. That would happen regardless of the system and if we still had FPP we’d now have more than 100 MPs because of the increase in Auckland’s population. The problem is that some rural seats are now too big with no community of interest between population centres. That makes it difficult for people to have access to their MPs and for MPs to keep up with the issues in the many different communities of interest. It also makes it really difficult to challenge an incumbent, especially with the restrictions of the EFA, because it is so difficult to get yourself known in such large areas.
    Otaki may be partly rural but it only covers 1,726 sq kms and as you point out is shadowed by a list MP with other list MPs available in the neighbouring electorate. This isn’t the norm for large rural electorates which don’t have list MPs and where the electorate MP has to drive 100s of kilometres between centres.
    I can think of only one other list MP in a North Island rural seat – Coromandel. Invercargill, West Coast Tasman, Banks Peninsular and Waimakariri have one list MP each, one of whom is Labour and the other three National- but the other South Island rural seat have electorate MPs only.
    So not only are some rural seats far too big because of MMP, it adds to the north-south and urban-rural imbalance because most list MPs are based in cities and in the North Island.


  5. exexpat1 says:

    Given the advances in technology phone, fax, internet email etc. plus advances in transport technology it isn’t as if the (declining) rural population are isolated from their MPs like in the bad old days when geographical representatives were needed to physically tell the locals what was happening in parliament and vice-versa.

    As you rightly point out those ‘communities of interest’ are becoming more geographically distant. I previously lived in a West Auckland electorate which had a rural element to it. Undoubtedly there electors who had far more in common with you than the ‘community of interest’ (working class urban) that they electorate they were living in. And as other communities such as the Asian community have demonstrated, geography needn’t be a barrier to representation. A Christchurch Asian is just as likely to be served by Pansy Wong as someone from their ‘local’ area.


  6. truthseekernz says:

    homepaddock: The answer to the problem of the physical size of the electorates is to have more MPs. Under any system that will be true. At least under MMP, the major parties DO make the effort to shadow each other’s electorates – of any size. The smaller parties have to be focus more closely on areas of known support as they don’t have the numbers of MPs to be on the streets everywhere. Perhaps the Greens and NZ First could attempt it, but they are spread quite thin. NZ First, if you look a their electorate offices, target the Bay of Plenty and Auckland. The Greens tend to target the liberal cities and the alternative rural areas (Coromandel, Golden Bay, northern Mana and southern Otaki, etc) where people are exploring alternatives to conventional farming practices. Southland, being fairly true blue would be stoney ground for most minor parties, I would think. Even Labour would struggle across much of that area now that the industries are closing down and going to Auckland or to China.


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