A Lazy Thought

August 1, 2008

Once a year isn’t often enough to celebrate poetry so I’m making every Friday Poetry Day:

A Lazy Thought

 

There go the grown ups

To the office,

To the store.

Subway rush,

Traffic crush;

Hurry scurry.

Worry, flurry.

 

No wonder

Grown-ups

Don’t grow up

Anymore.

 

It takes a lot

Of slow

To grow.

 

– Eve Merriam –


Dairy farm inflation

August 1, 2008

We built a 40 a side herringbone dairy shed two years ago. It cost $400,000.

If we were to build that shed today it would cost more than $600,000.


Peters’ fiasco shows MMP flaws

August 1, 2008

Public law specialist Andy Nicholls says the Peters’ debacle shows a review of MMP is needed.

Winston Peters’ value to both Labour and National has become abundantly clear. Both parties are pulling their punches over the donations allegations for fear of alienating him as an ally or future ally.

MMP creates hostage situations. Remember Alamein Kopu and her pull over Jenny Shipley?

In this most recent row Sir Robert Jones has unexpectedly been firing most of the bullets at Peters. He probably summed up the view of many when he said, “I belong to a different era. I don’t like it now under MMP.”

John Key has said National will, if elected, hold a referendum into MMP. Key’s referendum will first ask voters: are you satisfied with MMP? If the majority says no, then a second referendum will be held pitting MMP against some other unspecified alternative.

But is this what we need? MMP was itself born out of a referendum, and voter frustration at the unbridled power of first-past-the-post governments. First Sir Robert Muldoon, then Sir Roger Douglas proved if you could control the Cabinet you could control the country.

But one wage freeze and an unadvertised rapid economic transformation later, voters realised they wanted their leaders on a tighter leash. They wanted them to have to work harder, and more consensually, to get their own way. Which is what MMP delivers with its minority or coalition governments, its requirements to consult and its generally slower pace of change.

Referendums are very blunt instruments and support for MMP in the 1993 one came at least in part from people voting against politicians rather than for a change in the voting system.

Plus, of course, for anyone younger than 32, two-tick voting is voting. So why would we ditch it? Because MMP has flaws which undermine the legitimacy of our parliamentary system.

Nicolls gives examples such as the ability for MPs like Gordon Copeland to abandon their parties, switch allegience and still be an MP; or those like Rick Barker who lose a seat but still get back into parliament – and even cabinet – on a party list. Although this also allows MPs to enter parliament when standing in an unwinnable seat, as Katherine Rich has in Dunedin North.

If that is justified by the sanctity of the party list, then what about Mike Ward and Catherine Delahunty? Both Greens and both higher placed on the list than Russel Norman, yet both pushed inelegantly aside when Nandor Tanczos’s early retirement offered the co-leader the chance to get to Parliament in time for some pre-campaign publicity.

All these inconsistencies create unfairness, though not so much as the threshold rule itself.

Under MMP a party must win 5 per cent of the party vote or an electorate seat. A win in an electorate, where the party scores lower than 5 per cent, still gets a proportionate top-up. So Rodney Hide’s win in Epsom gave Act two MPs even though the party won only 1.5 per cent of the party vote.

By comparison, in 1996, the Christian Coalition won 4.33 per cent of the party vote, a hair’s breadth from the magic threshold. But it failed to win in any electorate – so bad luck, no MPs.

There are two issues. Firstly, is the 5 per cent threshold too high? The commission that recommended MMP preferred 4 per cent, but the two major parties argued for a higher threshold. Those fears have proved unfounded. In fact, as much as MMP has delivered a more diverse Parliament, only one new party (Act) has broken in since the switch to MMP. The others have all been created around a sitting member.

But is the electorate threshold too low? In Germany, a party must win three electorates before qualifying for list seats. Adopting a three-electorates or 5 per cent criterion at the 2005 election would have seen five parties able to get in list MPs.

United Future and Act would have been restricted to Peter Dunne and Rodney Hide. As Jim Anderton couldn’t bring in a list MP under current arrangements, the Progressives would have been unaffected. Since none of those three parties attracted more than 2.6 per cent of the party vote, is that an unfair result?

And then there is the Maori vote. Last election, the Maori Party won 2.12 per cent of the party vote and four electorates, hence it has four MPs. This coming election it may win more electorates even though polling indicates its party vote will be no higher.

Since the number of Maori seats grows in accordance with the number on the Maori roll, it is entirely possible that over time this disparity between the number of MPs elected and the party’s proportion of the party vote will grow. That will mean a larger and larger over-hang and the leading party will need to garner not 61 votes to govern, but 63, 64, 65. Is this what we want?

These are all valid issues in need of debate. But they do not fit the yes-no format of a referendum. Nor do they provide evidence that MMP itself is beyond repair.

What they point to is the need for a considered review of the electoral system. Learning the lessons of the Electoral Finance Act, this should be conducted in a non-partisan way with a clearly stated purpose of seeking greater fairness.

In the spirit of fairness, perhaps such a review should also look at the Prime Minister’s prerogative to set the election date. Or the length of the political term; four years might be more productive.

The problem is that these changes require MPs to vote against their own interest. History tells us MPs don’t do that. Which is why a simplistic question in a referendum is so appealing. It looks as if something substantive is being done, even if it isn’t.

But concerns about MMP’s peculiarities are genuine and a more considered review would be more constructive.

I agree a considered review if not instead of, at least before, a referendum would serve us better than the blunt instrument of for or against vote in isolation.


Kurow to celebrate birth of social security

August 1, 2008

Kurow is preparing to celebrate the birth of social security which began in the town in the 1930s.

The 1938 Social Security Act developed from the medical benefits scheme for depression workers on the Waitaki hydro dam project at Kurow a few years earlier.

The act was developed by the local minister, Reverend Arnold Nordmeyer, headmaster Andrew Davidson and Dr David McMillan assited by a committee of locals. The success of the scheme convinced Nordmeyer and McMillan to stand with the new Labour leader, Michael Joseph Savage and became part of New Zealand’s first Labour Government.

Celebrations On Augsut 12 will include the launch of Nordy – Arnold Nordmeyer – A political Biography, by Mary Logan; and the official opening of the first stage of the National Museum of Social Security; the 1938 themed visitor information centre at the town’s museum; the Social Security Heritage Trail and the visitor information booklet Birth of Social Security – How It All Began.


EFA rules ok – yeah right

August 1, 2008

A Tui billboard  in Tauranga may breach the Electoral Finance Act.

It says: When Winston says no he means no. Yeah right.

The billboard is in the Tauranga electorate Winston Peters is desperate to win, and the Electoral Commission told the Herald it would write to brewers Tui saying it could be “election advertising” against him.

If that’s breaching the Act ,what about the giant wrap around bill board I noticed on a building on the corner of Albert and (I think) Customs Streets? It had a counter showing how much NZ profit goes from overseas banks each day.

It was bright green with an anti foreign-ownership message so I thought it was a political hoarding until I looked again and saw it was for Kiwi Bank.

My first impression  was that it was a political message rather than a commercial one so given NZ First and Greens are strongly against foreign ownership of NZ assets might this ad persaude people to vote for one of them or against other parties with more sensible views on investment?

Then there’s the ad which shows a couple of blokes driving across a paddock in a red ute. There’s a bump, they stop, get out and realise they’ve hit a bull. The driver turns to his passenger and says “Should’ve bought a blue one.”

It’s advertising Ford utes but there is a subliminal political message there too. It could be seen as words or graphics which persuade people to vote for or against a party.

But the EFA isn’t that stupid. Yeah right.


Style and humour

August 1, 2008

The role of Speaker does not present many opportunities for exercising a sense of humour but Margaret WIlson got, and used, one yesterday:

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Because the member decided to descend to that level, I will tell the House what is not being honest and transparent-anywhere in the world, in fact. At a recent parliamentary function, an MP pretended that a woman friend was his new girlfriend, introduced her to the press gallery as such, and also introduced that same person in a Koru lounge as such, when he knew, demonstrably and palpably, that that information was not correct.
Hon Members: Who’s your girlfriend, Rodney!
Rodney Hide: Madam Speaker-[Interruption] Point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: Point of order, Rodney Hide.
Rodney Hide: It was not you, Madam Speaker!
Madam SPEAKER: That comment was uncalled for; everyone knows I have taste and style.

Hat tip: Whale Oil


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