2/4 for Act’s plan

Act wants fewer MPs a smaller executive and no Maori seats:

ACT is drawing a line in the sand on the size of government with a new bill aimed at rolling back the state.

Party Leader David Seymour today revealed his Smaller Government Bill which will reduce the size of Parliament to 100 MPs, limit the size of the Executive to 20 Ministers, and remove the Maori seats.

“The growth in government over the past two decades has not delivered better outcomes for New Zealand. We need smaller, smarter government”, says Mr Seymour.

“New Zealand has too many politicians for its size. Our Government costs more and delivers less than it did 20 years ago.

“The Smaller Government Bill will cut the size of Parliament 100 MPs, bringing us into line with other developed countries.

The number of electorates is determined after each census.

The General electoral population is the ordinarily resident population shown in the last census less the Māori electoral population.

All electorates must have about the same population size.   The number of South Island General electorates is fixed at 16 by the Electoral Act 1993.  To calculate the number of electorates the Government Statistician:­

  • divides the South Island General electoral population by 16 (this result provides the average electoral population for South Island electorates and is referred to as the South Island quota)
  • divides the Māori electoral population by the South Island quota to work out the number of Māori electorates, and
  • divides the North Island General electoral population by the South Island quota to work out the number of General electorates for the North Island.  . .

If the number of MPs was reduced the size of electorates would have to increase and rural electorates are already far too big.

Clutha Southland covers an area of 37,378 square kilometres, West Coast Tasman is a little smaller and Waitaki covers an area of around 34,000 kilometres.  It doesn’t matter how hard, smart and effectively  MPs representing these electorates work, it is impossible for them to give the same level of service to constituents spread over these huge area as the MP for Epsom, the smallest electorate, which covers an area just under 20 square kilometres.

“It will also restrict the number of high-paid Ministers to 20. Our Executive is far too big – currently standing at 31 people.

“Almost half of the Government MPs hold a position in the Executive. We have too many pointless ministerial portfolios. They are not improving the lives of New Zealanders and this bill will do away with them.

Quality rather than quantity should be the rule for the executive.

Fewer, more able ministers would serve the country better, and at a lower cost, than the over-populated and under-talented one we have now.

“The bill will also remove the Maori seats. New Zealand is a modern, diverse democracy. There is simply no longer a place for one group of people to be treated differently under the law.

“We now have 27 Maori MPs, 20 of whom were elected through the general roll. Even without the seven Maori seats, Maori would still be proportionately represented in Parliament.

The problem of size in rural general electorates is even worse in Maori seats.

Te Tai Tonga, the largest, covers an area of 153,671 square kilometres and is nearly four times as big as Clutha Southland. It covers the whole of the South Island, Stewart Island, the Chatham Islands, and extends into the lower North Island as far as the Hutt Valley.

It isn’t humanly possible to service an area that big effectively which means constituents are getting inferior representation.

In 2008 then-Maori Party leader Tariana Turia said:*

I think what our people are starting to realise though is that when they voted Maori people into Labour they never got a Maori voice, they got a Labour voice and that was the difference, and they’ve only begun to realise it since the Maori Party came into parliament, because it is the first time that they have heard significant Maori issues raised on a daily basis.

The seats by themselves didn’t give Maori a voice. They have also often given them inferior representation, sometimes because of the MPs and always because of their size.

The Royal Commission on MMP said there would be no need for Maori seats under this system, but that was ignored.

Its prediction that MMP would bring more Maori into parliament anyway has been proved right.

Getting rid of Maori seats is National Party policy. It was set aside in negotiations with the Maori Party after the 2008, 2011 and 2014 elections. It is New Zealand First policy and is now Act policy. That could mean a majority of parliament supports this part of Seymour’s Bill should it be drawn from the ballot.

Maori choose whether they are on the general or Maori roll every six years.

If the greater number of people switching from the Maori roll to the general one in the first month continues it will result in one fewer Maori electorate.  If that trend continued the seats would eventually disappear by attrition any way.

“Our plan would also require all parliamentary candidates to stand in an electorate, and all elected list MPs would be required to open an office in the electorate in which they stood.

“List MPs serve an important function in our democracy, but they should be required to serve New Zealanders and solve real problems, not just collect a salary and spend their time in a Wellington office. . . 

The requirement to serve New Zealanders and solve real problems should apply to all MPs but I wouldn’t go as far as requiring all of them to stand in an electorate.

Some MPs might be more effective if they serviced a nationwide constituency, for example an ethnic community, than a single electorate.

I give Act’s plan a rating of 2/4.

Seymour’s plan to reduce the size of the executive and get rid of Maori seats has merit.

But reducing the number of MPs is simply populism that would make already over-sized electorates even bigger and requiring all MPs to stand in electorates is a blunt instrument that wouldn’t necessarily improve performance.

* Dame Turiana’s quote was made on Agenda. The only record I can find is on a blog post I wrote here  where the link to the quote no longer works.

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