We need more MPs


Alex Braae says it won’t be popular but  we need more MPs.

He’s right on both counts.

When MMP was introduced the South Island was given a maximum of 16 electorates. The island’s population was divided by that to set the number of people in each seat by that amount, plus or minus 5%.

Whether that was too many people is arguable but there is no doubt too many of the provincial and Maori electorates were far too big geographically.

The biggest, Clutha Southland, covered an areas of 37, 378 square kilometres. Contrast that with the smallest, Epsom, which covers just 20 square kilometres.

Clutha Southland  got a little bit smaller when Queenstown was put into it put it. It was renamed Southland and lost a wee bit more in area when electorate boundaries were redrawn after the last census. But it, its neighbour Waitaki, that electorate’s neighbour West Coast Tasman, and Kaikoura to the east are still far bigger than is fair to the MP trying to service it and their constituents. So are the bigger North Island and Maori electorates.

It’s now not only the area that is covered by these electorates that is the problem. The population has grown by more than a million people since MMP meaning every electorate MP has to service considerably more constituents.

Then there’s the problem of less proportionality.

The increase in the number of electorates as the North Island grew faster than the South has led to fewer list seats.

Unless there is a change, census by census, the number of electorates will increase and the number of list seats decrease, until there are no list MPs at all.

The answer to that is not fewer electorates.

Some already cover too big an area and all have a lot more people than when the formula was devised before the 1996 election.

The only alternative is more MPs – both electorate and list.

Braae is right that won’t be popular with the people, possibly a majority,  who think we already have too many politicians.

It would almost certainly fail if put to a referendum.

The government has the votes to pass any changes by itself but a constitutional reform like this shouldn’t go through that way,

It would be much better to be agreed by a super majority in parliament and if the issue was handled carefully in a non-partisan way it could be.

Need more electorates


More than 300 objections have been lodged to the proposed electoral boundary and name changes:

The Representation Commission has received 332 objections to the proposed electorate boundaries and names for the next two general elections.

450 people contributed to the objections through individual and form submissions and one petition. The submissions can be viewed online at www.vote.nz.

“The proposed electorates that we’ve received the most objections about are around Auckland and in Otago and Southland,” says Representation Commission chair, Judge Craig Thompson.

“Some of the objections are about keeping communities together,” says Judge Thompson. “Other objections are about the names of some electorates and we’ve received suggestions for names that people feel better reflect those areas.” . .

There’s always been difficulty keeping communities of interest in the same electorate and that worsened with MMP which made electorates bigger.

I’m in Waitaki, the third largest general electorate. It covers parts of Central Otago, MacKenzie, Queenstown Lakes, Timaru and Waitaki District councils.

It includes towns as disparate as Oamaru and Wanaka, Ranfurly and Tekapo, and Maheno and Makarora.

Neighboring Clutha Southland is bigger still and even city-based electorates like Dunedin North and Dunedin South stretch into the hinterland to cover diverse communities with little if anything in common.

The starting points for boundary changes is the set number of seats for the South Island – 16. That puts around 65,000 people in each electorate plus or minus the 5% tolerance.

Adding at least one more seat to the South Island would lower the number of people in each electorate and its area and make it a bit easier to maintain communities of interest.

This wouldn’t be popular, but the population in each electorate is more than double what it was 50 years ago.

We didn’t have List MPs back then, but while some do base themselves in electorates and do a lot of constituency work, not all do and not all electorates get this extra representation.

No-one is suggesting we double the number of electorates but the larger population, large area too many electorates cover and difficulty in keeping communities of interest together is a reason to have a few more than we have now.

When MMP was introduced we had 65 electorates (60 general and five Maori) and 55 list MPs.

The increased population has resulted in five more general seats and two extra Maori ones with a corresponding reduction of seven List places.

Increasing the number of List MPs would be even less popular than adding a few more electorate ones but failure to address the issue of more and more people per MP is making it harder to have cohesive electorates and harder for MPs to represent them effectively.


Too few seats in South Island


The Boundaries Commission has announced proposed changes to electorate boundaries:

Where possible the current boundaries have been retained to minimise the number of people affected by electorate boundary and name changes. Of the 71 existing electorates, 36 are unchanged. The adjustments in other electorates reflect changes in population since 2014 when the boundaries were last reviewed,” says Representation Commission chair Judge Craig Thompson.

The biggest areas of change are in the Auckland region, Christchurch, and Otago and Southland. . .

North Island general electorates

  • Rodney is redrawn to include Dairy Flat and Coatesville, and renamed Whangaparāoa
  • Helensville is extended into Northland, Rodney (now Whangaparāoa) and Upper Harbour, and loses the Waitakere Ranges to New Lynn
  • The addition of population to New Lynn from the north means changes are also required to Mt Roskill, Maungakiekie, Manukau East, and Manurewa
  • Flat Bush is created by drawing population from the existing electorates of Hunua, Manurewa and Papakuraand includes Wattle Downs and Takanini
  • Population from Waikato is added to Hunua which is renamed Port Waikato. Adjustments are also made to the boundaries of Waikato with Coromandel, Hamilton West and Taupō
  • Adjustments are also made to the boundaries of Whangarei and Bay of Plenty

South Island general electorates

  • Brightwater is moved from Nelson to West Coast-Tasman
  • Selwyn is redrawn and no longer includes Banks Peninsula. Adjustments are also made to Ilam, Wigram, Port Hills (renamed Banks Peninsula), Christchurch East and Rangitata
  • Clutha-Southland gains the Alexandra and Clyde area from Waitaki
  • Otago Peninsula is moved from Dunedin South to Dunedin North, and South Otago is added to Dunedin South from Clutha-Southland
  • Winton and The Catlins are added to Invercargill from Clutha-Southland.

Few if any of these changes are unexpected.

In the south, Dunedin South might be regarded as a little more marginal, Invercargill will probably be a bit bluer and Dunedin North will still be red.

Clutha Southland and Waitaki will cover a little less area, still be larger than some countries, and still be blue.

Banks Peninsula will be a bit bluer than the Port Hills one it replaces.

Māori electorates

  • Tāmaki Makaurau gains an area around Te Atatū South from Te Tai Tokerau and an area in East Manurewa from Hauraki Waikato
  • A minor adjustment between Ikaroa-Rāwhiti and Te Tai Tonga is made in Naenae.

Names of electorates

Four electorate name changes are proposed: Rodney to Whangaparāoa, Hunua to Port Waikato, Rimutaka to Remutaka and Port Hills to Banks Peninsula.

The proposals create one new general electorate bringing the total number of electorates to 72: 16 general seats in the South Island, 49 in the North and seven Maori seats.

That will mean one less list seat – 48, down 12 from the 60 when MMP was introduced.

The number of seats in parliament is set at 120 (unless there’s an overhang) and the number of South Island seats is set at 16.

After every census the South’s population is divided by 16 to set the number of people per seat plus or minus 10%. The North’s population is growing faster than the South’s which is why it keeps getting an extra seat. That is likely to continue and it enough more people opt for the Maori roll rather than the general one, another Maori roll would result in the loss of another list seat.

Politik asks if there’s too many South Island seats.

There are not, there are too few.

Clutha Southland and Waitaki, the biggest and third biggest general electorates are getting a little smaller but are still far too big geographically and proposed changes will make West Coast Tasman, the second biggest general electorate, even bigger. They’re all bigger than all but one of the Maori electorates, Te Tai Tonga, which covers the whole of the South Island, Stewart Island and a bit of Wellington.

The difficulties of servicing electorates as large as these mean no matter how good their MPs are, they can’t possibly give their constituents the same attention that those with smaller electorates do.

If MMP’s proportionality is to be maintained, the number of MPs will have to be increased and I’d argue for at least one more South Island electorate to make the bigger ones a little more manageable.

You can find existing a proposed boundaries on a map here.

Winners losers, losers winners?


Karl du Fresne is right – this is all arse-about-face:

. . . In any half-rational political system, it would be the parties which between them won more than 81 percent of the vote, not Peters with his measly share, that determined the course of negotiations. A minor player such as New Zealand First, if it had genuine respect for democracy, would accept that its negotiating strength should be proportionate with its level of popular support. But again, this is Peters we’re talking about. And sadly he’s encouraged in his delusions by both the media, which can’t resist stroking his ego (for example, by calling him the kingmaker), and by the major parties, whose attempts to appease Peters come perilously close to grovelling.

Pardon the expression, but this is all arse-about-face. It’s demeaning to democracy. We’ve heard a lot over the years about the tail-wagging-the-dog scenario under MMP. Well, here it is writ large, and unfolding before our very eyes.

It’s a situation rich in irony. We voted for the introduction of MMP primarily to punish our politicians and bring them to heal. We were fed up with their broken promises. We wanted to make them more accountable.

Only now are New Zealanders realising that we achieved the exact reverse. Voters have no control whatsoever over whatever’s going on right now behind closed doors at Parliament. In effect, we have placed still more power in the hands of the political elites. This is the antithesis of what the promoters of MMP promised (and perhaps naively believed themselves). . . 

The situation is made even worse because whatever decision Peters and his negotiating team make has to be approved by serious consensus from the party board – the members of which have not been made public.

Frustrating as the protracted negotiations  and the secrecy over the board membership are, my fear is that the government that eventuates might be even worse.

It is possible Winston Peters and New Zealand First have learned from previous failures and will be determined to ensure strong and stable government in the best long term interests of  New Zealand.

But it is at least as likely that they haven’t and that both they and any coalition partners will be damaged by whatever permutation of government is foisted on us.

I dearly want Bill English to continue as Prime Minister but not at any price.

The Employers and Manufacturers Association warns that the country will come to a grinding halt if there are drastic changes to immigration; NZ First’s anti-trade and foreign investment rhetoric contradicts its assertion it wants what’s best for the regions and mining the misery of the Pike River families is simply despicable.

Like David Farrar, I think it will be better for the country to have National leading the government, but it might be better for the party to be a formidable opposition – what Emma Espiner calls the opposition from hell – instead.

I have a lot of confidence in the ability of Bill English and his team. Nine years leading the country through financial and natural disasters has proved they are more than capable. But they will need all their skill and experience, and more than a little luck to govern in coalition with, or the support of, Peters and his party.

Even then, there is a risk that whoever wins in the short  term might become the losers and the losers might turn out to be the winners in the medium to longer term.

P.S. Apropos of foreign investment – Eric Crampton gives some context:

 New Zealand is the most restrictive country in the entire OECD. It is the seventh most restrictive country of the 62 countries they surveyed.

Quote of the day


. . . Labour’s problem may be summed up in two words: proportional representation. New Zealand’s MMP electoral system allows minor parties to thrive, thus removing the pressure on opposition supporters to transfer their allegiance to the party best placed to defeat the Government. By denying Labour the 5 to 10 percentage points it needs to become a credible competitor to the National Party, proportional representation and the Greens are encouraging the Right to contemplate permanent political ascendancy. . .  Chris Trotter

SMEs want four-year term


Small and medium enterprises want a four-year parliamentary term:

A longer parliamentary term and fewer members of Parliament are two key changes that New Zealand business owners would like to see, according to the Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR).

The survey showed that 70% of participants wanted the parliamentary term increased to four years and 60% would like to see the number of MPs or seats in Parliament reduced. Fifteen percent wanted the parliamentary term extended to five years.

Greg Thompson, Partner and National Director, Tax at Grant Thornton New Zealand, said that the desire to have a longer parliamentary term recognises the maturity of the New Zealand political system since the introduction of MMP.

“MMP, compared with the old first-past-the-post system, gives a much wider representation in parliament which in turn takes longer for decisions to get through the system.

“Just look at the Government’s assets sales programme where it wasn’t possible to implement the entire programme in one election cycle. This disjointedness then flowed on to the capital markets with a loss of general cohesion in the New Zealand economy.” . . .

The survey also showed that 38% thought that MMP was the best scenario while 32% thought it should be abolished.

“It is becoming very obvious that with MMP and multiple parties there is always the ongoing need to ‘do a deal’ which takes time.

“For the business owner, this deal making slows down political processes which hinders their own decision making. What a business owner wants is clarity and stability upon which they can plan. The present electoral system and term does not deliver those two requirements.

“While there is a general acceptance of MMP, the fact that 60% of the respondents want the number of MPs or seats in Parliament reduced indicates a belief that ‘too many cooks’ are slowing down the parliamentary process. They prefer quality to quantity,” he said.

Lowering the quantity of MPs isn’t a guarantee there’d be an improvement in the quality of them.

As long was we have MMP any reduction in the number of MPs would make too many electorates too big.

In comparison with New Zealand’s three-year term, the United States and the United Kingdom have four and five year election cycles respectively. New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world to retain a three-year cycle.

Elections slow down activity in government departments and create uncertainty which is unsettling for businesses.

A four year term would be less expensive – giving us three elections every 12 years instead of four – and improve productivity within the public service and private enterprises.

When party vote doesn’t count


Under MMP it’s the party vote that counts.

That’s the one which determines how may seats a party gets and ultimately which parties are in government.

That’s the message parties try to give to voters and it’s the one their MPs are supposed to give too.

But Duncan Garner has noticed that at least three Labour MPs are giving a very good indication that they’re a lot more interested in staying in parliament than helping their party get into government.

Three Labour MPs have broken ranks in recent weeks – quite loudly and very publicly.

They are interested in one thing: self-preservation. They want to win their seats and they’ve given up relying on their party. They are clearly concerned Labour will poll poorly on election night, so they’ve decided to run their own campaigns – away from head office and away from the leader.

These MPs have either chosen not to be on the list or they have a low-list spot. They are vulnerable. It’s all or nothing for them.

They must win their seats to return to Parliament; this sort of pressure usually focuses an MP’s mind. They want to be back in Parliament and they want the $150k salary.

I’m talking about West Coast-Tasman MP, Damien O’Connor, Hutt South MP, Trevor Mallard and list MP and Te Tai Tokerau candidate, Kelvin Davis.

Mallard either turned down the list spot he was offered or chose not to go on it.  O’Connor and Davis will need Labour to get more support than it’s had in recent polls to get a list seat.

Take Davis: yesterday he engaged Labour in its biggest u-turn in years. He told me he supported the Puhoi-Wellsford road project that his party has openly mocked and criticised.

Labour MPs call it the holiday highway; David Cunliffe has campaigned against it. Labour, until yesterday, was going to can the project upon taking office. Who knows where they stand now!

Davis told me people in the north tell him they want the controversial project and so does he.

The rest of Labour don’t understand how important this road is to the people of Northland  and how insulting it is to them to refer to it as a holiday highway.

Further south in Wellington, Trevor Mallard is openly campaigning for the return of the moa – against the wishes of his party and the leadership. It’s a desperate cry for attention: Mallard needs visibility and the moa got him the headlines.

That this is the best idea he can come up with to get attention speaks volumes about him and the elvel of desperation to which he’s sunk.

And further south again, Damien O’Connor voted with the Government 10 days ago to allow storm-damaged native trees to be harvested in protected forests.

That supposedly showed his strength but it also showed he’s incapable of getting his party to see sense.

These three blokes are the outliers in the Labour Caucus. And they are blokes too; they need to make some noise to be heard. They clearly have issues with the tame approach within their caucus.

They want to stand out and stand for something that their electorates want (not sure that Hutt South really wants the moa back, though!).

O’Connor and Davis certainly look in touch with middle New Zealand, their electorates and their issues. They have given the one-fingered salute to their struggling party and put self-preservation first.

Who can blame them?

Their colleagues and the volunteers in the party who are still working to stem the slipping in support which threatens to turn into a landslide will blame them.

If they can’t persuade all their MPs it’s the party vote that counts, how can they hope to persuade voters?

NZ politics by Austen


Jane Clifton looks at New Zealand politics through Jane Austen’s novels:

We have Labour and the Greens, who anyone can see are made for each other, doing a comprehensive Pride and Prejudice. Just like Mr Darcy, the Greens make an overture to Labour, while making it plain that Labour is really a bit beneath their station and would need to remedy certain unsatisfactory traits and sign a pre-nup first, and Labour comes the full Elizabeth Bennet and tells them to naff off – while making eyes at the dashing but unbecomingly experienced Mr Wickham, aka Winston Peters.

Now Labour leader David Cunliffe is being hauled over the coals for his pertness by a patron every bit as formidable as Lady Catherine de Bourgh: the Labour left, who installed him in office and who expect him to know his duty.

At least in Austen-land, dear reader, all would be well for the left in the end. But it seems destined to transfer to more of a Henry James trajectory: elaborate emotional turmoil culminating, though always elegantly, in open-ended misery. Either the left/New Zealand First parties will fail to build a winning share of the vote, in part precisely because of these inept courting carryings-on making them look disunited, and National will stay in office; or the left will scrape in burdened with intra-party ill will.

Admittedly it’s always amazing how quickly a chip on the shoulder can expire the minute an MP’s bum hits ministerial leather. But the past week’s untidy guts-spilling on the left makes it plain there is simply not enough leather to soothe all the bruised and jockeying egos involved. . .

 Sadly this disarray and distrust on the left doesn’t make it any more certain that we’ll have a National-led government after the election.


This illustrates why MMP continues to bemuse some voters; how can such contradictory propositions be justifiable at the same time? On the one hand, surely voters should know that if they vote for Party X, that will be as good as voting for Party Y as well because, given the chance, the two will buddy up in the Beehive. Voters might like Party X but deplore Party Y, and should have the information on which to weigh their choice.

On the other hand, such advance team-picking has the effect of railroading some voters into voting tactically rather than strictly honestly – most often so as to minimise the chance of getting the party they badly don’t want in Government, rather than to maximise the chances of the party they most fervently support. NZ First is prey to this, in that most of its supporters will have a marked preference for/aversion to either Labour or National, and if they think Winston will go a particular way, that’s going to cost him votes. He is very wise to say, “If you like me, vote for me.” This agnosticism allows him to auction for the best policy deal.

But then voters become uncomfortable with a minor party holding the balance of power, “wagging the dog”, king-making and so on – unless, of course, the kingmaker is the party they voted for, in which case it’s called “keeping the bastards honest”.

Depending on one’s politics, it might seem reassuring to recall that Mr Wickham was run out of town, and that in the modern version, all Mr Darcy had to do in the end was take his shirt off and jump in a lake.

But there, thankfully dear reader, the Austen-ness of it all comes to a felicitous end.

No party is promising the fairy tale happily ever after. But a government led by National would bring more of the policies which are working and considerably more stability than we’d get from the left.

Maori Seats too big – Flavell


Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell is concerned about the size of Maori electorates:

The Representation Commission has proposed no changes to the boundaries of the seven Maori electorates, because they are within their population quota.

Mr Flavell says it does not address the ”ridiculous” situation that the Tai Tonga MP is expected to represent over half of the land area of Aotearoa, which spans 18 general electorates.

He says the size of the Maori electorates is a major problem it has discussed with the Electoral Commission and MPs, but says there is no political will to change it.

He’s right about  Te Tai Tonga which covers 161, 443 square kilometres – that’s the whole of the South and Stewart Islands and part of Wellington Region.

But the next biggest seats are general ones. Clutha Southland covers 38,247 sq kms and West Coast Tasman covers 38, 042 sq kms.

Then comes the Maori seat of Te Tai Hauauru at 35, 825 sq kms and  the general seat of  Waitaki  which covers 34,888 sq kms.

Ikaroa-Rawhiti, a Maori seat, covers 30,952 sq kms then another general seat Kaikoura is 23, 706 sq kms.

The next two Maori seats are Waiariki at 19,212 sq kms and Te Tai Tokerau at 16, 370 sq kms. Then comes three general seats – East Coast (13,649); Taranaki-King Country (12, 869) and Northland (12, 255) and the smallest Maori electorate Hauraki-Waikato (12,580).

Mr Flavell says electoral law guarantees there will be at least 16 general electorates in the South Island so each one won’t be too big, and that approach should apply to Maori electorates.

The law actually says there will be 16 South Island seats and two of  those – Clutha Southland and West-Coast Tasman are bigger than all but Te Tai Tonga, Waitaki is bigger than all but that and Te Tai Hauauru ; Kaikoura is bigger than Waiariki and Te Tai Tokerau and the three biggest North island seats East Coast, Taranaki-King Country and Northland are all bigger than Hauraki-Waikato.
Electorate sizes are determined by dividing the South Island population by 16 with a tolerance of 5% over or under that figure.I agree that most Maori seats are too big but so are some of the general ones. MMP gives better representation to parties but bigger electorates provides poorer representation for people.The simplest way to reduce the area electorates cover is to increase the number of seats but that would require more MPs or reduce the number of list seats and so reduce proportionality which is one of MMP’s strengths.Another way to reduce the area MPs have to service is to get rid of Maori electorates and keep the total number of seats we have now. That would add a seat in the South Island and make all electorates a bit smaller but I don’t think that will get any support from Flavell.

Labour’s lost love


The cover story of this week’s Listener is headlined regaining the love Labour’s lost.

Among the love it’s lost is that of its members:

. . .Membership is up 20% on a year ago, according to party general secretary Tim Barnett. Many of those new members are young people in new youth branches outside the universities.

A 20% increase in members sounds impressive – but it was from a very low base.

The total party membership is a closely held secret but is somewhere between 5000 and 10,000. . .

Anything I’ve seen and heard suggests the lower figure is more accurate but even if the higher one is right that is still a pitiful number of members for an organisation purporting to be a major party, especially when some aren’t real people but union affiliates.

Even at its nadir National membership was still more than twice the higher figure, all of them real individuals, and a resurgence in membership was reflected in voter support.

Members matter for the party and democracy.

They work for and finance the party’s operation and campaigns, they’re involved in policy formation and they help keep MPs focussed on how their policies affect people.

That a future government could be led by a party which can’t measure its core support in 10s of thousands and would be propped up by several wee parties that would be unlikely to muster more than a very few thousand members between them is very, very frightening.

It’s bad enough under any system, but worse under MMP which gives a lot more power to parties.

No consensus, no change


One of the arguments used to urge people to vote for a change in the electoral system was that it was the only way we’d get a second vote.

They’ve been proved right.

Justice Minister Judith Collins says since there’s no consensus there will be no change.

In November last year, the Electoral Commission released its review of the Mixed Member Proportional system, estimated to have cost $1.6 million.

It recommended dropping the party vote threshold from 5% to 4% and scrapping the “coat-tails rule”, which would stop a party that won an electorate seat bringing in extra list MPs unless it reached the party vote threshold.

However Ms Collins says the changes would have been significant, and can not be done without widespread support.

On the coat-tails rule, Ms Collins told Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report that five parties want to keep the status quo and three want it abolished, so there are major differences of opinion.

“Law changes in this country require 61 votes to get through Parliament. I don’t have 61 votes to bring forward the law changes suggested by the Electoral Commission. It’s as simple as that.”

It’s not just that law changes require 61 votes, it’s that major constitutional changes should either have the support of at least 75% of parliament or be put to the people in a referendum.

Had a majority of people voted for change in  2011 there would have been a review of MMP and we’d have got to vote between the modified version of the current system and the most preferred alternative next year.

A majority voted for the status quo, there’s been a review but there’s no consensus and so there will be no change before next year’s election.

It would have been better for the review to have been carried out before the referendum then we’d have all known exactly what we were voting for.

As it was some people who supported MMP might have supported it as it is and others as they’d hoped it would be after the review.

LabourGreen might decided to campaign on the issue and promise to implement the recommendations of the Electoral Commission.

But even if they win the election they won’t be able to claim a mandate for change.

They’ve put so much energy into saying National campaigning on the partial sale of a few state assets and winning the election didn’t give them a mandate, they won’t be able to claim campaigning on the electoral system and winning would give them a mandate.

Was it MMP’s fault?


MMP has been given some of the blame for the inability to kick Aaron Gilmore out of parliament.

Is that fair?


Both list and electorate MPs can be sacked from their caucus and party but if they don’t resign they stay in parliament until the next election when voters give their verdict.

However, while a voters can ensure an MP doesn’t win an electorate they have no influence on where a candidate is on their party’s list. That means they can vote for someone else in the electorate but still find the person they rejected has got into parliament.

This is an aspect of the system on which many people submitted to the review of MMP, arguing that if an MP loses a seat, or contests it and fails to win it, s/he should not be able to enter parliament on the list.

I disagree with that.

Standing in an electorate ensures candidates face the voters and get to know the people whose support they are soliciting and learn about their concerns.

If they take it seriously, and given it’s the party vote which really counts they’d be stupid not to, they gain an understanding of the individuals, groups and communities on whom their policies will impact.

The goods ones don’t just stand in an electorate they stay in touch with it, working with and for the people in it. And failing once or twice doesn’t prevent later success.

Eric Roy* and Nicky Wagner, for example, failed to win electorates but got in on the list, worked hard, earned the support of the people and won Invercargill and Christchurch Central respectively.

Others like Chris Finlayson and Michael Woodhouse have stood in dark red seats they have little hope of winning, but even those who don’t share their political views would be hard pressed to criticise their performance as MPs and Ministers.

I have no doubt that standing in electorates has helped them in their work.

That not all list MPs who stand in seats perform well in parliament is not a reason to change the rules to prevent dual candidacy.

MMP is not my preferred electoral system but the advantages of dual candidacies outweigh the disadvantages.

One valid criticism of the system is that list MPs aren’t directly answerable to constituents. Dual candidacy at least means they have to front up to voters.

Good MPs will ensure they don’t squander the goodwill they earn by doing so by continuing to work in electorates whether or not they have any chance of winning them.

But to return to the original question of whether it’s MMP’s fault that Gilmore could have stayed in parliament had he not chosen to resign.

It’s not. But it is the system which enabled him to be there in the first place and that system has given less power to people in electorates and more to parties.

If parties get an electorate selection wrong, voters can ensure the candidate doesn’t get into parliament. They can’t do that with an individual list MP.

* Eric first entered parliament in 1993 by winning the seat of Ararua which disappeared when MMP was introduced. He stood unsuccessfully for Invercargill twice but stayed in parliament as a list MP. He missed out on the electorate and list in 2002 but won the seat in 2005.

So much for consensus


Justice Minister Judith Collins has made it clear she wants to get consensus on any change to MMP as a result of recommendations from the electoral Commission.

The shameful ramming through of the Electoral Finance Act and its short life are a reminder of why any changes to electoral law should have more than a simple majority.

Labour obviously doesn’t care about that.

David Shearer said the party is going to introduce a Member’s Bill on MMP:

“Labour’s bill will deal with the most important recommendations made by the Commission. It will abolish the one electorate seat threshold for the allocation of list seats and lower the party vote threshold from 5% to 4%. It will also require the Electoral Commission to conduct a review after three general elections.

“This should not be a party-political issue. I will be writing to the Prime Minister offering to work with the Government to see these changes put in place.

It’s more than a little rich to talk about it not being a party-political issue when he’s writing off the government’s attempt to find common ground before it’s been given a chance.

So much for consensus.

No consensus, no change


Justice Minister Judith Collins is consulting all parties about the Electoral Commission’s final report on MMP and she wants to get as much of a consensus as possible.

I think it’s important that we have electoral reform of this sort of magnitude that has  . .. not just a straight majority in parliament but a very substantial majority in parliament. . . .

I well remember what happened when the Electoral Finance Act was rammed through . . . and I know that that caused a lot of angst in parliament and in the public. . .

She is right about both the importance of consensus and the angst caused by the EFA. The then Labour-led government didn’t have much support in or out of parliament but rammed it through anyway.

Electoral law is too important to be treated that way. It should be enduring and it is more likely to be so if it has broad support in parliament.

Wellington constitutional lawyer and former Vote for Change campaigner, Jordan Williams  says the government should reject the recommendations and stick with the status quo.

Unless the government can get strong support for changes that is good advice.

If there is no broad consensus there should be no change.

MMP report tabled


Justice Minister Judith Collins has tabled the Electoral Commission’s final report on MMP in parliament.

It recommends several changes including:

  • lowering the party threshold to 4 per cent – but that this be statutorily reviewed by the Commission after three General Elections
  • abolishing the one electorate seat threshold
  • abolishing the provision for overhang seats, and
  • that Parliament consider fixing the percentage ratio of electorate to list seats at 60:40.

I don’t favour MMP because it gives too much power to parties at the expense of poorer representation for people because electorates are too big.

These recommendations make no significant changes to that.

MMP submission close today


Submissions on the Electoral Commission’s recommendations for the review of MMP close at 5pm today.

I voted against MMP each time there’s been a referendum.

The majority view differs from mine.

Last year a small majority voted for MMP again – but who knows exactly what they were voting for?

Was it the status quo or a review, the outcome of which they could influence but not control?

The process was flawed but we can’t change that. We do however, have one last chance to give our views.

The submission form is here.

I’ve just completed my submission – opting for the status quo.

I don’t like MMP but I like the proposed recommendations even less.

I am also disappointed the commission didn’t address one of  MMP’s biggest flaws – poorer representation for individuals because of the size of electorates.

Increasing the population tolerance from 5% to 10%  when boundaries are set would enable the bigger seats to be geographically smaller and give greater scope for the Boundaries’ Commission to take account of community of interest.

Definition of madness


Jane Clifton:

This could be a new definition of madness: doing something you don’t particularly want to do that you’re not particularly convinced will work and that will make a whole lot of things you do want to do a lot more difficult, just to please people you never particularly wanted to please in the first place, and who have recently so thoroughly displeased you that if you could exile them to the Ross Dependency with a colony of bad tempered sea lions for company, you would, like a shot.

It’s also the reality of government under MMP.

Is this what no-change voters wanted?


The Electoral Commission is recommending small changes to MMP :

The one electorate seat threshold for the allocation of list seats should be abolished.

• The party vote threshold for the allocation of list seats should be lowered to 4%.

• Candidates should continue to be able to stand both in an electorate and on a party list at general elections.

• List MPs should continue to be able to contest by-elections.

• Political parties should continue to have responsibility for the composition and ranking of candidates on their party lists.

• The provision for overhang seats should be abolished for parties that do not cross the party vote threshold.

• On the basis of current information it would be prudent to identify 76 electorate seats (in a 120 seat Parliament) as the point at which the risk to proportionality from insufficient list seats becomes unacceptable. New Zealand is unlikely to reach that point before 2026.

• The gradual erosion of list seats relative to electorate seats risks undermining the diversity of representation in Parliament. Parliament should review this matter.

The lower threshold would make it easier for smaller parties to enter parliament without winning an electorate.

Proponents of this will argue that it makes parliament more representative. However, I question how representative a group which requires only 500 members before it can register as a party really is.

Lowering the threshold also increases the tail-wagging-dog ability and increase the possibility of less stable governments.

Taking away the ability for parties which win a seat to bring in other MPs in proportion to their vote decreases proportionality. However, as this is one aspect of MMP which most people object to, it is likely to be one of the most popular recommendations.

Removing the provision for overhang seats caps the size of parliament at 120, reducing the number of list MPs if a party wins more electorates than it’s entitled to by its party vote.

These are small changes which won’t bring big improvements to MMP.

Justice Minister Judith Collins is encouraging people to comment on the proposed changes.

Submissions on the Proposals Paper close at 5pm on 7 September.

The Electoral Commission will then consider this feedback and report back to the Government by 31 October 2012 with final recommendations on whether any changes to MMP are necessary or desirable.

I wonder if the public would have voted against change had they known this was what they were likely to get?

MMP review – what will change?


The Electoral Commission’s report on the review into MMP is due to be released today. Anyone with hopes for radical change will be disappointed. There isn’t scope for much to change without turning it into another system altogether.

The most likely recommendation is lowering the threshold to 4%.

If that’s done  I’d like it to be balanced by lifting the threshold for registering as a party to well above the  200  500 members currently required. I can hope, but I’m not holding my breath.

Media blamed for low voter turnout


Political scientist Professor Jack Vowles has laid the blame for the low voter turnout at last year’s election at the media’s door:

“One problem is [the] mass perception that elections are not close and that the outcome is totally determined.

“I think that it’s a problem under MMP that people continue to estimate the closeness of an election by the poll difference between the two leading parties, whereas that is not necessary a clear predictor of what is going to happen.

“It may well be that a coalition of parties may be able to form a government even though the gap between the two major parties is not a close one at all.”

Most reporting of polls focuses on the popularity of the National and Labour leaders and highlights the gap between these two parties. It rarely focuses on the right and left groupings and possible coalition permutations. *

Professor Vowles said the format of televised leader’s debates had made the problem worse.

“The precedent of reintroducing television debates between the two major party leaders alone, without the participation of minor party leaders, is one of the things that tends to keep people thinking in terms of this difference of the two major parties.

“I think this is something that I would recommend does not happen in future because I think people will get a much better idea of the uncertainty of the election if the multi-party nature of it is more clearly put in front of them in a very high-profile television event.”

A debate with all the parties is a recipe for a lot more heat than light.

It’s difficult enough to get much worthwhile when it’s just two leaders and the chair, adding the leaders of the wee parties would allow even less time for proper discussion.

Professor Vowles said the similarity between the policies of the major parties had also alienated voters.

“Parties actually developing more coherent and distinctive policies is one way of generating interest in politics, but of course there is also an incentive by political parties to coverage on the median voter and so it is difficult always to do that.”

MMP forces the two main parties to court the centre voters which has a moderating impact on policies.

That said there are still stark differences between National and Labour and both parties offered voters distinct choices last year.

Professor Vowles’ comments were made to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee’s Inquiry into the 2011 General Election. His submission is here.

* The NBR is an exception to this – its report on Sunday’s TV1 poll is headlined: First post-budget poll has Labour-Green block neck-and-neck with National.

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