Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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Legal Beagle: Coalition of Losers

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  • vangam, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    Parliaments are elected and have a mandate to do whatever they want.

    Wouldn't a 2nd House or an Upper Chamber limit the powers of parliament? We used to have one and it seemed like the expedient thing to do back then. Why the hell did we get rid of it?

    Rangiora • Since Jun 2007 • 103 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to vangam,

    Why the hell did we get rid of it?

    It didn't do anything. It was wholly appointed, and agreed to whatever the House wanted, frequently with little debate.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    A bicameral legislature with proportional representation seems like the best possible check on parliamentary excess. An effective upper house would've put paid to National ramming through changes to education, employment and sentencing legislation under urgency and with near-immediate effect.

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3889 posts Report Reply

  • vangam,

    And the Legislative Council wasn't always the lapdog of Parliament. In the early 1890's the LC refused to pass several Liberal measures and it wasn't until the new Governor General stepped in that the dispute was resolved. The fact that it "didn't do anything" is a problem of form, not of substance.

    Rangiora • Since Jun 2007 • 103 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    An effective upper house would’ve put paid to National ramming through changes to education, employment and sentencing legislation under urgency and with near-immediate effect.

    A proportionally-elected upper house would still have a National/ACT majority. It might have delayed things by a couple of weeks, but you really have to play around with things if you want an upper house to act as a proper check (e.g. staggered elections, or half-Maori as Jim Bolger suggested etc.).

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to vangam,

    And the Legislative Council wasn’t always the lapdog of Parliament.

    No. But it was when it was abolished, which is why it was abolished.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    e.g. staggered elections, or half-Maori as Jim Bolger suggested etc

    Staggered elections is a must for an upper house, if only to avoid being of the same proportions as the lower house. Half the UH every general election, maybe, or even a third. Long terms is a good way to avoid the short-termism that we see at present.

    How would half the UH being Maori work? Small UH and half are elected by the Maori roll?

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3889 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Half the UH every general election, maybe, or even a third. Long terms is a good way to avoid the short-termism that we see at present.

    How would half the UH being Maori work? Small UH and half are elected by the Maori roll?

    I'm not sure how it was proposed to work. But there are a number of options

    In the Electoral Reform Bill that was introduced by National following the 1992 indicative referendum (and which set up the referendum and the contingent MMP system), there was also a bit that would have set up a referendum on a senate (maybe only if FPP stayed?). Labour wasn't keen, and it was dropped in one or other of the committee stages. That proposal would have created a 30-seat Senate, elected under STV from 6 senatorial districts.

    That Bill, as introduced, also would have removed the Maori seats (if MMP was adopted). Bolger's suggestions around a half-Maori Upper House came later.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • vangam,

    I quite like the idea of a half-Maori Senate. I see them as more reliable custodians of NZ's resources than a bunch of politicians with close ties to finance and business. However, I can't see the country ever going for it. And there's no guarantee an upper house would achieve what we're after here, is there? I mean, even the House of Lords was brow-beaten into compliance in 1910/11. Or do we think a veto of two years is sufficient to dampen the knee-jerk changes wrought by our dictatorial parliament?

    Rangiora • Since Jun 2007 • 103 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    And, er, would an upper house actually lead to substantively better policy outcomes? After all, I have to say, the other countries possessed of Upper Houses don't really look like they do this stuff any better than we do.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1262 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    brow-beaten into compliance in 1910/11

    Well, after they (being an entirely hereditary, wholly unelected body) tried to thwart the actions of a government with a substantial popular majority based on a clear policy platform (income tax/social security and Irish home rule).

    Not to mention the army acting in parallel to defeat those actions by mutiny.

    It was the closest the UK has come to a coup since William of Orange.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4355 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I voted against MMP originally, although I did also vote to have the vote for it, and went for MMP as the preferred alternative. My reasons for voting against it were, in hindsight, quite silly. The system has grown on me hugely.

    I don't think the "coalition of losers" scenario is that bad, but I also think it's not likely. The small parties in the center will usually go with the biggest one, and the small parties on the extremes will never ally with one another. However, it's a conceivable scenario, just as grand-coalition is conceivable and unlikely.

    From the voter's point of view, neither is particularly bad. In both cases, more than half of voters will have voted for a party in the government.

    In the case of a grand coalition, you'd end up having an extremely centrist government. I think Graeme is probably right in saying that this might not suit the major parties, because they can't scapegoat their traditional enemy about everything going wrong. But it is possible that support for both parties could have declined terribly, to the point they're both extremely vulnerable, and a coalition with the outer parties would sacrifice most of what they stood for. I like that the system has a way of dealing with this.

    In the case of a "coalition of losers", it's most likely NOT going to be formed by parties at opposing ends of the political spectra. If that happened, it would disintegrate rapidly. It's going to be formed by parties clustered together in some political way. It's quite possible that such a cluster would be bigger than another cluster containing the party securing the most votes. So what, really? So National gets one less seat than Labour in an election, but has a large minor party it can form a government with, that doesn't like Labour. What real difference does that one seat represent in support for their views? A lot less than the support for the third party. Furthermore, if that third party is not centrist but actually further right than National, then why the hell should they be forced to put Labour in government?

    I deliberately put it this way around, but I see a much more likely scenario being a Labour + Green coalition defeating a slightly-larger-than-Labour National party with only some small minor party to play with. Should Greens be forced into bed with National? I don't think so, and I'm glad our system doesn't require it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Parks, in reply to BenWilson,

    I voted against MMP originally… My reasons for voting against it were, in hindsight, quite silly. The system has grown on me hugely.

    What were those reasons, out of curiosity: the tail waging the dog thing, or something else?

    I always supported MMP, but I now think even more that it suits NZ very well. I’m still giving consideration to some problems, such as the threshold. I am not sure yet if I would get rid of it as idiot/savant would have it. Certainly, I think something should be done about the fact that a party can have representation (by winning an electorate) while another party with more votes misses out. But apart from that issue, I think it has worked out well.

    We may vote for a Parliament, but voters can hardly be blamed for thinking they are voting for a government when that it what parties are campaigning to be: “A National Government will cut taxes” – “A Labour Government will raise the minimum wage to $15” – “New Zealand First will ensure we only have high quality immigration” etc. Parties cannot expect to reap the benefits of campaigning for government, while absolving themselves of some of the consequences of doing so.

    Seems to me those sort of promises should be read as “A Labour majority Government will…” etc. In other words, that is their policy should they not have to compromise. That’s how the public should read it (and ideally how the parties should portray it). IF Labour gets the support of over 50% of the voters, they WILL raise the minimum wage. Of course, if it’s a Labour Coalition Government, rather than a pure Labour Government, then we expect that the promises that a (pure) Labour Government would have delivered may not come about uncompromised.

    Wellington • Since May 2007 • 1122 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steve Parks,

    No, my reasons were much worse. I was an ACT supporter and I felt it likely that MMP would mean a center-left coalition that would undo the glorious changes of the 1980s. This madness lasted about a year. But even then, I did think it was more democratic.

    I'm somewhat disappointed that making minor reforms to MMP was not one of the options in the upcoming referendum. I'd go along with I/S in lowering thresholds, personally. Seems the simplest solution to overhangs and unnecessarily tactical voting. Ultimately you want the system to be "Vote for what it is you want", rather than "Vote for what you think might maximize the value of your vote".

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Parks, in reply to BenWilson,

    This madness lasted about a year.

    Hah. I was a fully fledged Libertarian (in the Ayn Rand sense of the term) for about two weeks, or maybe it was a couple of months. I can’t recall. We all have these moments of madness. (Not that I think there’s no value in their way of looking at things, it’s just that it is a bit … simplistic, when it comes to the way the world actually works.)

    I’m certainly all for reducing the need for tactical voting. I have this notion that counties with PR and no threshold (like Israel) have significantly less stable governments than ones with a small threshold (like Germany), but I’ve done no research into this point.

    Wellington • Since May 2007 • 1122 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to BenWilson,

    I’m somewhat disappointed that making minor reforms to MMP was not one of the options in the upcoming referendum.

    There are two questions in the referendum.

    You can kinda look at the first question as asking:

    Would you prefer:
    1. The holding of a review of the MMP electoral system by the Electoral Commission, to look at changes that could be made to that system?
    or
    2. There to be a referendum in 3 years times between the current MMP system, and the alternative electoral system the gets the most votes from the list in question two?

    That is, if MMP wins, consideration will be given to making changes to MMP, such as the threshold, overhang, etc.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Steve Parks,

    I have this notion that counties with PR and no threshold (like Israel) have significantly less stable governments than ones with a small threshold (like Germany), but I’ve done no research into this point.

    There is a 2% threshold in Israel.

    There is a 2% threshold in Denmark.

    There is no threshold in Holland.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    That is, if MMP wins, consideration will be given to making changes to MMP, such as the threshold, overhang, etc.

    I like the way you're thinking. Vote for review and select MMP as your preferred option?

    We all have these moments of madness.

    It's in my nature to suspend disbelief when considering options.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Parks, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    There is a 2% threshold in Israel.

    Ah, right. But back in the day I thought it was lower - well, zero, but I was wrong. It seems that it was (once) as low as 1%.
    Germany is like us, with a 5% threshold.

    What do you reckon Graeme, get rid of the threshold? Does it achieve anything?

    Wellington • Since May 2007 • 1122 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    And, of course, the reason that there was no manifesto that year was Muldoon’s alcoholic snap election.

    Labour had an election manifesto. A friend who was a member and left to go to NLP took delight at waving it at Roger Douglas when he came to talk on campus once, pointing out the bits about asset sales and whatnot.

    You are right that we elect people to Parliament, not policies, but at least some of us vote for those people (and not for others) because of their policies.

    Probably moreso since we took up MMP. It's our votes for parties who largely present as leaders and policies that has the major part in determining parliament's makeup and the outcome of elections.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6147 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to BenWilson,

    I like the way you’re thinking. Vote for review and select MMP as your preferred option?

    Perhaps I’ll explain … the referendum questions are as follows:

    Part A

    Should New Zealand keep the Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMP) voting system?

    O I vote to keep the MMP voting system.
    O I vote to change to another voting system.

    Part B

    If New Zealand were to change to another voting system, which voting system would you choose?

    O I would choose the First Past the Post system (FPP).
    O I would choose the Preferential Voting system (PV).
    O I would choose the Single Transferable Vote system (STV).
    O I would choose the Supplementary Member system (SM)

    If the first option wins in the first question, then the Electoral System will conduct a review of the MMP system, and make recommendations for possible change. There is no way to select MMP as your preferred option in the second question – support for MMP is registered by your vote in the first question.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Parks, in reply to BenWilson,

    I think to suit your views, vote for ‘no change’. Because if we vote for change, MMP is not an option, it seems. I don’t see anything in the referendum itself that says MMP will be reviewed if we keep it, but I hope that will be the outcome if it is retained.

    [Edit: I see Graeme has expanded substantially on his post, making all this clearer.]

    Wellington • Since May 2007 • 1122 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to Steve Parks,

    What do you reckon Graeme, get rid of the threshold? Does it achieve anything?

    I'd probably just get rid of it, but use a modified Sainte-Laguë method to make it slightly harder for a party to get a single seat.

    I recognise that this might not find favour with enough people, so I'd certainly lower it. Perhaps 2.5%. Certainly no higher than 3%. A party with 3% of the vote is pretty much certain to get four seats in Parliament. A party with one or two seats in Parliament is kinda just making up numbers - it's difficult for that party to meaningfully play the role one expects of a parliamentary party. Four seats in Parliament is sufficient that the party isn't a joke and can play a meaningful role in the passage and scrutiny of legislation and in holding the Government to account. It is large enough that we really shouldn't be telling people that their collective votes are worthless (a party with 3 seats gets pretty close to this as well, but I think with a four-seat party it's almost inarguable).

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    And, er, would an upper house actually lead to substantively better policy outcomes?

    No, possibly not. But if constituted sufficiently separately from the lower house it would put an end to using urgency to avoid having to answer awkward questions from those uppity voters about why you're introducing measures that have been demonstrated as worthless, or less, overseas. We could no longer be "the fastest legislature in the West", as Piggy once famously put it; being a status that has not changed with MMP.

    Forcing public consultation at least should improve the quality of legislation, if not the policy thinking behind it. Not going the British route of a hereditary UH, or the US route of such stark divide that politics is only barely short of civil war, would help. Those are the bicameral legislatures about which we hear the most, and their systems are both broken.
    The Aussies seem to be doing OK with their bicameral system.

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3889 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    We could no longer be “the fastest legislature in the West”, as Piggy once famously put it

    I never knew that Geoffrey Palmer was known as "Piggy". Learn something new .... etc.

    (I'm pretty sure it's a line from "Unbridled Power", but am open to a reference.)

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 2988 posts Report Reply

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