Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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Legal Beagle: It's time for a time for a change

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  • A S,

    We had an upper house aeons ago - the Legislative Council. By the time Sid Holland mothballed it in 1951, it had become little more than a rubber stamp for the Parliament.

    I know, hence my suggestion that it would need to be properly structured (to avoid that happening again).

    FPP got booted because the elected parties came to power making many promises, then they proceeded to ignore what they had promised, and go on to do whatever they pleased. In too many respects, it could be argued that MMP is only a slight improvement on FPP. You still get two main parties promising things to get elected, which may or may not be put into effect once the reins of power have been grasped.

    In terms of day to day parliamentary life, the main difference between MMP and FPP is the minor parties who can exert minor influence and extract (generally small) concessions for their own interest groups in selling their support to the party that eventually ends up in power.

    Some days with MMP it kind of feels like we've been sold a slightly re-vamped FPP system in newer, flasher packaging.

    There is always room for improvement, and MMP can also probably be improved too.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2007 • 269 posts Report Reply

  • uroskin,

    MMP can definitely be improved on after the experience with it over the last elections.
    1. The obvious one is to abolish electorate seats altogether (both general and Maori) and move to a completely proportional system
    2. The threshold then would be 1/120th of the votes cast for your party list. Since there would be no electorates there would be no one-man-band parties with limited geographical appeal. Small parties would still exist if tey can appeal to 120th of the total electorate, which in my opinion is preferable to appealing to a minority in a current electorate (since FPP still applies there under MMP)
    3. Maori (and pakeha) would be able to choose between more than one Maori party instead of having to rely on the current "Maori Party" pretending to speak for all Maori. The current situation in Maori seats is like the National Party pretending to speak for all New Zealanders in non-Maori seats! I can understand the Maori party prefers the in-effect FPP structure of the Maori seats: it doesn't need an absolute majority to win them, a relative majority will do.
    4. The two vote system can be simplified to one list vote, with a published ranking of candidates. You either vote for the total list accepting the party ranking, or you vote for a candidate on the list to push his/her placing higher (those votes would be counted to re-order the seat outcome for list members). There could be more Maori MPs under that system than there are now, so nobody should be fearful of losing the "guaranteed" Maori representation. Even pakeha could vote for a Maori party!

    Waiheke Island • Since Feb 2007 • 178 posts Report Reply

  • dave crampton,

    .. they still can, as a list vote, just like Maori who are on the General roll can.
    If electorate seats are abolished there will be less effective representation for everyone, as nobody will have an MP and there will be fewer Maori in Parliament.
    If you have one vote to vote for either the list or any candidate on that list, what if your favoured MP is not from your favoured party?

    your system dilutes electorate representation which is far worse than MMP or FPP.

    welli • Since Jan 2007 • 144 posts Report Reply

  • Tim McKenzie,

    I think it's a reasonable question if it comes with a "If New Zealand were to adopt a new electoral system, which would your prefer?" as well. ... if someone wants to search for the original 1992 question I wouldn't be surprised if it looked something like that (Tim?).

    Sorry about the delay. Page 16 of Voter's Choice has a mock voting paper. First it has:

    Part A
    Voting System Proposals

    I VOTE TO RETAIN THE PRESENT FIRST-PAST-THE-POST SYSTEM.

    I VOTE FOR A CHANGE TO THE VOTING SYSTEM.

    and then it has:

    Part B
    Reform Options

    I VOTE FOR THE SUPPLEMENTARY MEMBER SYSTEM (SM).

    I VOTE FOR THE SINGLE TRANSFERABLE VOTE SYSTEM (STV).

    I VOTE FOR THE MIXED MEMBER PROPORTIONAL SYSTEM (MMP).

    I VOTE FOR THE PREFERENTIAL VOTING SYSTEM (PV).

    There is no actual question in either part, and no explanation on the paper that you can vote to retain FPP and also vote for a preferred reform option, in case a majority of other voters vote for reform. The rest of the book is to explain all that and more.

    Lower Hutt • Since Apr 2007 • 120 posts Report Reply

  • tussock,

    Hmm. Where to start.

    As others said, the Maori party would die a quick death in an FPP system, as a Brash/Key National government would have been in power the last three years and already done away with the Maori seats, most of treaty, the tribunal, and other things they happen to care about.

    As others also said, the actions of a democracy can produce anti-democratic results, and a government that cares for democracy would not put such options up for a vote. It seems clear by any analysis FPP's flaws are far more undemocratic than MMP's.

    ...

    uroskin: regional interests should be valid in any representative democracy, and regional representation seems a good way to keep a basic check on that, by multi-member seats, an MMP system, or both.

    Obviously, we should have Condorcet voting or larger multi-member seats in the electorates themselves to get rid of the old plurality issues, but that's another story.

    Since Nov 2006 • 609 posts Report Reply

  • Shep Cheyenne,

    A Bi-Caramel system sounds sweet ;-)

    Since Oct 2007 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Ashby,

    Having only served on one jury and that being here in Scotland the change to electing jury forepersons later in the trial is interesting. In the trial I served on we were not required to select a foreperson until we retired to consider our verdicts, though we had been warned of the need to give it some thought. Since the trial lasted a week we got to know each other well. To the extent that the female majority on the jury consulted each other and decided none of them wanted a bar of it and I was their choice to do it, democracy is a wonderful thing.

    Dundee, Scotland • Since May 2007 • 425 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Peter - wrong thread. I think you wanted to be first here.

    :-)

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

  • A S,

    A Bi-Caramel system sounds sweet ;-)

    Not only that, we'd get to keep our existing stash of Flakes, Jafas, Oddfellows, Allsorts and Bounty bars. :-D

    Wellington • Since Nov 2007 • 269 posts Report Reply

  • Roger Ellis,

    "If National were pushing for first past the post to give them a better chance to govern, isn't Labour opposing it because it doesn't want National to have a better chance to govern? "

    Isn't the point that in a democracy the party with more votes should have the first opportunity to form a government? Under FPP National was able to continue to govern despite getting less votes than Labour in both the 1978 and 1981 general elections. While proportional systems have their drawbacks they do tend to deliver government's led by the party more voters prefer.

    Wellington • Since Aug 2008 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Selfishly bumping this to the top 'cos it seems relevant again =)

    I'll be posting more on the issue when I've a bit of time...

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I'll bite your bump :-0~

    On "Is it time?":
    I think it is. I tend to think it's always time, but for practical reasons questions of such huge impact should probably be decided once per generation...which I guess is something like every 20 years.

    On "is MMP better than FPP?":
    I think it is. Originally, I voted that I wanted a referendum and MMP would be the preferred alternative. But when it came to the actual referendum I was going through a right wing phase, and could clearly see that MMP would help the left, in particular the New Labour/Green group. I voted against change. In time I came to think better of it, that there was a lot more at stake than Right vs Left. Since then I've only been happy with it, thinking of coalition as a very healthy kind of government, most unlikely to throw us another Muldoon. My right/left sympathies waffle around pretty much depending on what they are promising/achieving, but the overriding belief in 'democracy' has lasted. It seems a no-brainer that MMP is more democratic than its predecessor. There were so many cases in which fairly large minorities got no representation at all, despite up to 10% of the popular vote that it just seemed unfair. Furthermore, only quite small differences in the total vote between the major parties translated into huge numbers of seats difference, giving the ruling party near absolute power.

    On "what would the Maori think?":
    You'd have to ask them. In their shoes I know what I'd think - that MMP has done far more for them than FPP ever did. But of course a rejigged FPP could do even better, if the carrot of more Maori seats were dangled. Depends entirely upon what is offered, I feel fairly sure the Maori Party (which is of course not representative of all Maori) would pick the one likely to increase the slice of pie. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that, though, since it's my pie too.

    On "how should the questions be asked?":
    Referenda are the obvious answer, but of course there are people who really dislike them. Mark Bennett suggested the danger of democracy voting itself to pieces by tossing out this or that important institution on the whims of a mob. There's some truth to that, but, as he self-counters, it does presuppose that the institutions are good and proper and the mob is wrong. It's quite possible that the mob could toss out (on a whim) some highly corrupt and rotten institutions too, to the benefit of everyone.

    Myself, whilst I prefer referenda over expecting a politician to choose for me, I don't much like referenda either. It's a pretty ancient, not to mention expensive, way of gauging popular opinion. It's extremely slow, and can lock in bad questions, as we have just seen. This is the 3rd Millenium, for God's Sake! Surely the collected brilliance of 4 million Kiwis can come up with something more modern than a system invented in the ancient world. Referenda could have far, far higher turnaround, and could build upon each other, in a series of questions, which could settle a great many of the little details that are expected to be summarized into one gigantic day of ticking a piece of paper. There is probably little reason to consult the entire population 99% of the time anyway, since sampling and surveying has become a much more exact art, the number of people who need to be consulted could be settled mathematically. Or selection for political opinion could be done rather like juries, with a group of people selected (probably randomly) who have to serve for, say, a month of their life. This has the advantage of focused concentration and deliberation, but of course the problem that a lot of people would be unable to attend.

    Or we could just let our politicians decide. Hell, they're the experts we trust to think for us, aren't they?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10647 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I think it is. I tend to think it's always time, but for practical reasons questions of such huge impact should probably be decided once per generation...which I guess is something like every 20 years.

    Oh, balls... Sorry for the whorish self-promotion, but my PAS piece this week (Sunday, 7pm, Radio Live) touches on this. While its entirely laudable that politicians keep their campaign promises, I just think itsa shame that Key is going to spend a lot of money and effort on honouring one of the dumber ones.

    I didn't support MMP back in 92/93, but anyone who says we're facing the kind of paralysis or crisis of legitimacy that requires throwing out our electoral system and starting again is not on the same planet.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    "Should keeping electoral promises, even silly ones, be a criminal offence as part of good governance?"

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    "Should keeping electoral promises, even silly ones, be a criminal offence as part of good governance?"

    Heh... but no. Pointing and laughing should be sufficient punishment. :)

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I don't think you need paralysis or a crisis of legitimacy to periodically check that people are behind a system, any more than you need it to periodically check that they are behind the politicians. If it's just something you do, then it works to restore confidence in good systems, and gives impetus to move away from bad systems.

    I pulled the number 20 out of my arse. I'm sure you saw that. The idea of a 'generation' is very loose. But it does carry in it the concept I'm going for, which is that I think people should buy into the systems that they live under at least once in their life.

    Furthermore, I also think that if a large majority of people, in a referendum, wanted to 'throw out our electoral system and start again', then that would indeed be a crisis of legitimacy. Since you think we're not facing anything of the sort, then you would surely feel that there's no particular danger from a referendum?

    One of the options posed could be 'minor tweaks to MMP'. That's not throwing out and starting again, but it is still electoral system reform and should require some kind of buy in. A big complaint a lot of people have who voted for MMP is that they didn't get the MMP they thought they were voting for. I certainly didn't forsee a bunch of the things that were implemented, all of them for the benefit of the existing powerful parties. I didn't think they'd have such high thresholds, and I didn't think that flipping from electorate to list was going to be possible, and I never saw the point of the 'win one electorate and get your party vote added'. All of those things promote tactical voting which obscure the actual preferences of the electorates. I mean does Epsom really want Rodney Hide, or do they actually want National, and they figure that coalition is required for it? Should people who want to legalize dope really have to vote for the Green Party if they want their vote to count, thus also having to suck on an environmentalist and socialist agenda for an issue that's mostly about personal liberty? Should a list vote for the Maori party always be a complete waste, forcing Maori to vote Labour when they (particularly recently) feel they have jack in common with Labour? Should the Green party always be on the verge of complete political annihilation, despite a fairly consistent minority that unfortunately waffles around the threshold? Should staunch Christians be forced into bed with the ultra right ACT party, pretty much stifling any serious claims to be a 'liberal' party? Should National and Labour always be the Grand Old Parties at all, for that matter? A massive share of NZers don't feel any affinity at all for Farmers or Trade Unions but are still 'centrist', and left with no other options, because fledgling breakaway parties are doomed to rapid political oblivion unless they have big money behind them (like ACT), or an existing international brand (like the Greens). Only the odd demagogue in an electorate can give them any satiety, and the odds of my agreeing with a breakaway centrist in my own electorate are about 1:120 on average (well actually about 1:1,000,000 because I live in the Mt Albert electorate).

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10647 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Furthermore, I also think that if a large majority of people, in a referendum, wanted to 'throw out our electoral system and start again', then that would indeed be a crisis of legitimacy. Since you think we're not facing anything of the sort, then you would surely feel that there's no particular danger from a referendum?

    If you're of the disposition that politicians are a pack of venal rat-bastards, I find it hard to see any electoral arrangement that would satisfy you. But kicking the sandcastle over is going to amuse you for a couple of seconds.

    From my entirely unscientific and anecdotal analysis, it seems to me a good chunk of the "MMP must go" crowd, with a little probing, don't really have issues with MMP. They hate Tariana Turia, or Keith Locke or Rodney Hide or {insert your least favourite list or minor party MP here}. They don't like that "their side" doesn't actually get to ramthrough their agenda basically unhindered, as happened under the cosy Labour-National FPP duopoly. Hell, some of them don't even really like democracy that much when it means the Treasury Benches are in the hands of the wrong people.

    I guess my problem with the referendum also comes from my small-c conservative disposition. I wouldn't pretend for a moment that New Zealand's version of MMP is perfect. Kant said that "out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing is ever made" -- and our politics is not exempt. As others have alluded to, there is a reasonable argument to be had around lowering (or abolishing) the 5% threshold. I personally think the Maori seats are a relic of Victorian paternalism that should have been abolished at the same time as the property qualification they were ostensibly meant to mitigate -- but that's sort of an irrelevant side bar. And much else beside.

    But I temperamentally prefer an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary approach to such issues -- and we have the means to amend the Electoral Act without Key's referenda.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Furthermore, I also think that if a large majority of people, in a referendum, wanted to 'throw out our electoral system and start again', then that would indeed be a crisis of legitimacy. Since you think we're not facing anything of the sort, then you would surely feel that there's no particular danger from a referendum?

    If you're of the disposition that politicians are a pack of venal rat-bastards, I find it hard to see any electoral arrangement that would satisfy you. But kicking the sandcastle over is going to amuse you for a couple of seconds.

    From my entirely unscientific and anecdotal analysis, it seems to me a good chunk of the "MMP must go" crowd, with a little probing, don't really have issues with MMP. They hate Tariana Turia, or Keith Locke or Rodney Hide or {insert your least favourite list or minor party MP here}. They don't like that "their side" doesn't actually get to ramthrough their agenda basically unhindered, as happened under the cosy Labour-National FPP duopoly. Hell, some of them don't even really like democracy that much when it means the Treasury Benches are in the hands of the wrong people.

    I guess my problem with the referendum also comes from my small-c conservative disposition. I wouldn't pretend for a moment that New Zealand's version of MMP is perfect. Kant said that "out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing is ever made" -- and our politics is not exempt. As others have alluded to, there is a reasonable argument to be had around lowering (or abolishing) the 5% threshold. I personally think the Maori seats are a relic of Victorian paternalism that should have been abolished at the same time as the property qualification they were ostensibly meant to mitigate -- but that's sort of an irrelevant side bar. And much else beside.

    But I temperamentally prefer an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary approach to such issues -- and we have the means to amend the Electoral Act without Key's referenda.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Craig

    I certainly don't hate all politicians, nor am I advocating kicking over the sandcastle for amusement. I tend to agree with your unscientific and anecdotal evidence, but can't see any reason not to put it on a much more formal basis with evidence actually gleaned from the people, after such due process as NZ ever seems to be able to gather for a referendum. But then again, I could quite possibly be satisfied with a simple independent opinion poll, if it was pretty clear that the matter was non-contentious.

    I don't see the connection between being small-c conservative (I'm much the same) and not wanting a referendum? Are you saying that conservatives just don't like change and wouldn't want to risk the idea that a majority might disagree?

    But I temperamentally prefer an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary approach to such issues -- and we have the means to amend the Electoral Act without Key's referenda.

    Don't make me guess! What r u talking about? A reform referendum of minor tweaks seems pretty evolutionary to me. No blood would probably be spilled.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10647 posts Report Reply

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