Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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

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  • Graeme Edgeler,

    As a post script, I should add that I find the exact process that seems to have been promised in National's policy somewhat odd.

    If we're to have (the possibility of) two referendums then they should follow the same process used last time.

    The first should ask whether we want a change, and list a bunch of alternatives. And the second (if we said we wanted to consider a change in the first) should pit two fully realised alternatives against each other.

    Having the first only ask "do you want a change?" and the second pitting a selection of alternatives against each other makes little sense. The resulting legislation actually working out what form a new system we want might take would still need another vote to actually take effect. Legislation moving to first past the post must pass a referendum, or gain 75% in the House.

    The first past the post we're choosing from a list of acronyms might be starkly different from the old one we had.

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

  • Tim McKenzie,

    You prompted me to search our shelves for the book about the original 1992 vote, Voter's Choice: Electoral Change in New Zealand? by Helena Catt, Paul Harris, and Nigel S. Roberts. I wanted to see if that ballot paper was as absurd as I remembered it: one question with five choices, one of which was FPP. Of course, it wasn't: it was two questions, the first asking "change or not?", and the second asking "change to what?".

    Anyway, I happened to notice this sentence on page 11:

    Whether or not there is a second referendum the government intends to hold a referendum in 1993 on whether a second chamber of parliament, likely to be called a Senate, should be introduced.

    What ever happened to that? And how old would you have to be to have been asked that question?

    <><

    Lower Hutt • Since Apr 2007 • 119 posts Report Reply

  • dave c,

    Hi Graeme,
    Just seen your column for PA come up on my news reader, you many need to alter the headline.....

    I think the Maori Party support the Maori seats more than any electoral system, but you maintain that the Maori party supports MMP - or any PR system, - perhaps as the number of Maori seats are pegged to Maori roll numbers. Fair enough, but whats to stop that under FPP - there will be no overhang but if one party was to hold all the Maori seats they`d have more power than they do now with an overhang.

    And there will be fewer Maori in Parliament as well.

    If the Maori Party went belly up for whatever reason, and the Maori seats under FPP were tagged to proportionality through the Maori roll - or fixed at the current number - then whoever had the Maori seats - possibly Labour - would have nearly twice the advantage compared with FPP pre`96.....

    Good reason to retain PR, whatever that form may take...

    welli • Since Jan 2007 • 8 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    I wanted to see if that ballot paper was as absurd as I remembered it: one question with five choices, one of which was FPP. Of course, it wasn't.

    That's my fear over National's current proposal. It appears to be that the second question (if enough people say yes to the first) would be one question with five choices. The ultimate question we're asked should come down to two full proposals e.g. the current system versus an FPP system with 120 MPs and a minimum of 25 South Island seats and Māori seats pegged to the number of Māori on the Māori roll and ... and ... etc.

    What ever happened to that? And how old would you have to be to have been asked that question?

    As usual, Wikipedia has the answer:

    The National government of Jim Bolger proposed the establishment of an elected Senate when it came to power in 1990, thereby reinstating a bicameral system, and a Senate Bill was drafted. Senators would be elected by STV, with a number of seats being reserved for Māori, and would have powers similar to those of the old Legislative Council. The House of Representatives would continue to be elected by FPP.

    The intention was to include a question on a Senate in the second referendum on electoral reform. Voters would be asked, if they did not want a new voting system, whether or not they wanted a Senate. However, following objections from the Labour opposition, which derided it as a red herring, and other supporters of MMP, the Senate question was removed by the Select Committee on Electoral Reform, and the issue has not been pursued since.

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

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Just seen your column for PA come up on my news reader, you many need to alter the headline...

    I'm not sure I can (in system anyway), but it was deliberate. I don't think it's time for a change, but it is time for people who think there should be a change to push for it - this it's time for a time for a change. I am frequently too smart for my own good :-)

    Fair enough, but whats to stop that under FPP - there will be no overhang but if one party was to hold all the Maori seats they`d have more power than they do now with an overhang.

    That was exactly what I was suggesting the Māori Party might welcome. They could turn their 3-4% of the vote into a near permanent 10% of the seats.

    And there will be fewer Maori in Parliament as well.

    There is that corollary, however. There might be 12 or 13 seats, but there would likely be fewer Māori in Parliament overall under first past the post. That could well be a reason for the Māori Party to oppose FPP, even if it limits their voting strength.

    Good reason to retain PR, whatever that form may take...

    Not really. That someone who isn't me might benefit from first past the post isn't a terribly principled rationale for opposition. But perhaps a good reason to look at the Māori seats.

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

  • Christiaan,

    I can't really fault them for bringing self-interest into the calculus - political parties are, well, political. But that self-interest is exactly why questions around the voting system must be taken away from the politicians. That is why answering such questions belongs with the people.

    It's a good point and it can be applied as a criticism of representative democracy in general, not just decisions about voting systems. I hope that one day we progress away from it and toward self-governance.

    The reason I don't look forward to a referendum on this issue under National is because I don't trust them or those who fund them to do it in a democratic way. Instead of an informed debate, how much money I wonder will be pumped into propaganda to turn the ship back around to FPP?

    London, UK • Since Dec 2006 • 121 posts Report Reply

  • Christiaan,

    By the way, what is National's current proposal for the wording?

    London, UK • Since Dec 2006 • 121 posts Report Reply

  • Nick D'Angelo,

    It is one of the enduring myths of New Zealand politics that voters were destined to have a further referendum to confirm or reject MMP. No promises of such were made before the 1992 plebiscite or the 1993 referendum.

    Next you'll be telling me that Eight glasses of water a day is not a medical necessity either.

    I'm all for full representation but is lowering the threshold for getting a party into Parliament really going to help the process? How bogged down will we get if we have seven minority parties-of-one? Ditto for a 'Senate' - how does that help the process of getting laws enacted? It doesn't seem to have achieved anything in the UK and US ... one side is always blocking the other.

    Simon Laan • Since May 2008 • 162 posts Report Reply

  • Rachel Prosser,

    At our last election a number of MPs were thrown out by the electorate but returned to Parliament - is that 'democracy'?

    .

    YES!!

    I get utterly frustrated by people claiming that it isn't democratic or fair when an MP is "thrown out" by their electorate and gets back in on the list.

    First: it's a vote not a veto. Individual elector's decision-making processes aside, a vote is a vote for someone not a vote against. You can only vote against something when there's a binary choice, otherwise, you choose from a range of options.

    Second: just because a minority in a local electorate don't want someone, doesn't mean that across the country enough people do.

    For example: within the Tauranga electorate not enough people might want Winston to represent them, but across the country lots of people might vote Winston in.

    When he gets into parliament, he has been voted in by all those people who tick NZF on the party vote. And someone else has been voted in by Tauranga. He is representing the people who ticked "NZF" on the list.

    So the people who didn't vote for him in Tauranga have no cause for complaint - they made their pick and someone else got in to represent Tauranga.

    In practice, for years, many people voting in FPP are voting for the party anyway. Most individual party candidates in FPP, or electorate seats, are chosen with strong party influence (as indicated by the recent Selwyn case).

    I'd also say that after voting in MMP elections here, I spent 6 years in the UK, and had a close-up look at the electoral system there. From a personal and professional viewpoint I felt New Zealand's system was much better, both administratively and philosophically.

    I was utterly frustrated by the fact that, because I lived in a safe seat, It really didn't matter if I voted or not, because with a majority of 11000+ the sitting MP would get in (she was an active and able local MP as it happens - but I keenly felt the redundancy of my vote).

    Contrast that to the two votes I had for New Zealand elections while I was overseas. I was utterly aware that my party vote would matter, and made the trip to the NZ High Commission to vote in the first election. In the most recent election, it took two trips using my day and afternoon off work to hitchhike from the our remote bay in Crete to get to an internet cafe with a printer that was working so I could print off a ballot paper, and then pay to have it faxed from the taverna, so my vote would be counted.

    In New Zealand elections, every vote counts, no matter where you live. And if the election is close, it can go back and be re-counted, with impartial judicial oversight (something else missing from the UK system)

    So it's simply not reasonable to "complain about unelected MPs lacking public mandate"

    The "public" isn't a discrete entity but a collection of individual preferences. List MPs have a public mandate by virtue of all those thousands of list voters who made the effort to vote for them.

    [/rant]

    Christchurch • Since Mar 2008 • 228 posts Report Reply

  • Rachel Prosser,

    Also, I'm not so sure that Maori party dominance in FPP is guaranteed.
    I haven't analysed this in depth, but get the feel Maori electorate voters have been quite sophisticated, and used vote splitting to maximise their representation: vote for Labour in the party vote and vote for Maori in the seats.

    Christchurch • Since Mar 2008 • 228 posts Report Reply

  • Shep Cheyenne,

    MMP is part of a growing movement for a greater participatory democracy.

    Imperfect and still evolving, devolution of power from central to regional, district, & Iwi (or other) have provisions in law (RMA specifically - not sure on the rest).

    That Maori & the Maori Party have had a greater voice under MMP & the growth of '3rd' or 'MMP' parties, ACT & the Greens have both supported the Maori Party on Foreshore & Seabed.

    As such the Maori Party & all interest groups outside of the major parties have a shared interest in MMP as a system of government.

    FPTP is designed to disenfranchise the majority of the vote in support of the largest minority. MMP requires at least 1/2 of the elected representatives are satisfied and as such is the fairer electoral system.

    Myself I'm not a particular fan of representative democracy and would preffer more participatory democracy, which would require less MPs and more government information for public decisions.

    Since Oct 2007 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • simon g,

    By the way, what is National's current proposal for the wording?

    Here it is:

    "Are you satisfied with MMP as a system or would you prefer a change?"

    That is self-evidently not a referendum question. It is a customer feedback survey. Graeme is right (in the first reply) to point to this. A referendum is worth discussing. National's proposal is not. It is a nonsense.

    Whipping up anti-MMP sentiment is not difficult ("bloody politicians!"). Pointing out that bloody politicians are inevitable, and suggesting (or canvassing) alternative ways to elect them is not what John Key has in mind. Actually it's so transparent I don't know why anybody would take it seriously. It's really depressing that it was. I have visions of earnest citizens sitting around saying "Yes, yes, I can see that it is, but shouldn't we discuss what kind of straw?"

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1324 posts Report Reply

  • anjum rahman,

    a couple of things:
    1. a lot of the electorate vote for the maori party happened because voters were able to party vote labour. so they could be assured that they would get maori labour MPs as well as maori party MPs. without that security, i would predict a large drop in the vote for the maori party. hence, it is in their self-interest to have MMP. since the other parties, and particularly labour, will have maori MPs as well, they know the total number of maori MPs will be higher under MMP, which would cancel out the benefit of a higher proportion of influence under FPP.

    2. you'll note the business roundtable has paid for a report which states (and i paraphrase wildly) that the maori seats should be abolished. if we lose both the maori seats and MMP, there is the distinct possibility of having no maori in parliament. after all, there is no current maori MP who has won a general electorate seat. you say that under FPP the argument to abolish maori seats becomes weaker, but what if the questions are asked concurrently?

    hamilton • Since Nov 2006 • 130 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    and I kinda like the idea of open lists

    What do you mean by an 'open list' Graeme?

    For example: within the Tauranga electorate not enough people might want Winston to represent them, but across the country lots of people might vote Winston in.

    This is why they shouldn't put on buses from retirement homes to polling booths!

    Second: just because a minority in a local electorate don't want someone, doesn't mean that across the country enough people do.

    I quite like the MMP system. But I think it'd be misleading to say that many people vote for party X because they like person #12 on their list. They might vote for a party because of a couple of individuals - probably the leader, given our 'presidential' campaigns that we seem to have these days, a local MP etc.

    But most people vote for a Party. While I'd like to see him get in, I can't imagine 40,000 people or so outside of Wellington Central will be voting Labour to get Grant Robertson in. He'll either get in by winning his electorate, or by Labour getting enough party votes. He'll help get some of those party votes by virtue of being 'Grant' rather than being 'Labour', but most will be earnt by 'Labour' and the PM.

    There are some problems with MMP. If you want Grant Robertson to get in via your party vote, you need to vote for everyone above him on the list. He only gets in if they all make it. What if you think the chap above him on the list is a complete tosser?

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Bennett,

    Interesting post, Graeme. Here are some brief and tentative thoughts:

    The electoral system should be of the people and it is right that every so often, the people should have their say, alone in the four walls of the voting booth. Three or four times a century - once a generation - doesn't seem too often to obtain anew a public mandate for the way we choose our leaders (we'd be going slightly early this time, but I think it's appropriate given the change to MMP made last time).

    I am not so sure that the argument from democracy can always justify putting things to a popular vote. That presupposes that putting something to a popular vote is the ultimate or an adequate source of legitimacy for our law and government. Many people think that certain institutions and processes far beyond 'mere' majoritarian voting are necessary if law can begin to be regarded as having legitimacy. And some of them think that these procedures do constitute true 'democracy'.

    Given that I don't think that it is right to say that:

    Fear of being in the minority - of democratic loss - is a appalling reason to oppose democratic input. That way lies dictatorship.

    Fear of being in the minority is not necessarily an appalling reason to oppose democratic input, or the first slip down the slope to dictatorship. There are at least arguable reasons against putting certain things to a popular votes:

    (a) If you hold the above view that legitimate government and law, and/or democracy, depends on certain institutions, rights, procedures etc, then it is sensible to oppose the erosion of those elements. And it is sensible to argue that these elements should not be put to a popular vote. Indeed, if you think that these elements are necessary for legitimate government and law, then you will be doubly against putting them to a popular vote, because you deny the legitimacy of that method of decision-making.

    (b) Fundamental human rights and the rights and interests of certain minority groups are arguably not up for grabs in a legitimate legal order.

    Of course, the counter to all of the above is that it presupposes an incorrect account of democracy and/or fundamental rights and/or legitimate government and law.

    There is so much political and constitutional thought about all this that this thread could go on indefinitely.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 18 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    What Rachel said.

    That was just what I was gearing up to type, and she's put it much more clearly than I would.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    __"Are you satisfied with MMP as a system or would you prefer a change?"__

    That is self-evidently not a referendum question. It is a customer feedback survey. Graeme is right (in the first reply) to point to this. A referendum is worth discussing. National's proposal is not. It is a nonsense.

    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. I don't have access to much of the Internet (today and tomorrow I'm on my parents dial-up) but if someone wants to search for the original 1992 question I wouldn't be surprised if it looked something like that (Tim?).

    What do you mean by an 'open list' Graeme?
    ...
    If you want Grant Robertson to get in via your party vote, you need to vote for everyone above him on the list. He only gets in if they all make it. What if you think the chap above him on the list is a complete tosser?

    Open lists enable people to cast their party vote next to a particular list candidate to push them up that party's list. I believe Peter Dunne favours this (if we don't adopt his favoured STV), but not many other politicians. It could certainly diminish the list members have no mandate argument.

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

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Open lists enable people to cast their party vote next to a particular list candidate to push them up that party's list. I believe Peter Dunne favours this (if we don't adopt his favoured STV), but not many other politicians. It could certainly diminish the list members have no mandate argument.

    Interesting.

    Would the list be given an initial ranking, and the voting affect that, or would it be unranked, and then sorted by the number of votes that a person got?

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Angus Robertson,

    I realise that the Māori Party considers itself among the "MMP Parties", but it really shouldn't. Its lifeblood is the Māori electorate system. It relies in absolutely no way on the party vote. Whatever Atareta Poananga's hopes, it may never earn a list seat.

    And it would thrive under a return to first past the post.

    No they wouldn't, agree with Rachel & anjun's reasoning.

    Also with FPP Labour would be forced to compete much more strongly for the seats. Under MMP Labour can let the electorate vote go and focus on the more important party vote with no damage to its election chances, but under FPP Labour conceding 7 potentially winnable seats will severely damage their chances.

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 984 posts Report Reply

  • Christiaan,

    Is there a good webpage comparing STV with MMP somewhere?

    London, UK • Since Dec 2006 • 121 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh,

    I do have a visceral hatred of FPP, and I do oppose a new referendum on the voting system, but:

    It's not time. It's far too early. Really, to see how good MMP is or is not, whether it needs tweaking or should be replaced, we'll need to get rid of the last of the FPP dinosaurs (Helen Clark, for example) and get a whole new MMP-only generation through- at least one MMP generation. I really do think we're still in the early stages of MMP, still just getting the system established, and the antics of Labour and National only confirm that for me.

    But my voice doesn't matter- even though I'm a NZ citizen, I'm not entitled to vote because I've been overseas longer than three years.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Christiann: Wikipedia.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Mikaere Curtis,

    Rather than a maximum of 7 seats in a 120 (or 121, or 123 seat Parliament), the Māori Party's 3-4% of the vote could generate 10% of seats in Parliament, and in close-ish elections (most other than those like we look to be having now) they'd stand a good chance of holding the casting vote in Parliament: a near permanent hold on the balance of power.

    And if National managed to secure enough votes - much easier to do under FPP - they could implement their stated policy of consigning the Māori seats to oblivion.

    To hell with that. I like my representation thanks, and I'm sure the Māori Party have achieved a similar conclusion: FPP didn't work for Māori and there's no reason to conclude that it will, especially with a major party campaigning on deleting the Māori seats.

    Tamaki Makaurau • Since Nov 2006 • 528 posts Report Reply

  • A S,

    And if National managed to secure enough votes - much easier to do under FPP - they could implement their stated policy of consigning the Māori seats to oblivion.

    By the same token, it could equally be possible for the Maori seats to be abolished under MMP. All it takes is getting the numbers. The way I see it, should the public whim be sufficiently strong, it wouldn't take much for the Maori seats to be abolished under MMP too. Anyone remember the demise of closing the gaps? Funnily enough, I didn't see MMP as a system doing much to stop the U-turn on a fairly key equity issue for a relatively large chunk of the population at that point.

    I doubt FPP is a system anyone would go back to, but there is certainly substantial validity in allowing the public to debate the system by which they wish to elect their representatives.

    Perhaps a bi-cameral system could be debated. Structured properly, it might offer a very useful check / balance on the current system to restrict the ability of one arm of government running off in directions for which it never gained a mandate.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2007 • 269 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    Perhaps a bi-cameral system could be debated. Structured properly, it might offer a very useful check / balance on the current system to restrict the ability of one arm of government running off in directions for which it never gained a mandate.

    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.

    If the electoral system absolutely had to be changed, then I agree it should be anything but FPP.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5425 posts Report Reply

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