MMP – Business as Usual

I was born on an Election Day where 93.5% voted and Peter Fraser was returned for the last time as PM. Maybe this triggered in me an enduring interest in government and General Elections.

In 2014 we are once more electing a government. I know it is both a privilege and a duty in a democracy. Good government is essential for good public policy and sound leadership that can deliver a Vision of an open, prosperous, confident, multicultural society where individual choice and private capital formation are not despised.

But I have to admit that this latest onset of our MMP process both intrigues and irritates me. Nine months of cat and mouse, of cups of tea, of make-believe journalism. Of the country being held to ransom by retreads from major parties whose deceits, voodoo economics, populist cynicism and xenophobic prejudices substitute for good policy. Could I stand these long months of insult to my reason and tolerance?

To enter the year with a sounder understanding of the MMP reality, I studied the background. Read the 1986 Royal Commission’s Report. Read the Electoral Commission’s 2012 Review. Read the Government’s rationale and decision to quash the Electoral Commission’s recommendations. Plus a lot of surrounding commentary.

I thought the Royal Commission’s Report was well researched, elegantly argued, and confidently concluded. Its goal was to balance fairness, social cohesion and effectiveness. Its clear recommendation was that MMP was the best voting mechanism to deliver New Zealand the criteria:

Requirements of groups and interests in the community

  • Fairness between parties
  • Effective representation of minorities and special interest groups
  • Effective Maori representation
  • Political integration

Balance between needs and interests of individual voters

  • Effective representation of constituents
  • Effective voter participation Impact of voting systems on our political institutions
  • Effective government
  • Effective Parliament
  • Effective parties Legitimacy overall

At the 2011 referendum, 58% of voters reckoned that MMP was OK, but needed fine tuning to remove its most annoying or unfair elements. Hence the 2012 Review. This is again an impressive document, cogently put. Its proposed remedies are stated with no hint of ambiguity. The central recommendation was for a package comprising:

  • The one electorate seat threshold abolished (“coattail rule”)
  • Party vote threshold lowered from 5% to 4%
  • Overhang seats abolished

(A gem from its midst was Section 1.37 which asserted that the 1986 Royal Commissioners “had long regarded the one electorate seat threshold as being their one mistake”!)

Despite the Electoral Commission’s Review, by May 2013 MMP reform was dead. No surprise, since all parties in the National-led coalition detested the proposals. Turkeys don’t vote for an early Christmas.

So, my reading and thinking has led me to accept the realpolitik that the centre-right must try to maintain the status quo. The one electorate threshold in current circumstances gives National an even chance to construct a coalition in November. Without it, a Government change is probable.

Our recovery from the GFC is still fragile but trending well, both absolutely and relative to other countries. This is no fluke. Our seasoned, cautious and capable Government continues to deliver steady, affordable progress through sound policy and better quality expenditure. So, I will gladly tolerate the irritations that the one electorate threshold causes me, in the interest of good policy in pursuit of the Vision.