Saturday, March 31, 2012

Steve Baron: MMP Review Committee submissions

As many people will be aware, the MMP Review Committee is now taking submissions to get suggestions from New Zealanders as to how they want to see the MMP system changed. Following is the submission by Better Democracy New Zealand. We would encourage anyone that is slightly interested in our political system to make a submission, even if it is just the quick 5 minute option. Submissions can be made at http://www.mmpreview.org.nz/

Better Democracy New Zealand is a political lobby group founded in 2003. It is represented by most, if not all, political cleavages in New Zealand. The reason this movement came into being was to put pressure on politicians to improve our democratic system and encourage the use of direct democracy through the Veto, Citizens' Initiated and Recall referendum.

Better Democracy New Zealand is concerned that real democracy is being threatened in New Zealand
and that New Zealanders have lost control of the politicians they elect. Indeed, New Zealand suffers from a serious democratic deficit in many aspects of its political system. More 'checks & balances' are needed within the political decision-making process to correct this deficit.

This submission has been prepared on behalf of Better Democracy New Zealand by Steve Baron (B.A.). Any questions or queries regarding this submission may be directed to him as follows:
Email: steve@betterdemocracy.co.nz
Telephone: 0211651882
www.betterdemocracy.co.nz

RECOMMENDATIONS:

This submission will address seven issues regarding the MMP system. These issues include: the system used for electing electorate MPs, party vote thresholds, electorate/list seat ratios, the one-seat lifeboat provision, back-door electorate MPs, the inclusion of a system to Recall MPs and the length of MMP elections. Each issue will be discussed separately as follows:

System for electing electorate MPs:

Better Democracy New Zealand supports the use of a different system to elect electorate MPs, preferably the Single Transferable Vote (STV). The current system still uses First-Past-The-Post (FPP) for the election of electorate MPs. This often means an MP wins an electorate seat with substantially less than a majority vote, which goes against the spirit of MMP. For example, if the votes are tallied up as 30%, 25%, 25% and 20% for four electorate candidates, this means that the electorate candidate with just 30% of the vote wins, a situation that hardly seems fair when more than half his/her constituents did not want this MP. Analysis of the 2011 General Election results shows that 32% of electorate MPs received less than 50% of the vote in their electorate. This also sets up a two party race for the electorate seats because voters must vote tactically knowing a third party candidate is highly unlikely to be elected for an electorate seat, even though that third party candidate may be the voters first preference. It is our recommendation that STV be adopted for electing electorate MPs as we consider this a far more fair and representative process that takes into account the preferences of voters in an electorate. Using STV for the election of electorate MPs allows voters to signal strong preferences for candidates of one group/party but also support candidates from other groups/parties if their first choice is not elected. The down side to STV is that very few people understand how it works, but that could also have been said of MMP initially. STV is used in Ireland, the Australian and South African Senate, Malta, Tasmania and even in a number of local body elections in New Zealand, so it is not unfamiliar to New Zealanders. It must also be remembered that the result of the 1992 electoral system referendum showed STV was the second preference to MMP with 17.4% voter support. Better Democracy New Zealand also believes that if a list MP resigns from their party they should also have to resign from parliament as they gained their seat via the party vote and not their personal standing in the community. The same applies to electorate MPs who in reality are elected because of their party affiliations.

Party vote thresholds:

Better Democracy New Zealand would like to see party vote thresholds reduced to 1%. Based on the 2011 election results, 2,257,336 New Zealanders turned out to vote, therefore 22,573 votes would be required to give a political party representation in parliament. It is not unreasonable to expect that if this number of New Zealanders voted for a political party, then those people should be represented. This is not an insignificant number and there is no problem having a one MP party or even a one issue party for that matter. The higher the threshold the more advantageous it is to the two major parties thereby reducing consensus. It is better that we have a more diverse representation to ensure as many New Zealanders as possible are fairly represented in parliament, that is the spirit of MMP. The 1986 New Zealand Royal Commission on the Electoral System initially recommended a threshold of 4%. It was later decided by parliament to set this figure at 5%. In April 2001, parliament established an MMP review committee. There were sixty nine submissions on the appropriate party vote threshold, 20% of the submissions promoted the preservation of the status quo. However, almost 50% of submitters wanted the threshold to be lowered and about 20% wanted the threshold to be demolished altogether. Act, Green and United Future supported a four percent threshold while Labour, National and Alliance believed there was no reason to lower it and that it should be left at 5%.

Lowering the threshold to 1% gives the potential for more parties (and therefore more New Zealanders) to be represented in parliament, thus reducing vote wastage. A glaring example of vote wastage was the 2008 elections where New Zealand First received 95,356 (4.07%) votes but failed to gain any representation. If it had not been for the one-seat provision (to be discussed later), far more votes would have been wasted. Similarly, in 2011 elections, 59,237 (2.65%) votes cast for the Conservative Party were also wasted votes. These voters deserved representation but the unreasonably high threshold denied them it.

Electorate/List seat ratios:

Better Democracy New Zealand wishes to see the ratio of list seats to electorate seats maintained at the current ratio. It is important to maintain the spirit of MMP, that is, if a party gets 20% of
the party vote then it should get 20% of the seats in parliament.

One-seat lifeboat provision:

Better Democracy NZ wishes to see the one-seat lifeboat provision removed. In their journal article, MMP and the Future: Political Challenges and Proposed Reforms, Professors Levine & Roberts highlight that the one-seat proviso has “distorted the intentions of the Electoral Act 1993 and the MMP system to such an extent that in the 2005 election only four of the eight parties elected to the House of Representatives crossed the 5 per cent hurdle, and in 2008 four of the seven parties elected to Parliament in 2008 won fewer than 4 per cent (let alone 5 per cent) of the party votes cast throughout the country as a whole”. They also highlighted that the one-seat lifeboat provision distorted campaigning. In the case of Epsom voters, it made their vote more valuable than that of any other voter. The one-seat lifeboat provision could easily be removed to alleviate the disparity that was exposed at 2008 election where the Act Party with only one electorate MP (3.65% of the vote) were allocated five MPs even though they received less votes than New Zealand First who received 4.07% of the vote and no representation. This goes against New Zealander's innate belief of fairness in our political system and is the root cause of the opposition to MMP.

Back-door electorate MPs:

Better Democracy New Zealand does not believe a sitting electorate MP should be allowed to regain entry to parliament through the party list. This aspect of MMP aggravates many New Zealanders who would like to see this possibility removed. That is not to say that a candidate should not be allowed to stand in an electorate seat and also be on the party list—only that a sitting MP should not be allowed to also be on the party list. If a sitting MP of high standard is in a marginal electorate and concerned about holding their seat, their only option would be to stand and fight or to stand down from his/her electorate seat at the next election and hopefully be put high enough on the party list to ensure election as a list MP. In many ways this would be a more democratic system as the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers who have a very heavy workload do not have the time or commitment to service their electorate as well as an electorate MP should.

Recalling MPs:

Better Democracy New Zealand would also like to see the Recall referendum included into the MMP system so that when voters have lost faith or confidence with an MP, they can be removed without having to wait for the next election which could be quite some time away. This would either cause a by-election to be held if it were an electorate MP being recalled or in the case of a list MP, the next person on the list would replace that MP.

MMP Election terms:

Better Democracy New Zealand would like to see the term of MMP elections increased to four or five years but only on the proviso that the Veto referendum be introduced into the system and be binding on the government.

1 comment:

Gerald Lynch said...

A well considered submission Steve.I too believe the party threshold should be 1% and removal of the I seat corruption in the present MMP vote. I also believe in BINDING referenda, but with a much lower threshold than the present almost impossible imposition. A more particpatory democracy is all to the advantage of NZers. Switzerland is a good example. And I think CIBR may be the most important change we could have.