Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


MMP Or SM? A Big Decision Looms For New Zealand Voters

MMP Or SM? A Big Decision Looms For New Zealand Voters

Special Feature – By Selwyn Manning.

Index:
Interview between Selwyn Manning and:

The campaign to establish MMP as New Zealand's enduring electoral system was given a push when back in 1987 the then prime minister, David Lange, made a surprise announcement during a campaign leaders' debate.

David Lange stated that a re-elected Labour government would hold a binding referendum on electoral reform by 1990.

But on re-election Labour went cold on the idea, Lange was an opponent of MMP and once said in an interview with this writer that MMP was all about compromise: If MMP was to be based on fairness, then Lange wanted nothing of it, he didn't enter Parliament to be polite to his opponents, he became an MP to "slaughter" them: "I didn't enter to be fair to them!" he said. (see, Personal Reflections Of South Auckland’s Statesman)

Lange's then cabinet colleague Sir Geoffrey Palmer was however interested in putting the question of change before voters. He and a handful of others pushed to honour their leader's campaign pledge. And later, a private member's bill put forward in May 1990 by Labour's then MP for Western Hutt, Rev. John Terris, moved to legislate so as to force a binding referendum.

The bill attracted much support, but while - as the late Graeme Hunt wrote in his book Why MMP Must Go (1998) - Terris' bill made it to select committee it ran out of steam as the 1990 General Election loomed. What Terris' bill did do however was cause the National Party to realise there was a public mood for change. National moved to capture this and included in its election manifesto a commitment to hold a binding referendum on electoral reform by the end of 1992.

The rest is history.

Eventually, Mixed Member Proportional Representation(MMP) was voted in and the first MMP Parliament was established in New Zealand after the 1996 General Election when the National Party and New Zealand First formed a coalition government after nine weeks of bargaining and negotiation.


Excited by the event, this writer travelled to Wellington to observe the first debate in an MMP elected Parliament.

It was a sad affair. On entering the public gallery I realised a filibuster was developing. Labour's Member for Napier, Geoff Braybrooke, moved to congratulate the Napier Frivolity Minstrels for what the party deemed a glorious history worthy of considerable note. Labour pushed forward arguing the merits or otherwise of the cheerful troupe, a move that caused considerable angst among members of the newly formed government.

I remember thinking, is that what MMP has coughed up? Was this worth all the effort and hope? But later, the country witnessed the tempering of political extremism that had once been the silent partner of majority governments. And, Parliamentary debate, while generally being a shadow puppet show of the theatre of the Muldoon and Lange years, had survived – albeit much of it read from prepared scripts.

Today, MMP has produced stable minority governments, a Parliament that is more diverse, more representative of the multicultural society that New Zealand embraces today. MMP has enabled us to identify with a party's brand, to think through what a party stands for, what kind of New Zealand it wishes to create, what people or groups it represents. And it delivers proportionality almost in alignment to a percentage of the popular vote.

Arguably, MMP also places more choice before voters. Rather than large parties containing secret factions, each sitting silent while they await an opportunity to peddle a hidden agenda, surprising, even angering, voters when they do so - MMP provides a political environment where smaller parties can campaign on boutique policies. In this sense MMP is more open and transparent than its predecessor First Past The Post (FPP). Some say the larger parties are kept honest by the MMP electoral system.

MMP's critiques say it has created a political environment where large parties are timid of making hard decisions, are more inclined to listen to the demands of minor parties, that minor parties have become the tail that wags the larger dog into submission.

Some say the Supplementary Member voting system (SM) is more ideal, that it offers a proportion of proportionality while ensuring that the larger parties, those that hold the majority of voter support, do have the power to rule alone. SM, some say, is a compromise between the two-horse-race-styled First Past The Post (FPP) system and MMP. They say SM will produce stable majority government - an essential to empower New Zealand to reach its potential.

But enough of that, here below are the interviews...

Here Scoop publishes a comprehensive resource document exploring the arguments for and against the MMP and SM systems, and provides the Scoop audience with an insight into the strategic thinking lurking behind the campaigns for your referendum vote in November 2011.

*******

Interview between Selwyn Manning, and Vote For Change campaign manager Simon Lusk, and spokesperson Jordan Williams.

Selwyn Manning - Q1: What do you see are the paramount reasons for New Zealanders voting in favour of MMP, and against FPP in the 1990s?

Jordan Williams, Vote For Change spokesperson - The 1993 vote was a vote against the political establishment. Voters had gone through 9 years of rapid change, and wanted to send a firm message to the politicians about who was in control. The mood of New Zealand was against the establishment and FPP, so arguments about stopping radical policies and fair representation went down well.

Selwyn Manning - Q2: Why were New Zealand voters prepared to risk the safety of tradition, venture into unknown electoral law territory and embrace MMP?

Jordan Williams - From what I can gather, and I was only 7 at the time, the biggest reason that there was a vote for change was there was a mood of wanting to “stick it” to the politicians. This made the argument for change easy.

Selwyn Manning - Q3: Why did the campaign to maintain the status quo, to retain FPP, fail?

Jordan Williams - The mood was very much against them. The campaign for FPP came from an exceptionally low base, with MMP leading 80%-20% in polls a year out. This was due to an electorate that was sick of incessant change and politicians breaking promises.

Selwyn Manning - Q4: What were the strategic messages from the pro-FPP campaign that fell out of favour with voters?

Jordan Williams - I am not sure that there were any strategic messages that did fall out of favour with voters. As the 1993 campaign progressed the support for MMP fell. My understanding is that they fought an incredibly tough battle and got quite close to winning from an impossible position. They simply were not able to change as many peoples minds as they needed to, perhaps because voters were so sick of the political establishment they were not listening.

Selwyn Manning - Q5: Why was the pro-MMP campaign ultimately successful?

Jordan Williams - The pro-MMP group started from a position of unbelievable strength, and the pro- FPP group were not able to overcome this. 80-20 a year out is a nightmare scenario for any campaign.

Selwyn Manning - Q6: If you were to identify the benefits of MMP what would they be?

Jordan Williams - Representation in Parliament of minor parties and their policies that may not have been heard otherwise. Small parties could force issues onto the political agenda that otherwise would not have come up. A good example is Sue Bradfords anti-smacking law. The major parties would never have raised this, but Sue did and it is now law.

Selwyn Manning - Q7: If you were to identify the benefits of FPP, what would they be?

Jordan Williams - FPP ensures that politicians accountable directly to New Zealanders and not political party bosses. It allows voters to kick out poltiicians they do not like, and provides certainty for voters, rather than having to wait for politicians to hammer out backroom deals to decide who governs.

FFP gives voters a lot more power as they elected MPs rather than party bosses selecting list MPs. FPP prevents too much power being in the hands of a small number of party powerbrokers.

MPs who are not beholden to party bosses are less likely to conform to party norms, meaning far more vigorous debate. Now days a maverick MP is never a List MP, as they have to cozy up to parties to keep their seat.

In this term the only National MP who has publicly dissented from the National line has been Nikki Kaye, who opposed Nationals policy on the reform of the RMA and Mining. These were issues that were important to her electorate, so she dissented, but had she been a List MP it is hard to imagine she would have gone against her party so publicly.

Selwyn Manning - Q8: If you were to identify the frailties/failures of MMP, what would they be?

Jordan Williams - MMP makes it much harder for politicians to be held to account. An electoral system should ensure that politicians, especially those in swing seats, are careful to reflect their electorates concerns. MMP has the perverse effect by incentivising MPs to favour the interests of their party in order to ensure they are “protected” by a high list ranking.

Voters in an MMP system elect a parliament, not a government, and the politicians negotiate coalition deals in a backroom. This gives them an eay way to opt out of election promises as politicians can say they had to compromise during coalition negotiations.

MMP has given disproportionate power to some minor parties, rather than proportional power to all parties. The party that has suffered the most under MMP is the Greens who have never been able to exercise much power despite often having more votes than other minor parties who cozy up to a major party and do backroom deals to see their pet policies implemented.

MMP means minor parties can hold disproportionate power. Winston Peters successfully chose the Prime Minister after negotiating with both major parties in two elections, with only a very small percentage of the vote. I doubt this was the scenario the proponents of MMP envisaged when they started promoting it.

In a poll driven environment the large parties can hide behind their coalition agreement and avoid tough decisions. This can be very subtle, as governments never bring the potentially tough decisions to the public so the public never knows there were options. All parties in a coalition can blame each other for mistakes. The electorate never really knows who to hold to account.

Selwyn Manning - Q9: If you were to identify the Frailties/failures of FPP, what would they be?

Jordan Williams - There are a lot of wasted votes, with minor parties not having representation in parliament.

FFP did not end up with many minority candidates, but I think this was more to do with New Zealand which was bicultural rather than multicultural when MPP was introduced. There is now more ethnic diversity in the electorate results. For example Pansy Wong, Simon Bridges, Jami-Lee Ross and Sam Lotu-Iiga have all won electorates for National, the party most often accused of not having minority Mps.

FPP is criticised for not being representative for minority groups. As MPs represent physical constituencies, groups that are spread geographically may not be able to elect an MP. Some argue that this means that groups are unfairly unrepresented. But the MMP system which provides proportionate representation in terms of seats in Parliament too often results in unrepresentative results in terms of bargaining power. Small parties, with only a small amount of an MMP party vote can play the two large parties off against each other in post election negotiations.

Selwyn Manning - Q10: Some people say FPP provided stable government, what is your view on this claim?

Jordan Williams - We have been fortunate that MMP has provided mostly stable government. The trouble is that MMP has caused the stability to be at the cost of predictability.

Every election New Zealand has run under MMP has resulted in minority governments. New Zealanders have in effect been voting with a blindfold on. In 1996 when the country waited and waited for Winston Peters to call Helen Clark and deliver the Labour government that was expected after a New Zealand First campaign bagging Jim Bolger and National, Winston Peters chose to enter a coalition with National over Labour.

In 2005 after Winston Peters commitment not to accept the “'baubles of office”, Mr Peters accepted a ministerial warrant as part of a supply and confidence agreement with the Labour Party.

MMP has also resulted in odd bed fellows. In 2008, it is unlikely that many would have guessed that the National Party (with a policy to abolish Maori seats) would choose to invite the Maori Party (with a policy to entrench the Maori seats) to participate in its government.

Selwyn Manning - Q11: Some people say MMP has provided stable minority government, what is your view of this claim?

Jordan Williams - History suggests that it has, but at a really high price. New Zealand First has twice negotiated deals so it could hold the balance of power, and these deals have come at a great cost to the taxpayer. In almost all situations a minor party has to have some “wins” which means taking taxpayers money and spending it on minor party policy. Winston Peters propping up the racing industry was not in the best interests of New Zealand, but it was in the best interests of the Prime Minister even if it cost the taxpayers a lot.

Selwyn Manning - Q12: Do you feel FPP is a system of the past, if so why, and if not why?

Jordan Williams - FPP is hardly the system of the past. The great democracies, the United Kingdom, the United States, France, India and Canada still use it at different levels. The UK electorate just rejected an “alternative voting” (similar to the New Zealand PV option) in favour of retaining FPP for the House of Commons.

Selwyn Manning - Q13: If MMP was voted as the preferred system by voters, what reform/changes/alterations do you feel would need to be made (from a national interest point of view and a business interest point of view respectfully)?

Jordan Williams - I cannot speak for business interests but as an interested New Zealander I worry that MMP is fundamentally flawed. Perhaps MMP could be improved by removing the ability for parties that do not reach the 5% threshold to “coat tail” on an electorate MP and not allowing candidates to appear both on party lists and in electorate races.

Not allowing electorate candidates to appear on the list is unlikely to happen because it means political parties cede power away from electorate MPs. This makes electorate MPs harder to control and ensures they follow the party line.

I believe the power of the party lists has reduced the debate within caucuses, reduced the incentive for people to take honest stances against their parties and decreased the constituent-MP relationship. So MMP has reduced diversity of opinion within parties, which has not been beneficial to New Zealand.

Selwyn Manning - Q14: It would seem the percentage proportionality of popular vote and how that expresses in percentage and proportionality in the Parliament is an aspect of MMP that will be popular with the voting public. What are the strengths and weaknesses of MMP in this regard?

Jordan Williams - Everyone knows that proportionality between votes and seats is not necessarily the same as proportionality between votes and power. There is a balance between a proportional voice for small parties and giving them a disproportionate amount of power. MMP allowed Winston Peters to pick the Prime Minister in 1996 and 2005, having achieved 13.35% and 5.72% of the party vote respectively.

Selwyn Manning - Q15: What are the merits of the SM electoral system?

Jordan Williams - SM is a compromise between the accountability FPP provides while allowing a platform for small parties to gain a voice and list MPs. It offers the ability for parties to bring in technical specialists on the list, but reduces the likelihood of unpopular former electorate MPs sneaking back into Parliament on the list. SM may allow small parties to be present in Parliaments decision making process but is less likely to give them “king-maker” positions of power.

Selwyn Manning - Q16: How does SM, FPP, and MMP compare, the pros and cons?

Jordan Williams - SM is somewhere between FFP and MMP, and offers the best of both systems. It provides representation of minority parties but is less likely than MMP to allow them to hold too much power over the major parties.

It has the benefits of FPP in that more MPs are directly accountable to the electorate they serve, and bad MPs can be voted out rather than protected by sneaky backroom deals.

The cons of SM is it is something of a compromise, and probably leaves supporters of MMP and FFP disappointed. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as fanatics for any cause are probably going to be outliers.

Selwyn Manning - Q17: If you highlight five significant reasons MMP should go what would they be, and what would the solutions to these problems be?

Jordan Williams -

    1. MMP wrongly emphasises electoral representation rather than electoral accountability. It has too many list MPs that are only accountable to political party bosses and reduces the power of constituencies to hold their local MP accountable by removing them. Thats not democracy. The number of list MPs should be reduced.

    2. Every New Zealand MMP election has lead to minority government. That leads to a disproportionate amount of power in the hands of small parties. Small parties should have power approximately proportional to its support, but they too often hold the balance of power. That is unfair.

    3. MMP government arrangements are unpredictable. What party(parties) govern is determined by politicians post-election and not the voters. That is unfair.

    4. Coalition governments make accountability harder. They allow politicians to promise what they know they cannot deliver and blame other parties they govern with when they do not follow through. It is harder to assess a government against what it promised or know what you are voting for on election day. We deserve to know what were voting for in advance.

    5. The threshold and overhangs distort what is supposed to be a purely proportional system. The other electoral options ensure that the number of MPs is not variable on election results.

Selwyn Manning - Q18: If FPP is a system of the past, why would SM be the system for the future?

Jordan Williams - I do not accept that FPP is a system of the past, and nor do many voters in the United Kingdom, USA and Canada.

Selwyn Manning - Q19: From a proportionality point of view, SM seems to fail to match the proportionality observed in the popular vote count. Is this so? And if it is so why should the New Zealand voter favorably consider SM over MMP? If it is not so, what are the merits of SM from a proportionality point of view?

Jordan Williams - MMP is a disproportionate because it provides disproportionate power to minor parties. In 1996 after a campaign bagging Jim Bolger and National, Winston Peters choose to form a coalition government with him over Helen Clark's Labour. In 2005 Winston Peters was again the “king-maker” - despite only receiving 5.7% of the vote, his party choose who would be Prime Minister for three years.

Selwyn Manning - Q20: What are the details of the campaign you are/will be running?

Simon Lusk, Vote For Change campaign manager - Usually the candidate sets the tone of a campaign, and I work within the parameters provided by them. Chris Tremain refused to let anyone attack Russell Fairbrother through the 2005 and 2008 campaigns, although Russell had some obvious weaknesses through his time as a criminal defence lawyer. Chris won by playing fair, even when Russell went negative, and I want our campaign to be able to be held to the same standard Chris held his to.

This campaign is the first where I am setting the tone, and I am insisting that we debate the issues, not the personalities. Our campaign will release a series of campaign pledges in the near future, and these will lay out what we will and will not do. Our team hopes our opponents will be willing to run a similarly fair campaign that focuses on what is best for New Zealand rather than mindless attacks on individuals.

One passion of mine is an aversion of public funding of election campaigns, or de facto public funding. Our campaign will not seek public funds, or seek to use MPs parliamentary services budgets to campaign.

Selwyn Manning - Q21: Primarily, in whose interest will the campaign be seeking to represent (for example is the campaign being backed by business/individuals/organisations/entities? If so, who and what are they and how much money will be required for the campaign and how much money is being realised to date?

Jordan Williams - The campaign isn't “representing any particular group. It is founded by and funded by New Zealanders that realise that MMP is fundamentally flawed and want New Zealands democracy to be better. We have invited all kiwis who have realised that MMP is flawed to join, donate and become vote for change activists.

We have no idea how much support and funding we will generate. We are only just launching. The 22nd February Christchurch Earthquakes has made fundraising harder, New Zealand is rightfully focused at rebuilding Christchurch. But thats why it is even more important that New Zealanders tick “Change” so we get three years to evaluate MMP. We will be disclosing our electoral advertisement spending as required by electoral law.

Selwyn Manning - Q22: With respect to the campaign, is it correct to assume significant money is being donated to promote the merits of SM. If this is so, what reasons, or why, are people/businesses/entities prepared to exchange hard earned money for a new electoral system?

Jordan Williams - I am afraid I cannot answer as I do not have any role in fundraising and am unaware of who the donors are. This is the campaigns policy, with others taking responsibility for fundraising and dealing with donors.

Selwyn Manning - Q23: What other countries use SM and what co-relation can be identified between those countries and New Zealand (from a political culture, socio-economic demographic/politico-economic geography point of view)?

Jordan Williams - Various forms of SM (i.e. systems that rely on a proportional voting and plurality voting operating independently) are used in Japen, South Korea, Philippines and Thailand. SM is particularly well suited to unicameral legislatures as it allows for two methods of election without impacting on the results of each.

I dont think cultural and socio-economic co-relations should be a major factor in choosing what system is best for New Zealand. If that were the case we would blindly follow Australia with STV, or assume that as the United Kingdom is sticking with FPP we should launch back to that. All the options the 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System examined were legitimate. We should focus on the pros and cons of each to determine what is best suited for New Zealand.

Selwyn Manning - Q24: If one considers the New Zealand voting demographic, what sectors of voters would SM appeal to? Is there expected to be a gender/age/socio-economic bias in favour of SM and comparatively MMP?

Jordan Williams - The debate on the electoral system should be party neutral. It is unlikely that significant gender/age/socio-economic bias will develop. Obviously those that voted before 1996 will have first hand knowledge of FPP but as SM is a compromise between the two systems it may gain favour across the age groups.

Selwyn Manning - Q25: If one thinks of the FPP campaign in the 1990s, a memory of Peter Shirtcliffe comes to mind. Who will be the face of the campaign you are running? Will the face of this 2011 campaign be selected so as to relate to the demographics you suspect will be inclined to consider an alternative to MMP?

Jordan Williams - At this stage I am the main face of the Vote for Change campaign. I'm a public lawyer based in Wellington and have had a long interest in politics and constitutional matters.

Selwyn Manning - Q26: What are the key elements of your campaign strategy? How will you roll out your messages, what will those key messages be, and what is the time-line for this aspect of your strategy?

Jordan Williams - That is a question for the campaign manager. At this point we are asking interested New Zealanders to join us and help us with the campaign.

Our intent is to build a grass roots movement and use the internet heavily in our campaign. The messages will be that MMP is a flawed system that we need to change, and the only way to change it is to vote for change.

The first question in the referendum is the most important one. If people vote to retain MMP politicians are supposed to amend it, but that is a bit like getting the fox to guard the hen house. They will do what is best for them, not what is best for the New Zealand voter.

Selwyn Manning - Q27: Critiques may well focus on personalities, and historical campaigns, suggesting dog whistling strategies and 'dirty tricks' tactics may be deployed by your campaigners. What is your response to such accusations?

Simon Lusk - That is exactly the approach I expect MMPs proponents to take. They will attack on everything they can that does not involve them having to defend MMP. They will try to create a bogey man out of Peter Shirtcliffe, although Peter is clear that he is far more interested in playing golf and spending time with his grandchildren than being involved in the campaign.

Our campaign will be measured against our campaign pledges, pledges that will be made public when our web site goes online. The underlying philosophy is that we will debate the issue, rather than attack opponents or dog whistle.

We have already seen the Pro MMP lobby have taken it on themselves to try to shut down debate about MMP. This approach is something I believe is totally unethical, and it is disappointing that the Pro MMP lobby would prefer to win by playing the man not the ball.

I am also exceptionally disappointed that Labour are whipping their MPs on this issue. This is not good for New Zealand as it means that an important part of the political spectrum is not engaged on the issue, rather being forced into being salespeople for something they may well not believe in. Issues of electoral reform should not be whipped, and it is a sad reflection on Labour that they are taking such a totalitarian approach.

Selwyn Manning - Q28: Some people say wedge strategies and dog whistling strategies have a place in politics and campaigns, what is your view of this statement?

Simon Lusk - They do, and as they are effective I am sure they will play a part in campaigns in New Zealand. They are not strategies I want to employ in this campaign, where being reasoned, reasonable and listen to our opponents arguments is far more important to our team than childish squabbling, or targeting segments of the population with dog whistles.

Selwyn Manning - Q29: If we consider a future reality where SM is the established electoral system of New Zealand, what differences will be in evidence compared to now? And what will be the consequences of those differences?

Jordan Williams - We would see more MPs directly elected by voters, rather than selected by some sneaky backroom process by faceless, unrepresentative party bosses. New Zealanders would be able to vote out electorate MPs, and not have them come back in on the list after losing their seat.

SM would have the benefit of major parties having to compromise less with minor parties, and minor parties power being proportionally less. Hopefully this would mean fewer big spend ups to give minor parties wins at the taxpayers expense.

More elected MPs means more people closer to the electorate rather than closer to the party backroom operators that choose the list. This means more internal debate within parties, rather than the group think we get at the moment where backbenchers try to appease bosses to keep safe list positions.

Selwyn Manning - Q30: If we consider a future reality where MMP is the established electoral system of New Zealand, what differences will be in evidence compared to now? And what will be the consequences of those differences?

Jordan Williams - Increased disenfrancisement from a public that dont like the shabby backroom deals that are done to promote particular candidates or coalitions.

Parliament will be characterised by bad behaviour by MPs because this can go unpunished by the electorate. MMP means most MPs toe the party line so they can keep coming back as a List Mps.

*******


Interview between Selwyn Manning, and Campaign For MMP spokesperson Dr Sandra Grey.

Selwyn Manning - Q1: What do you see are the paramount reasons for New Zealanders voting in favour of MMP, and against FPP in the 1990s?

Dr Sandra Grey, Campaign For MMP spokesperson - Under our First Past the Post system, the votes of hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders were worthless. For the National Party supporter in a safe Labour area, their votes were totally wasted. The same applied for Labour supporters in National areas, and supporters of smaller parties also.

A fifth of the voting population was unrepresented because they gave their vote to a third party.

The party who won the most votes didn’t form the Government in 1978 and 1981.

A National government was formed in 1993 in spite of getting only 35% of the popular vote.

The governments elected under FPP since 1984 made radical economic changes without a mandate from voters.

New Zealand, along with most Western democracies, had suffered a decline in the legitimacy of its public institutions and politicians.

Selwyn Manning - Q2: Why were New Zealand voters prepared to risk the safety of tradition, venture into unknown electoral law territory and embrace MMP?

Dr Sandra Grey - New Zealand voters were fed up with cynical promises made by politicians during election campaigns. This fed into anger against the same politicians when they brought in radical change without warning the voters.

The leadership of the main political parties (apart from Geoffrey Palmer) were half hearted or opposed to the change. Voters’ were unhappy with Labour’s decision not to follow through with Electoral Reform. The National government initiated a better process but did not believe the voters would choose change.

MMP was seen as a brake on politicians. As Mike Moore said following the 1992 referendum ‘The people didn't speak on Saturday. They screamed.'

The politicians’ dismissed the importance of this issue to the public and in the end were punished by a push for change from the grassroots.

Selwyn Manning - Q3: Why did the campaign to maintain the status quo, to retain FPP, fail?

Dr Sandra Grey - In 1992 the Electoral Reform Coalition built a good grassroots campaign which was broadly non-partisan and led by a charismatic Rod Donald.

The opposition to MMP in the runoff referendum in 1993 was led by Peter Shirtcliffe, the Telecom Chairman, and groups associated with the radical economic change. Voters were cynical of this opposition.

The TV advertisements which focused on fear (crying babies, faceless men with paper bags over their heads) turned off voters.

The legal challenge to Danna Glendining of the Electoral Reform Coalition posited the pro-MMP camp as David to the Goliath of the Campaign for Better Democracy.

Selwyn Manning - Q4: What were the strategic messages from the pro-FPP campaign that fell out of favour with voters?

Dr Sandra Grey - That an increase in the number of MPs from 99 to 120 would stack Parliament with anonymous ‘yes men’.

That change would lead to unstable and indecisive government.

The Campaign for Better Government’s campaign plan was leaked. It said the Campaign would target the less well informed voter and focus on alarming people about the change to the voting system.

Selwyn Manning - Q5: Why was the pro-MMP campaign ultimately successful?

Dr Sandra Grey - Women in particular supported a change to MMP. They realised that they would never catch up with the number of male MPs in Parliament without a shakeup of the system.

New Zealanders wanted a real choice based on their vote rather than the lottery of where they might live in the country. Only MMP gave them this option.

Voters were convinced about the fairness of MMP – a party’s share of the vote was roughly the same as the share of the seats in Parliament. This appealed to the “fair go” accepted by most people in New Zealand as a hallmark of how we live together.

Distrust of politicians extended to the system they embraced - FPP.

The public saw the struggle between the pro and anti MMP campaigns as a David and Goliath struggle. When it became evident how much money the anti-MMP campaign was spending on its advertising, public opinion swung against them.

MMP won on its merits.

Selwyn Manning - Q6: If you were to identify the benefits of MMP what would they be?

Dr Sandra Grey - Every voter is valued equally no matter where they live in New Zealand.

Parliament represents most political positions. *MMP gives a true measure of the strength of a political position or party. *Because Parliament represents most political positions we don’t create outsiders who resent not having a voice. *It balances the power between Cabinet (or Government) and Parliament. Before MMP, Parliament was treated like a rubber stamp; this is no longer the case.

Select committees have become more relevant and there is balance of participation across the parties.

There has been innovation in legislation and creative solutions to parties working together in coalitions such as Ministers outside Cabinet.

Parliament now works as a check and balance on the power of the executive.

The representation of women has improved. There is a significant number of women who have had Cabinet experience. The number of women who were elected under MMP is now 60% of all women who have ever entered Parliament.

Māori are now represented in Parliament in roughly the same proportion as their percentage of the population.

Pasifika and Asian peoples are now represented in Parliament.

Selwyn Manning - Q7: If you were to identify the benefits of FPP, what would they be?

Dr Sandra Grey - You have to assume that we only have two parties in New Zealand to make FPP work. This has not been true for over sixty years.

FPP is adequate for choosing a winner in a two horse race.

Since the 1970s a fifth of the population voted for parties other than National and Labour.

New Zealand since the 1950s has never had a party that got a majority of votes and then went on to form the Government.

FFP had support because it seemed to deliver certainty, the PM is known from election night.

New Zealanders were asked to extend the life of Parliament to four years but rejected this twice, they wanted the certainty to get rid of a Government elected under FPP .

Selwyn Manning - Q8: If you were to identify the frailties/failures of MMP, what would they be?

Dr Sandra Grey - Many voters view MMP through an FPP lens. People know that the Party Vote is the most important but they want the party with the most seats to be “the winner takes all”.

Electorate MPs are elected using FPP as a part of the ‘mixed’ nature of MMP. An MP can be elected with as little as 35% of the popular vote. MMP corrects this unfairness because list MPs compensate a party so they get their fair share of seats according to the party vote. The voter may feel having FPP elected Electorate MPs will lead to unfair results and this will reflect badly on the MMP system itself.

Using the winners and losers (a party wins by passing the threshold 5% or an electorate seat) voters were surprised when New Zealand First with 4.27% of the vote, got no seats. Yet ACT with 3.65% sailed into parliament with five MPs, because a major party instructed its supporters to back the ACT party in Epsom. A similar argument could be made in regard to the Christian Coalition which won 4.3% of the vote in 1996 but failed to win any seats.

Selwyn Manning - Q9: If you were to identify the Frailties/failures of FPP, what would they be?

Dr Sandra Grey - Voters may support either Labour or National but not like their party’s electorate candidate. Under FPP they feel trapped into voting for someone simply because they want to support their party into government.

Voters who are trapped in ‘safe’ seats feel their vote is wasted.

Voter participation in democratic elections has declined in most Western countries. The decline has been stronger (participation rates of 60% and less) in FPP countries compared with proportional representation countries.

Parties who get a lower percentage of the popular vote can still go on to form a government. This happened in 1978 and 1981 when Labour won more votes but less individual electorate contests and National went on to form the Government.

In 1984 the Labour Party won the election with only 44% of the vote. In 1993 the National Party gained only 35% of the popular vote but went on to form the Government.

Smaller parties could have a great deal of support across the country but not concentrated enough to get an electorate seat.

Smaller parties won between 18% and 21% of the vote in 1978, 1981, and 1993 but got only one or two seats on each occasion.

Selwyn Manning - Q10: Some people say FPP provided stable government, what is your view on this claim?

Dr Sandra Grey - Electoral systems play a part in creating political stability but it’s the political culture that provides overall stability.

By any definition of political stability, New Zealand has not experienced an unstable government under FPP or MMP. Stability is not really at issue.

A good political culture means: a defeated party hands over power smoothly, politicians are not corrupt, and there is respect for the rule of law.

Most Parliaments under MMP have completed their three year terms (except the 46th Parliament was short by four months).

No government under MMP has lost a vote of confidence.

New Zealanders have confidence in their institutions. Transparency International's annual Corruption Perceptions Index ranked New Zealand 1st equal of 178 countries, in their most recent (2010) Index.

Selwyn Manning - Q11: Some people say MMP has provided stable minority government, what is your view of this claim?

Dr Sandra Grey - We would agree.

MMP has provided stable minority government which has been creative and innovative.

Innovations include allowing smaller parties to have Ministers and yet criticise the Government in some areas.

There are now a large number of ways parties can work together with the ruling party other than ‘confidence and supply’.

We have known stable government on the left and the right of the political spectrum. The current Parliament and Government has been taken to task for the rapidity of its decision making – some were necessary like decisions in the immediate aftermath of the Christchurch Earthquake. It’s clear that for opponents of MMP its not ‘decision making’ per se, but the nature of the decisions. The types of decisions they want harks back to a world where a few voices in cabinet made all decisions.

Blaming MMP for all our current issues is very hollow. It’s common knowledge that it’s the maleficence of bankers, financers and speculators that have brought about the global collapse.

Germany uses MMP also. Their role in keeping the European Union afloat during several recent debt crises puts paid to the myth that MMP leads to poor economic management.

Selwyn Manning - Q12: Do you feel FPP is a system of the past, if so why, and if not why?

Dr Sandra Grey - FPP has its roots in the Eighteenth Century and so it’s true that it’s a system of the past.

FPP has been reformed from the Nineteenth Century, with universal suffrage, women’s suffrage, and the secret ballot, but it could never overcome its origins as a way of electing ‘gentleman’ into Parliament.

FPP results in the election of candidates who do not have majority support, the distribution of seats doesn’t match the distribution of votes, and there is no point voting for your most preferred candidate – so it becomes a ‘wasted vote’.

Even the Conservative Party in the UK does not elect its own leader using FPP. It has a modified, two round, run-off election process.

FPP is an unfair system which denied representation to a large section of society and wasted the votes of an even larger section.

Today’s New Zealand does not resemble Eighteenth Century England in any way. Most of our population lives in cities and come from many different cultures. This means ensuring fair representation is vital.

Selwyn Manning - Q13: If MMP was voted as the preferred system by voters, what reform/changes/alterations do you feel would need to be made (from a national interest point of view and a business interest point of view respectfully)?

Dr Sandra Grey - The Campaign recognises the importance of a review of MMP, but does not have a position on any improvements to MMP. We recognise people hold strong views about a number of issues:

    - The percentage thresholds and whether 5% is too high (the Royal Commission recommended 4%)
    - The one seat threshold and whether it is too low (the MMP system in Germany was changed from one seat to three)
    - Coat-tailing; if a party wins one Electorate seat should it also gain extra MPs from the Party List if it doesn’t meet the 5% threshold?
    - Dual candidacy; should a candidate be on the Party List and also stand for an electorate?

All these questions should be the subject of a public debate and an independent review is the best place to have that debate.

The Campaign welcomes any direction from the Electoral Commission on what form its public consultation phase will take.

Selwyn Manning - Q14: It would seem the percentage proportionality of popular vote and how that expresses in percentage and proportionality in the Parliament is an aspect of MMP that will be popular with the voting public. What are the strengths and weaknesses of MMP in this regard?

Dr Sandra Grey - The strength of our proportional system is its inherent fairness – the seats are shared according to the share of the popular vote gained by a party.

Unlike the parochial or local nature of the individual contests for electorates under FPP – MMP highlights our national, shared identity.

    - New Zealanders are united around a shared culture and history, and there are few regional divisions. Although we celebrate some difference in sporting and other contexts; ‘Mainlanders’, ‘Highlanders’ and the ‘Blues’, this only emphasises how much we have in common. We experience this share identity as ‘kiwis’ when we travel and work overseas.
    - For this contest there is only one electorate: the whole of New Zealand, so it’s irrelevant if the voter lives in Kaitaia or Bluff – their vote counts.

Selwyn Manning - Q15: What are the merits of the SM electoral system?

Dr Sandra Grey - SM has the same merits as FPP. When it was discussed by the Royal Commission of Electoral Reform in 1986 – there was no country that had actually adopted SM. Hungry was the first SM country in 1990.

The supporters of SM want a system that is as close as possible to FPP.

There is no principled reason why 90 out of 120 seats should be elected under FPP as part of the Supplementary Member system.

The SM system proposed in NZ, has 75% of the seats elected by FPP and the remainder by a party list. In other countries that use SM the fraction is different; it can be 50/50 but it ranges from 81% in for South Korea to only 31% for Armenia.

Ruth Richardson, the former National MP and Finance Minister, justified her support for SM stating “SM is FPP with attitude”

The opponents of MMP seem to be backing SM in the knowledge that New Zealand voters are attracted to the fairness of a proportional system. But SM is predominantly FPP.

Selwyn Manning - Q16: How does SM, FPP, and MMP compare, the pros and cons?

Dr Sandra Grey - To compare voting systems you have to have criteria for comparison. The Royal Commission of the Electoral System (1986) is regarded internationally as a source of criteria.

Applying the eight criteria devised by the Commission; the table below shows how each system compares on a continuum from positive ( + ) to fails this criteria ( – ).

Selwyn Manning - Q17: If you highlight five significant reasons MMP should stay what would they be, and what would the solutions to any identified problems with MMP be?

Dr Sandra Grey - MMP supports voters’ choice and is essential to modern democracy. No section of society or individual voter need fear that their vote won’t be counted. MMP elections record the lowest level of wasted votes compared to FPP.

MMP means voters can choose parties to represent their political values, beliefs and policies. The spectrum of political views can be represented by more than two parties.

Constituencies which are not bound by electorate geography have come to be represented in Parliament; Women, Māori, Pasifika, and Asian representation have grown.

With the evolution of the political system as a whole, MMP will assist the balancing of Parliament and the Executive, enhance political skills in coalitions, and continue to be a source of creativity and innovation.

Where a party gets 25% of the votes it gets 25% of the seats; it’s fair and it accurately reflects the way people vote.

Selwyn Manning - Q18: If FPP is a system of the past, why would some see SM as the system for the future?

Dr Sandra Grey - FFP only worked if you accepted the illusion that the sum of 99 individual contests represented the choice of all New Zealand voters.

FFP was not developed with political parties in mind, they evolved later.

This illusion was blown in general election after general election (1978, 1981, and 1993 for example). But it was the ‘winner takes all’ behaviour of politicians which poured salt into the wounds and made FPP unpalatable.

FPP needed a repackaging and SM is being pushed out to meet the need.

New Zealand voters like proportionality ‘because it is fair’ – so SM provides a proportional element.

The proportionality is confined to 30 supplementary seats – so doesn’t upset the unfair ‘first-past-the-post’ nature of SM.

SM is not a proportional system. It is on the same footing as FPP. They are both backward systems which will distort our democracy and will eventually lead to a second crisis in our system in the future.

People who currently enjoy representation in Parliament; for example Pasifika and Asian peoples, may lose out under SM. Yet the future of New Zealand will be one of demographic change with greater numbers of Pasifika, Māori and Asian peoples.

Selwyn Manning - Q19: From a proportionality point of view, SM seems to fail to match the proportionality observed in the popular vote count. Is this so? And if it is so why would the New Zealand voter favourably consider SM over MMP? If it is not so, what are the merits of SM from a proportionality point of view?

Dr Sandra Grey - We agree. SM fails to match the popular vote.

New Zealanders do not favour SM. Only 4% of people support it in recent polls, and only 5.5% supported it in 1992 when it was formally put to the vote.

We don’t believe SM carries any merits in terms of proportionality.

The table below compares systems. The the lower the number, the greater the match between votes and share of the seats. MMP and proportional representation systems in general perform better.

Source: The Politics of Electoral Systems, Michael Gallagher (2008).

Selwyn Manning - Q20: What are the details of the campaign you are/will be running?

Dr Sandra Grey - We are running a grassroots, non-partisan campaign to inform and encourage voters to support MMP.

We have recently employed a Campaign Coordinator and we currently have a number of local activist groups working in major cities and towns in New Zealand.

The Campaign will focus on core campaign activities like stalls, speaking to community groups, letterbox drops, social media and door knocking.

Selwyn Manning - Q21: Primarily, in whose interest will the campaign be seeking to represent (for example is the campaign being backed by business/individuals/ organisations/ entities? If so, who and what are they and how much money will be required for the campaign and how much money is being realised to date?

Dr Sandra Grey - We are not seeking to represent interests. We want to encourage well over 50% of the population to back MMP in November, and our job is to mobilise supporters of MMP to get the word out among their families and communities.

We seek support from everyone who wants to retain MMP and we have the support of organisations that organise democratically and/or have representative structures; student bodies, trade unions, and church groups for example.

The supporters of the Campaign are similar to the original Campaign for MMP; the Electoral Reform Coalition and many of the individuals who supported the ERC in 1992 and 1993 are supporters of the Campaign today. As well as a broad grassroots Campaign, we would like to run some advertising. We are in active fundraising mode and need support.

We campaigned for a cap on spending for all third party promoters and we will come below that cap on spending.

Selwyn Manning - Q22: With respect to the campaign, why are people/businesses/entities prepared to exchange hard earned money to support a campaign to establish MMP as the preferred electoral system?

Dr Sandra Grey - MMP is the current system, and polling to date demonstrates it is the preferred system.

It’s regrettable that such a feature of our democracy is under attack by what appear to be narrow interests.

New Zealanders recognise that in this third referendum on our electoral system we have the opportunity to draw a line under this debate.

We recognise that the vested interests that supported FPP are now rallying to attack MMP. Don Brash, when leader of the National Party (now the leader of ACT) oversaw the adoption of National Party policy to make MMP a referendum issue. Don Brash has publically supported a change to SM.

The Campaign for MMP’s supporters believe our current system is the fairest and are willing to back the campaign financially to keep it.

Selwyn Manning - Q23: What other countries use MMP and what co-relation can be identified between those countries and New Zealand (from a political culture, socio-economic demographic/politico-economic geography point of view)?

Dr Sandra Grey - In 1986 when MMP was proposed it was seen as falling in between the two dominant systems of FFP (part of the historical legacy of Anglophone countries) and PR; Proportional Representation, which was prevalent in Europe.

Germany adopted the mixed system, a mixture of both these traditions. This moderate compromise for Germany meant embracing the FPP tradition and for New Zealand it meant adopting proportional representation.

Since our adoption of MMP, Scotland and Wales have dropped FPP and now have MMP systems. Whilst not sovereign states, they share history, people, and climate with New Zealand.

A number of countries in Latin America have MMP and could not be more different to New Zealand for that matter; Mexico and Venezuela.

Selwyn Manning - Q24: If one considers the New Zealand voting demographic, what sectors of voters does MMP appeal to? Is there expected to be a gender/age/socio-economic bias in favour of MMP and comparatively SM?

Dr Sandra Grey - MMP appeals to a broad section of New Zealanders. In all recent opinion polls, it has come out as the most popular voting system.

For example, the June 2011 Research NZ survey found that people’s income was neutral in terms of support for MMP – support was high among all three income bands.

Younger voters have only known MMP as their voting system.

Along with first time voters, nearly 39% of the voting population have only known MMP.

From surveys, around 70% of voters aged 18-24 favour MMP. People 65+ are more likely to support alternatives to MMP.

Women are slightly greater supporters of MMP than men, and Māori are strong supporters of MMP also.

In the poll that matters – the public vote at the referendum – only 5.6% of voters in 1992 chose SM; the lowest vote cast for one of the four options. *Today SM polls at only 3%. It is consistently the least popular system.

Selwyn Manning - Q25: What are the key elements of your campaign strategy? How will you roll out your messages, what will those key messages be, and what is the time-line for this aspect of your strategy?

Dr Sandra Grey - We are gearing up to the launch of our Campaign during the ‘election period’ proper.

Because of the constraints of budget (we will certainly be under the advertising spending cap of $300,000 incl GST that we campaigned successfully for last year) we will follow the traditional campaign; distributing leaflets, erecting billboards with our own messages, and getting our spokespeople as much exposure as possible in the media and at the hustings.

Social media will be important given the support of younger people for MMP.

Selwyn Manning - Q26: Critiques may well focus on personalities and historical campaigns, suggesting dog whistling strategies and 'dirty tricks' tactics may be deployed by your campaigners. What is your response to such accusations?

Dr Sandra Grey - The Campaign for MMP will focus on convincing voters that MMP is the fairest of all the systems and offers voters most choice.

We haven’t been challenged in this way to date, but we will of course answer any such critiques should they eventuate. We will not be retaining Crosby Texter so perhaps that question is best directed to the anti-MMP campaign.

Already we are seeing the anti-MMP campaigners blame all our current issues on MMP. Eighteen years has elapsed since the referendum which installed MMP, New Zealand voters will be sceptical of any messages that cites MMP as the cause of a) economic decline, b) a lack of stability in government and c) a lack of decision making. It’s common knowledge that the current recession or downturn is part of a worldwide event.

Selwyn Manning - Q27: Some people say wedge strategies and dog whistling strategies have a place in politics and campaigns, what is your view of this statement?

Dr Sandra Grey - We are campaigning to retain the status quo, so that MMP is accepted by a wide spectrum of New Zealand voters (well over 50%) as being the fairest voting system on offer. We are not interested in wedge politics.

Selwyn Manning - Q28: If we consider a future where SM is the established electoral system of New Zealand, what differences will be in evidence compared to now? And what will be the consequences of those differences?

Dr Sandra Grey - The Electoral Commission speculated on the composition of Parliament if SM was the electoral system during the year 1978. This ‘what might have been’ is another way of looking at the question.

Women’s leadership, the number of women MPs, and women cabinet ministers would have taken a knock. Recall that since 1931 only 106 women have entered Parliament. Sixty percent entered during the short period of MMP, 1996-2008.

For Māori, the figure is 49% entry under MMP despite Māori being elected to Parliament from the nineteenth century onwards.

As to the future, similar to the exercise undertaken by the Electoral Commission we don’t know how voters will react to a new voting system. If in the future there is a decline in the legitimacy of Parliament and our political system there will be only one culprit – the change to our electoral system. Our view is that SM will create some of the same problems FPP did – a ‘winner takes all’ political culture, wasted votes in safe seats and a decline in the diversity of our Parliament.

The fact remains that under SM, the votes of hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders will be wasted as people’s choice of party would only be allocated to the 30 remaining list seats, not taking into account all 120 MPs like MMP does.

Selwyn Manning - Q29: If we consider a future reality where MMP is the established electoral system of New Zealand, what differences will be in evidence compared to now? And what will be the consequences of those differences?

Dr Sandra Grey - New Zealand is viewed as a remarkable social experiment. Most of our non-native population come from the British Isles but in different proportions to what existed in the ‘home country’.

Within a short period we had a new people - Pākehā New Zealanders. There was innovation across a range of socioeconomic areas: hours of work, the export of frozen meat, votes for women, Māori seats in Parliament.

We have now a diverse population with migration principally from Asia Pacific Island countries.

We voted to change our electoral system to MMP.

There was a hope that with the advent of coalition government, politicians would learn to work constructively towards common goals. Parliament has changed but it is an evolutionary change. Even in the current Parliament there have been moments when all parties have worked together to the get the best legislative outcome.

This is part of the trajectory begun by the change to MMP, but it will take a change in political culture to bed in behavioural change based on cooperation, compromise and innovation.

MMP is the only system on offer that is adaptive for whatever the future holds New Zealand.

*******

SEE ALSO:

WISH TO COMMENT?:

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Daphne Lawless: The Whale Oil Leaks: Anti-Politics From Above

As we go to press, the election campaign has been turned upside down by a new book by investigative journalist Nicky Hager. Dirty Politics is based mainly on a leak of 2 gigabytes of emails and Facebook messages from “Whale Oil”, the vicious ... More>>

ALSO:

Branko Marcetic: When John Key Was Concerned About Dirty Politics

If Nicky Hager needs some support in the midst of a whirlwind of government criticism for his allegations of “dirty tricks” by the National Party, he may find one unlikely ally – John Key, six years ago. More>>

Jim Miles: Israeli War Crimes In Gaza

Israel reveals its true colours and true aspirations every time it attacks Gaza (or any other self-perceived enemy) as being the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, even to the degree - as the references above indicate - to the act of genocide. More>>

David Swanson: Top 9 Reasons To Stop Bombing Iraq

1. It's not a rescue mission. The U.S. personnel could be evacuated without the 500-pound bombs. The persecuted minorities could be supplied, moved, or their enemy dissuaded, or all three, without the 500-pound bombs or the hundreds of 'advisors' (trained ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Comedian’s Death: Robin Williams And The Virtues Of Suicide

The Grim Reaper never runs out of converts. Put another way, death never gets his full due. Comedians do not figure well in this – they are particularly attractive targets in the business of death. More>>

Suzan Mazur: "Oomph" & Origin Of Life At Hydrothermal Vents

The notion that life originated in hydrothermal vents was for a long time a sleepy area of scientific inquiry because the vents first found, known as 'black smokers,' were way too hot and acidic. But in 1989, Michael Russell, a British geochemist who ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The US Rescue Mission In Iraq

It isn’t often that unilateral US bombing raids within a foreign country can be supported, but the current US bombing campaign in northern Iraq is one such case. The fighters of the Islamic State (IS) appear to be intent on committing genocide against the Yezidis, Christians, Turkmen, Kurds and every other non-Sunni community in the region… More>>

ALSO:

Stuart Littlewood: What More Horrors Are In Store For Gaza?

I wonder what Hamas and Israeli leaders are thinking as they survey the devastation in Gaza and review the death-toll and casualty figures? Or course, neither has to live among the ruins and clamber over the devastation. More>>

ALSO:

Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
TEDxAuckland
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news