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STV Adopted For Local Councils And DHBs

STV Adopted For Local Councils And DHBs
Local Electoral Bill - 3rd Reading speech notes
Thursday 23 May 2001
Rod Donald MP
Green Party co-Leader

This is a good bill. It achieves five important changes in the local government arena that will enhance our democracy.

First, this bill provides for candidate profile statements. I believe they will heighten voter interest in local elections. On the basis that knowledge is power, voters will be armed with more information that will lead to better candidates being elected.

Second, a significant advance is that this bill will require disclosure of donations made to candidates. Transparency is important in a democracy. If a particular individual, organisation, or corporation is bankrolling a local election campaign, the voters need to know so they can assess their motives, and also the intentions of the candidates. It is a logical move. It brings local elections in line with national elections.

I think we need even stronger rules at the national level. It is obscene that an organisation like the Free Enterprise Trust can act as a front for the National Party without it or the National Party having to declare the sources of the large corporate donations that bankrolled their last election campaign.

Third, this bill introduces campaign spending limits. This is a vital step forward. It lines up local elections with parliamentary elections, by simply ensuring that candidates cannot buy an election victory.

The fourth advance in this bill is the introduction of STV for the 2004 district health board elections. This is a significant initiative and I would like to congratulate the Labour-Alliance Government for taking this step.

The implementation of STV for elections held across the country spells the end of the archaic, unfair, first-past-the-post system. STV is an electoral system of our time. STV seeks to ensure that all significant opinions are proportionally represented in a Parliament, a local council, a professional committee, a trade union or any other elected body.

STV can be used for all kinds of elections: those where there are organised parties or opinion groups, where there are none, or a combination of both. STV gives every voter the fullest freedom of choice between the candidates seeking election. STV gives one vote one value. It makes for a truly representative Parliament, council or committee.

I believe that STV will be very popular for district health board elections. Voters will relish the opportunity to rank candidates in order of preference. They will vote in the safety of knowing that their top preference can never be overridden by a lower preference. That is not the case with first-past-the-post. They will vote, confident that their vote will count; unlike in first past the post where many are wasted. Even if their first preference is not successful, their second or subsequent preferences are likely to be.

That is why STV will lead to much more diverse representation on district health boards and on councils than we have at present. There will be more Maori, more women, more young people, and more ethnic minorities, reflecting the richness of our nation.

The onus is now on the Government to ensure that there is comprehensive voter education for the district health board elections. That responsibility should be given to the Electoral Commission. Voter education is the key to overcoming any possible confusion voters might have with using multiple electoral systems.

But I urge members of this House not to underestimate the intelligence of voters. New Zealand voters are very capable of coping with the STV system – not just because the Irish and the Australians already do, but because we lead very complicated lives. As a number of speakers have already said – not in a disparaging way – many, many New Zealanders manage to cope with the TAB, Telebingo and Lotto, so I am sure they can cope with first past the post, STV, and MMP.

Last but not least, this bill gives councils and communities the opportunity to ditch first past the post and adopt the single transferable vote system for themselves. This is a key feature of the bill, and the key feature of this part of the bill is that it gives councils and communities the choice: for councils, by way of resolution or the implementation of a referendum; for communities, by way of a citizens initiated poll to require that a referendum be conducted.

I am delighted that my member’s bill has been substantially incorporated in this bill, especially the Meeks method of counting preferential votes. This bill will make New Zealand a world leader. Although STV has been used for decades in Australia and Ireland, we will be the first country to couple STV with a sophisticated computer programme – a programme that will produce better results in a more timely and efficient manner.

I referred to ‘my’ bill. In fact, it has a long and honourable history. An earlier version was first introduced by Richard Northey in 1995. That bill was drafted by Stephen Todd. The Electoral law Committee, in 1996 unanimously recommended the passage of the STV bill, but the election intervened. When the bill was debated in 1997, the coalition National-New Zealand First government killed that bill off. To its credit, New Zealand First has acknowledged the error of its ways. National still do not.

Had the STV bill been passed in 1997, National may not now be facing the Bay of Plenty Regional Council (Maori Constituency Empowering) Bill, which I understand National dislikes even more than STV.

I believe Maori would have chosen STV if it had been on the books at the time they were first considering the Bay of Plenty proposal. I can understand why they, or anyone, would opt for a bird in the hand, rather than the prospect of two in the bush.

Well STV is now in our hands, and I urge councils and communities to grasp the opportunity to reject first past the post and embrace it. STV will do for local government what MMP has done for parliament and I look forward to that happening quite quickly.

It disappoints me that the National dinosaurs will be voting against this bill in the same way that they voted against MMP. It is an indictment on the last Government for stalling local electoral reform for 9 years – not just the change to the voting system, but right across the board. I congratulate this Government as part of their partnership with local government for making local government reform high on their priorities.

In closing, I am pleased this bill will be passed today. I would like to thank a citizen, Stephen Todd, for being the person who has made all of this possible.

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