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Maxim Real News No. 157

Maxim Real News No. 157

Give and take

Votes that count

True and faithful councillors

Election 2005 Political Forum road show

Give and take

The budget in election year is significant. The temptation for any government to buy votes, either through tax cuts or increased spending, is huge. Labour indulged in both. Opposition finance spokesman John Key summed this budget up well - a lost opportunity to reduce government spending.

Government must invest in its core responsibilities, and it is pleasing to see increased spending on defence, even if it is largely catch-up. However, the current government is clearly committed to spending in areas it has no mandate to be involved in like a new business web portal ($9.9 million over four years).

Two telling observations can be made of Dr Cullen's speech regarding the government's approach to spending.

Firstly, while the thresholds at which the various tax brackets kick in were raised, the changes were minimal. They do not even come close to restoring Labour's original commitment to have only 5% of income earners in the top bracket. Dr Cullen expects these tax breaks to cost $1.86 billion - but instead of scaling back spending, he has announced a new carbon charge to partly offset the lost revenue. The commitment to spend seems born of ideology rather than necessity.

Secondly, the very fact that tax cuts are described as 'costs' rather than the more accurate 'lost revenue opportunity' highlights their underlying assumption that government revenue is firstly theirs, rather than the citizens.

Tax cuts are, on average, less inflationary than government spending. Even with the minor adjustments to lowering the tax take, following the implementation of Thursday's budget, government spending will now absorb more than 40 percent of GDP. It is worth remembering, no matter who the finance Minister, that government can only give what it has first taken away.

Votes that count

It's old news that many New Zealanders don't understand how MMP works, but with an election fast approaching, how many of us understand what impact our votes might have? The Electoral Commission reports that as recently as October 2003, only 56 % of eligible voters understood that they had two votes, while only 44 % knew that the party vote is the most important. The numbers represent in most cases the lowest level of awareness since MMP was first used in 1996.

Women, Maori, Pacific Islanders and voters aged between 18 and 24 were all less likely to understand how the system works. While 37% of all eligible voters understood the role of the party list in deciding which MPs a party gets into Parliament, the figure was 18% among youth (18-24 years); 26 % among Maori; and only 9% among Pacific Islanders. Similarly, although 21% of all eligible voters understood that a party can enter Parliament either by crossing the 5 percent threshold of all party votes, or by winning an electorate seat, worryingly only 10% of women could describe how a party gets into Parliament.

There are three things to remember when voting under MMP:

You have two votes: one for your local constituent candidate and one for a political party.

The party vote determines how many seats a party will have in Parliament.

Votes for parties that don't make it into Parliament are redistributed among the other parties according to their share of the total party vote. If the party you vote for doesn't win more than 5% of the party vote or at least one electorate seat, then your vote won't be counted towards the party of your choice.

In an MMP environment there are many parties to choose between, and coalitions are likely. The days of one party controlling parliament alone - are over.

To read the full Electoral Commission MMP Monitor report online, go to:

True and faithful councillors

This last week, yet another Minister stood down from his position. David Benson-Pope, Associate Education Minister is under investigation following bullying accusations by former Bayview High school students. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister, Helen Clark faces a law suit over the Peter Doone affair. In recent years we have seen several Ministers step down from their positions over a range of controversies, including: John Tamihere, Lianne Dalziel, Dover Samuels, Phillida Bunkle, Ruth Dyson and Marian Hobbs.

People consider all kinds of factors when deciding who to vote for. But how many consider what is arguably the most important—the character and integrity of their MP?

Being an MP is a demanding job. Edmund Burke stood for election to the British Parliament in 1774 and when contemplating the task before him, he said: "The weight of that duty, I confess, makes me tremble…To be a good Member of Parliament, is, let me tell you, no easy task." Burke understood the seriousness of that duty and the weight of power it entailed.

If an MP's integrity is lacking, how can he or she then be trusted to have good judgement as an MP? Implicit in the fact that we call for Ministers to resign when their character is called into disrepute, is the acknowledgement that deficient character undermines their ability to perform their duties as an MP.

We cannot know all the details about our local candidates at election time, but we must at least factor what we do know into our decision. Your local candidate may one day have significant responsibility and make decisions that impact thousands of children. Of all places, Parliament needs people of good character.

Election 2005 Political Forum road show

If you want to be better informed this election about parties, policies and candidates come along to a Maxim Institute Election 2005 Political Forum in an area near you. To register your interest in helping organise an election forum in your local region, please email roadshow@maxim.org.nz before Friday the 27th of May 2005.

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)

The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money.

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