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"MMP - Six Years And Three Elections On"

"MMP - Six Years And Three Elections On"

An address by Rt Hon Winston Peters to the New Zealand Business and Parliament Trust, Legislative Council Chamber, 4.30pm Wednesday 16 October 2002.

When we were approached about talking to this gathering, we were mistakenly referred to as a minor party.

How things change in such a short time!

Like many other Western countries New Zealand has a very untidy form of government called democracy.

Let me explain from the outset that democracy was never claimed to be highly efficient, profitable or business like.

It is a system of government that Abraham Lincoln explained so lucidly in his Gettysburg address as “government of the people by the people for the people.”

And as Margaret Thatcher once said “when people are free to choose they always choose freedom.

So, democracy is freedom. Freedom to choose – even though we might not always like the choice.

Parliament in New Zealand is a House of Representatives. It is not a think -tank of brilliant people – it is not meant to be.

New Zealand has had Mixed Member Proportional Representation since 1996 to elect this House of Representatives.

From the outset, neither National and Labour have really wanted it.

They paid lip service to the idea, but in reality they wanted to govern alone. First Past The Post is a historical mindset for them.

As you all remember, New Zealand First was part of the first MMP Government.

It was a major time of change in New Zealand politics. Here was this party, which came from nowhere, to be part of Government in only three years.

After long negotiations, we went into a coalition with a clear three-year plan that involved measures that ranged from stopping asset sales, scrapping the super surtax, free medical care for the under sixes and restoring the word “hospital” to our public health vocabulary.

(Remember the RHAS and CHES)

MMP proved too difficult for National. Jim Bolger and a few other senior members of his caucus understood it, but the rest felt it was a departure from their God-given right to govern alone.

This Holy Grail of governance was transformed into a poisoned chalice after the departure of Jim Bolger with a knife in his back.

That action by Jenny Shipley, after less than two years of a coalition government, effectively sentenced National to political oblivion and its leader to a fate of obscurity.

National lost New Zealand First as a potential ally.

National now has only ACT as a friend, and both suffer from the political reality that capitalism will not fly two flags.

The election result and recent polls speak for themselves.

Two elections since the advent of our changed system of representation, two aspects of MMP have become perfectly clear.

The first is that the voters understand MMP and the second is that Parliament is struggling to keep up.

This is because there is still a First Past The Post mindset in our main political institution.

There was an argument over seating which baffled and irritated most sensible members of the public.

And then we heard the leader of the National Party insisting that he was the leader of the opposition and that no other party should share the main opposition benches in Parliament.

That was sorted out, but not without considerable acrimony.

Regrettably the introduction of a new electoral system (MMP) has not created any real institutional and attitudinal change.

Political domination is still the basis of power seeking by the old parties.

Vested interests have worked to cripple the MMP process. There has been little change in political behaviour and the review of MMP was a sham.

Politicians have been consistently discredited by dishonoured promises; deliberate campaigns of policy deception; party political goals taking precedence over public goals; the process of political appointments, and ministerial meddling.

There are still unauthorised and inexplicable payouts to bureaucrats and political appointees. The attainment and retention of power and financial gain have superseded the concept of an impartial public service.

The move to MMP was not the end of political reform – it was the start. New Zealand First believes that Parliament itself must become a more responsive and accountable institution, and give greater power back to the community.

To achieve this aim, New Zealand First have always proclaimed that the size of Parliament should be reduced to only 80 MPs.

This was one of our founding principles.

In recent years the amount of work appears to have expanded to meet the increase in the number of MPs. C Northcote Parkinson was dead right.

Parliament as we know it today is a combination of Parkinson’s Law and the Peter principle.

Government is the fastest growing industry in New Zealand.

There are more trotters in the trough than ever before. The electors did not vote for more Government but we have the largest executive ever. Only three Labour backbenchers have not got a job that increased their pay.

Voters voted for better, not bigger Government.

They did not want any one party to govern alone. That message was delivered loud and clear. We believe that MMP can deliver better Government.

It is not the role of the smaller parties to become tails wagging the dog. It is more a case of the dog being kept on a leash, restrained from chasing cats, worrying sheep or biting passers by.

MMP is about checks and balances.

It is about policies being subjected to greater scrutiny than under the FPP system, when one party or the other simply did as it liked.

1984 was the watershed in New Zealand politics. It was the reason for MMP.

At no other time in the history of New Zealand had the electorate and the system been so cynically manipulated.

A few got rich but many New Zealanders were left poverty-stricken by that disastrous social and economic experiment.

It was particularly hard on Maori and despite the claim that unemployment is down to rate below five percent, the number of Maori out of work is closer to 20 percent.

In parts of Northland it is up to 80 percent.

MMP would have curbed that so-called economic reform process. No government today would get away with it.

At the last general election Labour rejected, even before the election, New Zealand First as a coalition partner, despite having asked us to work with them for the previous two and a half years.

There were basic policy differences that we would have insisted on resolving before giving a carte blanche vote of supply.

We would have reduced the number of immigrants, reined in the Treaty industry and increased law and order measures.

We made our position clear on these issues before the election and there would have been no surprises.

Labour rejected this. They did not want these areas of contention to even be discussed.

(Interestingly, all the time we raised immigration issues, and were accused of being racist, Labour was getting ready to help launch the Pan Asian Congress – a sort of Asian pressure group with links back to Labour.)

New Zealand First does not believe in ad hoc coalition arrangements. People have a right to know what to expect from a government.

There is no clear direction at present.

United Future guaranteed supply and confidence. It got nothing in return.

That means its supporters might possibly get thrown a crumb now and then – but then again they might not!

So, in effect United Future is a political doormat while Labour tries to govern alone with Jim Anderton’s Progressive Coalition, having decimated the Alliance and its remnants in two and a half years.

Last week the Democrats and Mana Motuhake left the Progressive Coalition. Start to bust in only 11 years!

However, this is not the fault of MMP. It is more to do with the arrogance that comes with power.

And this is why MMP is still a better system. It is not perfect but there is a check on Labour. Helen Clark cannot do exactly as she pleases.

And despite our criticisms, we do not always disagree with the Government.

Our job is to scrutinise and put up alternative policies and plans.

If we think a government move is good for the country we will support it.

If not, we will oppose it down to the wire.

It is important to note that in MMP election campaigning , there is a jockeying for position. The Fourth Estate go into a frenzy of speculation about likely coalition partners.

We have always believed that ideally, coalitions should arise from the electorate – not from political parties.

In short, the people vote for their party, and then the votes decide the coalition.

The political parties have a duty to make it work.

In all political systems there are occasional aberrations. In this Parliament there is a Member of Parliament called Matt Robson, who was former Deputy Alliance Leader – a cohort of Jim Anderton.

At the election Mr Robson received a total of 1315 votes for both the List and the electorate of Manukau East. He received 775 votes for the electorate and 540 for the List.

This is probably not the way the authors of MMP intended it to work.

That said however, MMP and democracy, are a better system.

Untidy as they are – the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.


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