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Robson-on-Politics 18 October 2006

Robson-on-Politics 18 October 2006

MMP - its more than delivering

I was in Darwin on the 10th Anniversary of the election of our first Parliament using the Mixed Member Proportional representation voting system last week. The heat was steady at 34 degrees most days plummeting to 33 degrees on other days. But it seems like there was also a lot of heat in New Zealand over the MMP system.

When we campaigned for MMP in the early 1990s, we told the electorate a new voting system would deliver: (1) a much more representative Parliament to reflect the diverse society in which we live; (2) less opportunity for political power to be abused the way it was so utterly abused first by the 1975-1984 National government, and then during the 1984-1993 Rogernomics/Ruthenasia period. (Those awful years first brought our economy to its knees, and then wrecked peoples' faith in the very system of representative democracy itself); We also said that MMP would (3) deliver much better scrutiny of policy- and law-making by making Select Committees, and public input, into law-making meaningful.

After bad start, last 3 MMP elections have delivered

NZ First betrayed the electorate badly in the first MMP election by saying it was the only party you could count on to dislodge National, only to join National in coalition after votes had been counted.

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But the experience of MMP since 1999 is that it has more than lived up to its potential.

We have a very much more representative Parliament. We have forward-looking government policies, to the extent that we now have governments that literally invest hundreds of thousands of dollars a month to help pay for future generations' retirement income needs. We also have much more scrutiny of government legislative proposals - this is the 3rd consecutive Minority coalition required, by necessity, to win the support of at least two Opposition parties to advance any law.

Auditor-General Report reminder of MMP's benefits

In fact, the swift response of parties found by the auditor-general to have unlawfully spent taxpayer money ahead of last year's election is in large part thanks to MMP where the strong competition between the many parties keeps the whole system far more honest than was ever the case under the old, Two-Party dictat.

Progressive continues to deliver

For the Progressive Party, MMP enables us as a constructive, small party, to get important issues too often ignored in the past to get onto the Cabinet Action List and national agenda in a way which was impossible under the old voting system.

Last week, there was the launch of a multi-million dollar National Depression Initiative to raise awareness of depression, to aid early recognition, appropriate treatment and recovery - to be fronted by national icon, John Kirwan, in high profile TV ads.

Soon a Select Committee will report back the Progressive Party Bill aimed at turning the tide against the misuse of alcohol among very young teenagers which will provide the public with an opportunity to lobby every M.P. to stand up against the too powerful alcohol marketing lobby on a number of issues including liquor advertising standards and the retailing of alcohol.

But the real measure of our success is the shift in political consensus

But the real measure of Progressive's success is how the policies we promoted over the past seven years at Cabinet, policies which often initially received skepticism, hostility or opposition from Labour and National - Four Weeks' Annual Leave, the promotion of policies to enhance the economic development of our regions and industry sectors to enhance the productivity of our economy, an end to asset sales based on simplistic slogans masquerading as analysis (at one of the first Cabinet meetings after the '99 election, Labour proposed the break-up and sale of parts of an S.O.E. which in more recent years has been judged an Exporter of the Year and a highly profitable enterprise), the establishment of Kiwibank to provide competition into the Australian-dominated retail banking sector, measures to cap the medical costs of seniors, Paid Parental Leave - these have all, in 2006, been incorporated not only into the very fabric of Labour thinking, but the consensus of "mainstream" political thinking.

In 2006, National wouldn't dream of proposing to scrap four weeks' annual leave, Kiwibank, NZ Trade & Enterprise, the Ministry of Economic Development, large budget film production promotion, paid parental leave: To get elected, National now says it would keep all of these things.

But the Left will have to be strategic in 2008

The progressive Left will have to approach Election 2008 with a great deal of care. There is no question that New Zealand has over the past seven years benefited from having a principled but practical party represented at the Cabinet table with an ambitious policy agenda.

In Sweden, a four-party centre-right coalition just got elected because the three parties of the centre-left (Social Democrats, Greens and Left parties) did not get their act together and did not sit down and consciously plan to win. Aotearoa New Zealand cannot afford a term of anti-Maori National-led government.

The Labour-Progressive-Green bloc has to plan and organize to win an absolute majority in 2008. There is no time like the present to begin that planning.


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