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Q+A: Holmes IV Metiria Turei & Peter Shirtcliffe

Sunday 25th October, 2009

Q+A’s Paul Holmes interviews Metiria Turei & Peter Shirtcliffe.

Points of interest Peter Shirtcliffe:
- “I would vote for either FPP or MMP”
- Government should have a “one shot referendum” in 2011; as it is it’s “a Clayton’s referendum”
- New Zealanders want to smaller parliament and will sacrifice some proportionality to get it

Points of interest Metiria Turei:
- Greens co-leader accuses government of not wanting to improve MMP’s “anomalies” during referendum debate
- Government shouldn’t decide referendum questions or run education process
- Business wants rid of MMP because its interfering with privatisation
- Cutting MMP would mean losing half of all women and Maori in parliament
- “Coat-tailing” – “we can fix that tomorrow” without

The interview has been transcribed below. The full length video interviews and panel discussions from this morning’s Q+A can be seen on at,


PAUL National promised it before the election and this week Simon Power announced it, we will have a referendum on our electoral system in the election of 2011. We've used MMP, Mixed Member Proportional voting, for the last five elections, steadily working out its subtleties and demands. Now at a cost of 23 million dollars we'll get a chance to vote on whether we want to continue with it or not. Well so a two stage, possibly a two stage process. Metiria Turei the Greens Co-leader is with us, she of course is very for MMP. Peter Shirtcliffe does not want MMP at all, never has. Welcome both of you to Q+A. The process Peter first of all. Referendum 2011, if we decide we want to change from MMP we have another election to decide what system we want in 2014, good process, very prolonged?

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Far too prolonged, it's a Clayton's referendum Paul. This is a referendum you have when parliament doesn’t want you to have a referendum. If you look at the impact of the eight year time frame, most of the current crop of MPs will have been long gone from parliament, they won't be concerned with the outcome. This is a cynical manipulation of voter choice, and there is a perfectly viable simple alternative, which is a one shot referendum in 2011, with say four alternatives voted on preferentially, and you can get it all over and done with and implemented in 2014.

PAUL That is a massive re-education programme required though between now and the 2011 election, because remember how long it took people to try and get their heads around the alternative proportional systems.

PETER Paul, the two years before the 2011 election is ample time for organisation and education if the political will is there, but right now you don’t have the political will, this is honouring an election pledge simply and paying lip service to it.

PAUL So it is meaningless in your view… What do you make of the process?

METIRIA TUREI – Greens Co-Leader
The time line is good in our view, it's important if you're gonna deal with an electoral system then you need to take your time to educate the community and make sure everyone has the information they need and you do it carefully, you don’t muck around with electoral systems easily. It's only been 13 years since we did it last time, but National should not be making the decisions on the question or how the whole education process occurs, that must go to an independent agency. National's already talking about their preferred system, which is not proportional, they have an investment in the system and they need to take their hands of it now and give it to someone independent to deal with.

PAUL After how many years have we had MMP – right 13, we're learning how to work it and the country seems to be quite calm, I mean do we need a referendum at all on this?

METIRIA I don’t think it's necessary for us to deal with some of the issues that maybe some people have concerns about. We can fix some areas of MMP like the coat tailing which is an example.

PAUL Explain coat tailing.

METIRIA Well for example with ACT getting one electorate MP and therefore being able to bring in a whole range of List MPs even though they haven't met the 5% threshold. National can fix that tomorrow, we can fix that tomorrow under parliament, but there's no political will to do that, I suspect because they want those anomalies to continue during the MMP referendum debate.

PAUL So that’s tweaking, we can fix a lot of things with a bit of tweaking, bit of reviewing, with a bit of consultations, with a bit of regulation. What about the threshold, is 5% too high. I mean if you get 4% why shouldn’t you have 4% of the power.

METIRIA Well the Commission I think recommended 3% and so I think that’s up for debate and that’s something that the public could have a discussion about, but again it's the public's electoral system and they're entitled to be engaged to discuss it and to make decisions about it.

PAUL Peter I mean Metiria's right, the country has not fallen apart, we've continued to be able to govern with MMP. What about some tweaking?

PETER Paul, the voters are what matter here and I agree with Metiria in the sense that this really is voter business, it's not parliament business. The voters should have, and the voters have long expected, a referendum they think they were promised on. They weren’t but they think they were, and I think the whole issue of tweaking and simply having parliament fix it up, is simply going to confound the problems. We've got to bring the voters' wind up.

PAUL I don’t know why you don’t just let it go. I mean, the world according to you was supposed to fall apart when we abandoned First Past the Post, but in fact MMP once we got used to it, once the political professionals worked out how to do it, once the public got their heads around it, of course, MMP's led to much greater consultation and compromise by the bigger parties. It's taken some of the anger to of the land at the unilateral policy shifts which the big parties liked to implement.

PETER Paul, I think you put your finger on the essence of this thing, and that is if we go back 16 years to the previous referendum, I was voting and leading a campaign against MMP because there was only one alternative. But I said at the time had the public chosen one of the other alternatives instead of FPP I would not have run a campaign, and I think that what New Zealand needs is to recognise that MMP is one extreme, FPP is the other.

PAUL Hasn’t it lead to much greater consultation, compromise, and taken much of the anger and the sting out of political power?

PETER Absolutely, but, but, it has done something which as an extreme you would expect it to do. You’ve got parliament producing better representation but weaker governance than you get with FPP. FPP is strong on governance and weaker on representation.

METIRIA That’s not true.

PETER I think what New Zealand wants is something in the middle.

METIRIA What he's talking about is in whose interests is government acting. Fran O'Sullivan made it clear that MMP is interfering with business interests for the purposes of establishing privatisation. She said that in the article. She also made it clear that when National announced a referendum it was to a business breakfast, not to the public as a whole. So we do have to question in whose interests is a change in, it is certainly not in the interests of voters. If we move from MMP we lose more than half of our women Members of Parliament, more than half of our Maori Members of Parliament. The impact on representation is severe because it shifts the power away from voters into the hands of politicians.

PAUL One thing about the MMP Peter, with the List MPs, is that it has enabled parties to bring in a much more representative – to make the party much more representative of our broader communities, you can't deny that – women in parliament, Chinese in parliament, Pacific Islanders in parliament…

PETER Spoken like a true List MP, Metiria.

METIRIA It's true though, isn’t it?

PETER The issue is balance. The issue is a happy medium Paul in my view, and I think that’s where the voters of New Zealand would like to be and you can get that without going back to the extreme of FPP. Let me say this Paul, publicly, that if the referendum was held tomorrow, and MMP and FPP were two of the alternatives I wouldn’t vote for either of them.

METIRIA See Peter I think is also advocating for the National position, which is around supplementary member or something like it, which is not proportional although it's been put out there. This is one reason why National shouldn’t be pursuing the referendum at this point in time.

PAUL What system would you like, bottom line?

PETER I'll tell you what I want, I want a system which meets the general instinctive wishes of the majority of New Zealanders. Now recently with two other people we ran a poll. I've done more research on this than the government.

PAUL Yes I've read your poll and it's very uneven and it's got great regional discrepancies, age group discrepancies and so forth, and it's not particularly useful.

PETER The poll is useful because it says two things. One is people overwhelmingly want a smaller parliament, which you can't have with the current structure of MMP, it won't work. And secondly, they will sacrifice some degree of proportionality if they can get a smaller parliament. People are not wedded to this degree of proportionality.

METIRIA We actually have got a small parliament for population base actually compared to other countries like Norway and Switzerland, Sweden.

PAUL One thing that did brass people off, particularly in the early years of MMP, and I think you'd have to accept this, is that it led to the tail wagging the dog. In that very first MMP government of Jim Bolger's and Winston Peters’, Winston with a small percentage of the vote managed to, after holding everything up for three months because he had the balance of power, managed to get out of Bolger Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister. Mr Hide this week has managed to force the National government into competition on the workplace account in ACC – tail wagging dog. You’ve done a bit of that yourself.

METIRIA There's… the issue of collaborative government and it means that there are broader interests involved in government decisions, that has to be a good thing even if we disagree with the results, like the ACC issue for example with ACT. But nonetheless the idea is that more people are represented by government decisions because more of the voters are represented in government in some form, and that is a good thing.

PAUL And Mr Hide getting his competition in the workplace account is an example of where you can get governance moving forward and you get compromised with a broader representation.

PETER But look the bottom line on this Paul isn't what we think, it's what the vast mass of voters think, and they have been clamouring and gradually getting more and more apathetic because they haven't had delivered to them the referendum that they felt they...

PAUL You could make the case… alright, but you could make the case that what's been delivered to them is a more genuine House of Representatives. The anger's off the street, the agitation's off the street, the deals are made in parliament.

PETER But let them make their minds up.. but Paul the issue is to let them decide whether that’s how they feel.

PAUL Well we're gonna have that.

PETER Exactly, and my contention is simply not to debate at this early stage what the best system is, but to get the process right, and the process is too elongated and it's like having ...

METIRIA A quick and dirty process is not a good process no matter what you're doing… A quick and dirty process is not a good process, when you're talking about something as significant to our constitutional structure, as our electoral system. Let's take the time, make sure an independent agency has control over the information and education, so it's not biased with any politicians and then we can get a good system out of it.

PAUL In my experience as a current affairs Host in the 90s, it takes years for even the current affairs Hosts to get their brains around what kind of proportional system is being proposed, let alone the public as a whole… but hang on a minute, this is self interest from you and the Greens isn't it? You'd still be a lawyer somewhere if it weren’t for MMP and you being able to go into parliament as a List MP? This is pure self interest from the Greens.

METIRIA We do know that in Australia, in Tasmania for example, the electoral system was changed as a direct attack on the Green Party in that country, and so that is a concern, but it's also a direct attack on representation. It is a question of in whose interests does an electoral system exist – it is in the voters' interests. Changing the system to a less proportional one is a politicians' power grab and is about taking the vote out of the hands of voters with the power out of the hands of voters and putting it in the hands of politicians who can skew the system to benefit them. That is what we're most worried about.

PAUL Who should write the questions?

METIRIA The Electoral Commission is the obvious example.

PAUL I thank you very much for coming Peter Shirtcliffe, Anti-MMP Campaigner, who feels the process is too prolonged, and Metiria Turei who thinks it's a very good process.


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