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MMP – Will The Right People Make The Important Decisions?

MMP Review – Will The Right People Make The Important Decisions?

The review of the MMP political system now under way is seriously flawed, because it excludes the public’s two main concerns with the voting system - the Maori seats and the size of Parliament – and more importantly, key decisions are about to be made by the wrong people, says Dr Muriel Newman, director of the public policy think tank the New Zealand Centre for Political Research.

Dr Newman points out that once the Electoral Commission has considered public submissions, a final report will be presented to the Minister of Justice at the end of October.

“However, the next step in the process is missing. Instead of voters deciding on the final changes through a nation-wide referendum, the government intends making that decision itself. This is a major concern. A country’s voting system should be controlled by voters, not self-interested politicians. New Zealanders must demand that the voting system changes can only go ahead if there is majority support through a public referendum process,” Dr Newman says.

Another serious problem with MMP - not specifically identified in the Review - is the need for stronger democratic safeguards for citizens, she maintains.

“Under MMP the main parties give excessive legislative powers to minor coalition partners, which often have quite radical agendas attracting support from only a small proportion of voters - yet they are given the power to introduce sweeping law changes.

“Now that we know MMP is here to stay, this situation must be fixed,” Dr Newman says.

“Two occasions spring to mind where main parties allowed coalition partners to impose extreme legislation that was strongly opposed by mainstream New Zealand - the first was the Green Party’s ban on smacking, which was seen as a sinister law that interferes at the deepest level with how families raise their children; and the second case was the Maori Party’s radical bill to privatise the foreshore and seabed to the tribal elite - passed in 2011 in spite of overwhelming public opposition.”
Dr Newman says the obvious safeguard would be to restore an Upper House of Parliament to act as a watchdog but she sees little public appetite for this.

“An alternative would be to introduce a ‘Citizens’ Right of Veto’ over new legislation, similar to that used in many US States and some European countries, whereby citizens have the right to lodge a notice of veto once a bill has been passed. If sufficient voter support is gathered within a set period a binding referendum of all voters is held on whether to accept or reject the new legislation. Experience shows that such vetos are rarely used, as ruling parties become much more closely attuned to the views of voters and the need to consider the public good.

“Since the concept of empowering voters to demand a binding referendum is already used to a limited degree in local government legislation, extending it to central government through a Citizens’ Right of Veto would significantly strengthen our democracy and the public’s faith in MMP,” Dr Newman says, suggesting that submitters should raise this matter during the current MMP submission round.

“In any event, the point remains that significant decisions affecting the future of our voting system and our laws should be made by citizens as a whole, not a small group of politicians with vested interests in the outcome,” she says.
More details and a full analysis of the MMP Review is available at http://www.nzcpr.com/weekly319.htm. The deadline for oral submissions is April 5th and for written submissions May 31st.

For further information:
Dr Muriel Newman
New Zealand Centre for Political Research

Background on the MMP Review

The review of MMP is well under way with over 2,000 submissions already received, compared to the 200 to 800 received during previous reviews.

The Review is being carried out by the Electoral Commission, a Crown agency responsible for the administration of parliamentary elections and referenda. The Commission It consists of three members, Chairman Hon Justice Sir Hugh Williams QC who is a retired High Court Judge, Deputy Chair Jane Huria who is a professional company director, and Robert Pedan, the Chief Electoral Officer. The Commission plans to travel to the main centres to hear submissions between 24 April and 18 May with hearings in provincial areas if there is sufficient demand.

The Review was announced by the government in the lead up to the 2011 referendum on our voting system. A number of people believe this promise of a review to ‘fix’ MMP changed the outcome of the referendum, lulling voters who wanted change into supporting MMP on the understanding that it would be improved.

The MMP Review excludes two key objections to MMP - the Maori seats and the size of Parliament.

It focuses on a number of factors that affect the democratic election process and the shape of Parliamentary representation.
• Proportionality and overhang
• Thresholds
• Dual candidacy
• Ability of voters to influence the order of party lists
• Whether the size of Parliament should increase to maintain proportionality as the population increases.


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