The final report of the MMP review was released yesterday after a robust public consultation process. The Electoral Commission has recommended a number of changes to improve our electoral system.
The most significant changes are those to the thresholds for the allocation of list seats in Parliament. The Electoral Commission recommends that the one electorate seat threshold (otherwise known as the ‘coat-tail rule’) be abolished, and that the party vote threshold be lowered from 5 to 4 percent.
Removing the one-seat rule was by far the most popular change in the public submissions. Even the Royal Commissioners who first recommended MMP in the 1980s have said that they have long considered it to be their one mistake. Any electoral system should maximise fairness, and the one-seat rule has produced the unfair situation that voters in some electorates have a greater say over the make-up of Parliament than others.
Nevertheless, it’s important that removing the one-seat rule and lowering the party vote threshold are considered as a package. Although it was arbitrary and unfair, the one-seat rule did help to make Parliament more proportional, by allowing some smaller parties to be represented. Therefore, if we remove the one-seat rule, we need to lower the party vote threshold to ensure that smaller parties still have a realistic chance of gaining representation.
The Electoral Commission’s recommendations are all solidly based on public feedback and research. The proposed changes uphold the principles of fairness, diversity and proportionality that are so important to MMP.
That being the case, the reactions from politicians have been interesting. Peter Dunne and John Banks have argued against the removal of the one-seat threshold, even though that is the recommendation with the greatest level of public support.
Labour supports the recommendations, but has taken the bold step of drafting their own legislation to amend the electoral system, in anticipation of National dragging their heels and not implementing the recommendations in time for the next election.
National has said little, other than thanking the public for submitting, but from party submissions, it’s clear that they won’t be happy with the 4 percent party vote threshold in particular.
However, Justice Minister Judith Collins has also indicated that the Government will consult with other parties to see if consensus can be reached. I hope it can.
There is a tradition of legislation making changes to the electoral system being passed unanimously in Parliament, and it would be great if all parties were able to put aside their own short-term political interests and build a consensus around the Electoral Commission’s report.
However, it would be a mistake to allow the robust recommendations of the Electoral Commission to be eroded by horse-trading between the parties currently represented in Parliament.
It’s important that the immediate political interests of any party are put to one side in the interests of what’s best for our electoral system long-term. This isn’t about the next election, but the next ten elections.
New Zealanders voted to keep MMP. The Electoral Commission has conducted a robust public consultation process and recommended changes to improve the system. Parliament now needs to respect this process and implement recommendations that will strengthen our electoral system in the long term.
As Colin James has said: “Elections do not belong to MPs. Elections belong to the people. MPs should be very wary of appropriating what belongs to others”.