Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Power gives hope to fixing proportional system

6 comments

After Power's announcement I now think MMP in some form will survive.

Simon Power has gone out of his way to consult on MMP reform. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Simon Power has gone out of his way to consult on MMP reform. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Minister of Justice Simon Power is rated by insiders as one of the top performers in this Government.

Power has impressed me with how he intends to manage the upcoming referendum on MMP and sort out the election finance rules debacle he inherited from Labour.

His announcement on both matters this week was better than I expected.

If National had acted only in self-interest it could have put MMP to a referendum as an up or down vote at the next election. If it really wanted to make a power grab it may have even got away with ramming it through this year.

After all, Key and National are riding high and some of the recent antics of the Act Party and the Maori Party would whip up enough hysteria about third parties wagging the dog that it would be hard not to see MMP go down.

However, Power has gone out of his way to consult all the Parliamentary parties and, amazingly, did not include many things Labour and the Greens objected to, even though he had the votes to get his way.

The problems we have with our campaign finance laws are that the previous Labour government deliberately did not consult the other parties and rammed through Parliament the present laws to advantage itself.

To his credit, Power did not use the same tactic.

MMP has many problems and the supporters like me, who support proportionality, always feared it would go down in a screaming heap if the public got to vote on it.

After Power's announcement I now think MMP in some form will survive. We won't actually vote on MMP for at least 18 months, which will allow a lot of informed discussion.

We'll get to vote on MMP alongside the alternatives.

If we do then reject MMP, we will wait another three years before we make a final decision between MMP and the most popular alternative. What gives me cause for optimism is Power has foreshadowed the areas of MMP that would be reformed if we keep MMP. And that makes us start to think how to make it work better.

The problems with MMP are self-evident. The biggest gripe, third parties have disproportionate influence, doesn't really hold up any more.

None of National's coalition partners are actually in the Cabinet, nor do they have any of the heavyweight ministries. After the next election it is likely the only third parties left will be the Greens, the Maori Party and possibly Act.

The Greens have no choice but to coalesce with Labour, as does Act with National. The only party with any real leverage is the Maori Party, which can deal with either of the big players.

But as all its five MPs won their own electorate seats, it doesn't matter what system we use, they will still be there. That is, unless National tries to abolish the Maori seats. Good luck to anyone foolish enough to try that.

MMP can actually be fixed easily. Possibly maintain 120 MPs but increase the number of electorate seats, which consequently reduces the number of list MPs.

Don't allow any sitting electorate MP to also be on their party list. If an incumbent loses their electorate they're out of Parliament.

Don't allow list MPs to contest by-elections.

Consider reducing the party vote threshold to 4 per cent as originally recommended. But don't let a party with less than the threshold get extra MPs because one of their candidates wins a seat.

Love him or hate him, Winston Peters' party got more votes than Act last election, yet he has no MPs while Act has five. Proportional representation? I think not.

It's hard to get around party list rankings but we could allow voters to rearrange a party's list. If the parties had to let all their members vote to rank their list, as the Green Party does, it would make list MPs accountable to more than just a few party hacks in a back room.

I'm sure you see the point I'm trying to make. The more time voters have to discuss real changes to MMP, the better we will like it.

If Power can keep the other politicians away from the decision-making I believe MMP will not only survive but achieve the sort of democratic society we hoped for when we first voted it in 17 years ago.

- Herald on Sunday

Your views

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 19 Dec 2014 17:18:15 Processing Time: 520ms