Broadsides: Should we retain MMP?

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Labour MP Jacinda Ardern and National MP Nikki Kaye.
Labour MP Jacinda Ardern and National MP Nikki Kaye.

We asked Labour's Jacinda Ardern and National's Nikki Kaye: Should New Zealand retain MMP?


JACINDA ARDERN

I support MMP. That may seem like an obvious position to some; a bit like an army general saying they support conscription. I am, after all, a list Member of Parliament and I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for our system of proportional representation. But I would support MMP whether I was an electorate MP, a List MP, or a voter and (in 500 words or less) here are my reasons why.

I remember our first MMP election- I was one of 'those' teenagers. Back then First Past the Post was the known entity, the system that would time and time again deliver solid dependable majority governments, but it was also the system that resulted in parties taking power without necessarily winning the popular vote and smaller parties receiving no representation at all, despite gaining a sizeable vote (Social Credit in the 1981 election being the most noteworthy example, receiving 21% of the vote, but just two seats).

First Past the Post had another legacy: a House of Representatives that didn't necessarily represent the diversity of New Zealand. Perhaps this is more noticeable when you compare it to what we have now.

Aggregating votes across the whole country rather than one small area means that our Parliament looks a little more like New Zealand - with a few more young people, a higher ratio of women and a greater range of cultures and ethnicities.

But this is not about appearances, it's about a system of governance that reflects a range of views, opinions and values, whilst ensuring that we can also deliver stable governance. Sure, MMP has been a bit of a ride. At first, the post election negotiation period was slow, small parties and some of their leaders were labelled as king makers and painted as holding disproportionately too much power, but as voters have adjusted to the new system, so have political parties. Over time, I think both large and small parties have adapted to the expectations of the electorate, particularly in constructing coalitions.

Let's not pretend though that MMP is a perfect system but, equally, let's not kid ourselves that FPP was better, or that some of the alternatives are either (supplementary member for instance is essentially FPP in drag - despite what some of the National Party will tell you). But, like democracy, it is the best thing we've got and we can make it even better.

Here's one suggestion: let's get rid of the provision that says you don't have to reach the party vote threshold if you win an electorate seat. It was this that resulted in ACT having 5 MPs with 3.6% of the party vote, and Winston Peters gaining 4% but not one MP. Regardless of your views of each party, that is not a fair outcome. But voting to keep MMP in this referendum gives us a chance to improve a system we have already made our own.

But in amongst this debate there is one thing I hope we avoid - blaming the failings of politicians or parties on a political system. Anyone who is a list MP will have heard the odd gripe about their role (I count members of my own family in that group) but, in the same way that some people tell me that they think MMP has led to a dilution of ideas and leadership, neither are things that I am going to blame on the system. Instead, they're issues that everyone who is in politics needs to take some responsibility for, and work towards turning that perception around.

So come 26 November, I won't be voting for the perfect system, or the one that delivers political absolutes - I'll be voting for MMP, the system that we've made our own, that is fair and representative.

The rest is up to us.

http://www.campaignformmp.org.nz/

Jacinda Ardern is on Facebook and Twitter @jacindaardern



NIKKI KAYE

With five general elections having now been held under MMP, it is timely to consider how our voting system is working. A referendum on MMP was part of a pre-election promise by the National Government and many New Zealanders will relish the opportunity to have their say.

There will be a lot of discussion about people campaigning for different electoral systems but personally I think the most important campaign is the Electoral Commissions campaign giving people information on the referendum and different voting systems.

The Commission has now begun this public campaign to provide voters with information on the referendum and the voting systems they can choose from.

The referendum, to be held in conjunction with the general election, will ask voters two questions. Firstly, whether they wish to keep the present MMP voting system, and secondly, what alternate voting system they would prefer from a list of four options, regardless of how they voted in the first question.

The options are First-Past-the-Post, Preferential Vote, Single Transferable Vote and Supplementary Member. If a majority of voters opt for a change to the voting system, the Government will then hold a second binding referendum in conjunction with the 2014 election, asking voters to choose between MMP and the most preferred alternative.

Personally I believe that there are many positive aspects to MMP, particularly that it has brought more women and more ethnic groups to Parliament.

I do not support returning to the First-Past-the-Post system. I believe in choice and I think our previous voting system discouraged change within political parties and on policy. It also locked out many competent and talented New Zealanders from becoming Members of Parliament.

This is because your only real choice was to be selected from one of the two main parties, and the two main parties had no real incentive to change being pretty much guaranteed to be elected at some point in the electoral cycle.

Even though I think MMP provides a better voting system, I do have some concerns about it however. You only need to look at recent history to see that minor parties which end up holding the balance of power often have not done well under the pressure, as we saw with both NZ First and the Alliance. And you can get parties with a very small percentage of the vote wielding clout well in excess of that because they can offer their support to either National or Labour.

That is great for the 5% which support that party but not so great for the 80% who voted for one of the major parties. With goodwill you can certainly make it work, but it does lead to more uncertainty for New Zealanders.

MMP has meant the passage of legislation is also more contestable. This is partly a good thing as no party has a monopoly on good policy. However it also means legislation takes longer to pass and can lead to an inconsistent policy direction.

National is currently doing well the polls, and many New Zealanders want John Key to continue as Prime Minister. However even if National gets 47% of the vote, you might end up with Labour polling in the low 30s becoming Government if they manage to strike deals with the Greens, NZ First, and potentially the Mana and Maori parties. I doubt such a Government would last long, but it would get to be Government.

While I support MMP as an improvement over FPP, I am leaning towards voting for the Supplementary Member electoral system in the referendum. What I like about it is that minor parties still will have representation in Parliament, and you will still have the diversity with List MPs.

However it is more likely a Government can be formed with only one or two parties, rather than needing to try and form a Government which both Winston Peters and Hone Harawira can support. SM will also mean more 90 instead of 70 electorate MPs (and 30 instead of 50 list MPs), so electorates will be smaller. This doesn't matter quite so much in Auckland, but is very important to those living in provincial and rural NZ, where their MP can be five to ten hours away.

In the end this is not a decision for MPs to make though - it is for the people. National has passed the referenda law to give New Zealanders a choice, and what really matters is that people vote and make an informed choice, regardless of which system is your preference.

Nikki Kaye is on Facebook and Twitter @nikkikaye



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