Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a Herald columnist looking at Auckland and national issues

Brian Rudman: MMP flies a flag for Kiwis of all stripes

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The MMP electoral system has allowed a more representative mix of NZ cultures to enter Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The MMP electoral system has allowed a more representative mix of NZ cultures to enter Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

With luck, the blundering right-wing pressure group will uphold the status quo, writes Brian Rudman.

What a spectacularly buffoonish start to the Vote for Change group's anti-MMP campaign.

The right-wing pressure group had hardly unveiled their stellar line-up of foundation members when one was exposed as a founder of some nutty extreme white nationalist group in Australia. Then, as a consequence, their token "lefty", the mercurial former mayor of Waitakere and one-time Labour Party president Bob Harvey, came to his senses and resigned in disgust.

Let's take them at their word when they say a person of such extreme views is not welcome in their line-up. But that hardly restores their credibility.

An organisation campaigning to reform the basis of New Zealand's democratic system should have paid special attention to the credentials of the poster boys and girls it's parading before us to endorse their proposal.

Yet in this case, Vote for Change didn't do the simplest of checks on Alex Fogerty. Hadn't its battle-hardened campaign manager, Simon Lusk, one of the masterminds behind Don Brash's takeover of the Act Party, heard of Google?

If he hadn't, people like blogger Martyn Bradbury had, and alarm bells rang immediately. It's not hard to do. Type in his name and there he is, complete with picture labelled "Hunk of Month" for October 2007. This was on a website called NudeWhite OzNZ, which is dedicated to revealing "the naked truth about antipodean white nationalistic politics". It was one of a screed of historic entries for the colourful and controversial Mr Fogerty.

The Hunk of the Month entry highlighted a quote from Mr Fogerty which seems particularly apposite this week: "I think that one day a world government will happen if we are to take to the stars, my only objection is who will run this government."

If the Vote for Change collective had read that before they welcomed Mr Fogerty into their fold, they might have wondered just how benign and altruistic his commitment to electoral change in New Zealand was.

That's accepting, of course, that they don't share his apparent objections to the way democratic governments are chosen. With Mr Harvey now scarpered, the anti-MMP group is an all-blue line-up starring Business Roundtable luminaries such as Roger Kerr, Commonwealth Bank of Australia chief executive Ralph Norris and Peter Shirtcliffe, the millionaire who bankrolled the anti-MMP campaign to the tune of $1.5 million and lost, before it was first introduced in 1996.

It's hard to see them getting much traction. The introduction of MMP has made Parliament a true House of Representatives like never before. As Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand highlighted in a Race Relations Day speech in 2009, 31 of the 122 MPs, about a quarter, are now either of Maori, Pacific or Asian descent and five are ministers.

He compared that with 30 years before when just seven of 92 MPs were Maori, one of whom was a minister, and there was no one of Pacific or Asian ancestry. With MMP there are 42 women MPs. With proportionality came the representation of varying political stances as well.

Opinion polls suggest that while there is support for some fine tuning of MMP, there is no appetite for its replacement. The slapstick start to the antis campaign can only help the status quo.

That said, there is a "what if" element to the upcoming referendum that should have supporters of MMP concerned.

The first referendum question is a simple, "do you support MMP or do you want a change to another voting system". If a majority support MMP, the Electoral Commission will review the way it works and recommend ways of improving it.

The second question asks you to select your favourite from four alternative voting systems, if New Zealand decides to drop MMP.

Everyone can vote for this question, including those who supported MMP in the first question. If a majority vote for change in the first question, then Parliament has to decide whether there will be another referendum in 2014 to choose between MMP and the alternative system that got the most support in this year's question No2.

Here's the rub: Which option does an MMP supporter vote for this time round, just in case the sky falls in and MMP gets rejected? Of the four - First past the post (FPP); Preferential voting (PV); Single transferable vote (STV) and Supplementary member (SM) - STV is apparently the fairest, so the instinct for an MMP supporter would be to go for that as the best off-course substitute.

On the other hand, it might be more strategic to go for the most undemocratic and unacceptable proposal on offer, the unloved FPP system we rejected nearly 20 years ago.

That way if it comes to a run-off in 2014 and FPP is the alternative on offer, then MMP will be up against the weakest opposition.

- NZ Herald

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