Commission paper 'woeful' - John Banks

By Kate Shuttleworth

ACT leader John Banks said the proposed changes do not offer any additional benefits to New Zealand. Photo / Natalie Slade
ACT leader John Banks said the proposed changes do not offer any additional benefits to New Zealand. Photo / Natalie Slade

The ACT Party will not be supporting any changes to MMP.

The Electoral Commission has proposed abolishing the rule which allows MPs who win an electorate seat to bring others into Parliament on their coat-tails even if they fall short of the party vote threshold, saying it was the most unpopular feature of MMP and should go.

As part of the MMP Review, the Commission has also recommended lowering the party vote threshold needed to get into Parliament from five per cent to four per cent - a move which would mean parties would need about 23,000 fewer votes to get into Parliament than at five per cent.

ACT leader John Banks said the proposed changes do not offer any additional benefits to New Zealand and he called the Electoral Commission paper "woeful".

"We do not support the abolishment of the one seat threshold - the purpose of the one seat threshold was to ensure that political parties with concentrated support got representation in Parliament," he said.

"It was a judgement made by the Royal Commission on the electoral system in 1986."

"It uses the weight of partisan submissions to justify removing the one seat threshold, which has been working exactly how the Royal Commission intended since it was introduced," said Mr Banks.

He said the five per cent party vote threshold should remain. It is well understood by voters and political parties.

"The proposed reduction to a four per cent threshold is arbitrary and the Commission's own proposal paper says there is no consensus, which is all the more reason to maintain the status quo."

"Overall, none of the problems our country faces today has much to do with the electoral system."

MMP opponent and former spokesman of Vote for Change Jordan Williams said he was in favour of the one electorate seat threshold for the allocation of list seats being abolished and an overhang provision being removed.

"The overhang provision should never have really been in there - it just makes the system more confusing," he said.

He said reducing the party vote threshold for the allocation of list seats to four per cent was a mistake.

"We submitted to the review that one of the real problems with MMP is the instability of Government or tails wagging the dog - you shouldn't be making changes that increase the likelihood of a smaller tail wagging the dog, or making it even more susceptible to instability," he said.

He said a lot of New Zealanders believed Winston Peters represented instability in Government

"Even Winston is arguing that the 5 per cent threshold should stay the same."

Although his own party would have benefited from the proposed change of the threshold to four per cent, NZ First leader Winston Peters said it should stay at five per cent - the level which had originally been agreed to ensure stability of Government.

"We've argued for five per cent because we believe that is a safe threshold, it's stable."

Dropping that would let too many parties into Parliament. However, he did support the proposal to abolish the electorate seat threshold, saying the "coat-tails provision" had been "appallingly abused" in the past.

He said that provision had resulted in deals over electorate seats such as Ohariu Belmont, held by United Future leader Peter Dunne, and Epsom, held by Act leader John Banks. "That was a total jack up."

He believed the Electoral Commission should also have considered the Maori electorates and the size of Parliament.

SUPPORT FROM GREEN PARTY

Green Party electoral reform spokesperson Holly Walker said abolishing the one electorate seat threshold and lowering the party vote threshold will help to reduce the number of `wasted' votes, and ensure that everyone's votes count.

"I'm really pleased that the underlying principles of fairness, proportionality and diversity are reflected in these recommendations from the Electoral Commission, 'said Ms Walker.

"Removing the one electorate seat threshold will make a big difference for fairness by making sure that the votes of people in some electorates are not given more weight than others,'' she said.

The Electoral Commission have also highlighted the need to address the future ratio of list to electorate seats if current demographic trends continue.

"It's good that they have identified that the gradual erosion of list seats poses an unacceptable risk to proportionality and diversity. It's important that we think about what is an appropriate balance between increasing electorate seats as the population grows, and the total number of seats in our parliament.''

Another recommendation from the Electoral Commission is that political parties should continue to have responsibility for the composition and ranking of candidates on their party lists.

"It is interesting that the Electoral Commission have chosen not to recommend greater public involvement in party lists. Our preference has always been for greater internal democracy and the Green Party will continue to empower our members to rank our candidates.''

The proposals being suggested by the Electoral Commission:

The one electorate seat threshold for the allocation of list seats should be abolished

The party vote threshold for the allocation of list seats should be lowered to 4 per cent

Candidates should continue to be able to stand both in an electorate and on a party list at general elections

List MPs should continue to be able to contest by-elections

Political parties should continue to have responsibility for the composition and ranking of candidates on their party lists

The provision for overhang seats should be abolished for parties that do not cross the party vote threshold

It recommended identifying 76 electorate seats (in a 120-seat Parliament) as the point at which the risk of proportionality from insufficient seats becomes unacceptable. New Zealand is likely to reach that point before 2026.

The gradual erosion of lists seats relative to electorate seats risks undermining the diversity of representation in Parliament - recommended Parliament should review.

- APNZ

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