Right wing lobby group in poor position to convince many of need for change
If the campaigners for retaining MMP were seeking a secret weapon to ensure success in the upcoming referendum, they should hire arch-opponent Ruth Richardson and let her rip at every public meeting.
Awakening on Sunday morning to her strident defence of last century's old and discredited first-past-the-post electoral system on National Radio was like a nightmare revisited. Being aroused from sleep by the screech of scrapping seagulls and assorted other birdsong is an idiosyncrasy of radio listening one grows accustomed to. But adding Ms Richardson's menacing squawk to the aviary was a step too far.
New Zealanders embraced MMP because of their rejection of the single-minded economic "liberators", like herself, that the FPP system threw up. And here she was wanting to take us back to those dark days. The test of an electoral system, she said, was "does the system allow a government to play a strong hand in advancing the country's economic and social welfare?" The strength of FPP was "it does allow a government to govern".
It was a scary soundbite that the defenders of MMP would do well to replay at every opportunity, to remind those who lived through the 1980s and early 1990s just how undemocratic and flawed the old voting system could be. Talk about rose-tinted spectacles. Remember those halcyon days of repressive state control under the grand nanny of them all, Robert Muldoon. And the unannounced economic extremism of herself and Roger Douglas.
Ms Richardson would also have her early morning audience believe that FPP gave voters the power to turf out governments that didn't perform. This is not necessarily true. In both 1978 and 1981 a majority voted for Labour but National won more electorate seats, so hanging on to power despite the wishes of the people.
Encouragingly, even before this month's campaign proper had begun, the latest Herald-Digipoll has 48 per cent of voters wanting to retain the existing MMP system, with only 35.1 per cent wanting a change and 15 per cent undecided.
Under the terms of the referendum, if more than 50 per cent opt to change the voting system, Parliament will then have to decide if there will be another referendum in 2014. If held, voters will choose between MMP and the alternative voting system that gets the most support in the second question in this year's referendum.
What many voters seem unaware of is that for those wanting changes to certain aspects of the mechanics of MMP, but not wanting to replace it in principle, a full review of its workings is to be conducted by the Electoral Commission next year. But only if a majority vote to retain it. Election New Zealand says the review "must include a number of matters that have been decided by Parliament including the thresholds parties must meet to be eligible for a share of list seats, whether voters should be able to change the order of candidates on a party list and whether candidates can stand in both an electorate and on the party list. The size of Parliament and Maori representation will not be reviewed, but the commission may consider any other aspects of the MMP voting system."
Confusingly, this review will apparently not take place if 50 per cent or more vote for change. Instead, politicians will have to then decide whether or not to have another referendum in 2014, to pit MMP - unreformed presumably - against the most popular of the four alternatives.
The right wing anti-MMP lobby group, Vote for Change, doesn't seem to have recovered from its disastrous launch a few months back when one of its foundation poster boys, Alex Fogerty, had to resign after a blogger revealed he was a founder of an extremist white nationalist group in Australia. It also emerged that campaign manager Simon Lusk was fresh from helping to mastermind Don Brash's takeover of the Act Party.
Given the ongoing manipulation of the MMP system in Epsom by Act and National, you have to wonder what game Mr Lusk is playing. Highlighting the Epsom electoral system jiggery pokery between Act and National can only help bring MMP into disrepute. Which can only assist his other client, Vote for Change.
Former Labour Party president Bob Harvey , the token leftie, resigned in disgust after Mr Fogerty's past was revealed, leaving the anti-MMP lobby group fronted by Business Roundtable luminaries like ex-pat banker Ralph Norris, Roger Kerr, recently deceased, and octogenarian Peter Shirtcliffe, who spent $1.5 million trying to defeat MMP before its introduction in 1996.
In recent weeks, screeds have been written about the finer details of the various voting systems now being dangled before voters' noses. Mostly unread. A royal commission under Justice John Wallace spent two years examining the evidence and came down in favour of MMP in its 1986 report. Certain adjustments were made to its proposals, a 5 per cent threshhold introduced instead of 4 per cent. The commission also wanted Maori seats abolished and the parliamentary term extended to four years. But on the whole, its proposals were adopted and have served New Zealand well. Can anyone deny Parliament is much more a house of representatives than before, with around a quarter of Maori, Pacific or Asian descent and a third female, or that a wider range of political views also have to be listened to?
Why change a system that's working well?