When the National Party published its candidate list on Sunday a greater ethnic diversity was immediately apparent. Six Maori, three Asians and a Pacific Islander have been placed high enough on the list to get into Parliament if National polls as well as it expects.
There is no certainty for some of them, of course, because every candidate ranked lower who wins an electorate reduces the number who can come in on the list. But Samoan Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, Korean-born Melissa Lee and Indian Kanwal Bakshi can probably count on joining Pansy Wong, too long National's solitary representative of immigrant communities.
Indeed, she has been almost a solitary Asian voice in Parliament, for Labour has supplied only the Pakistani Ashraf Choudhary, who has been practically silent, and the smaller parties have offered no seats to non-Maori minorities. MMP's list system was supposed to improve the representation of women, Maori and immigrants but has not really done so.
Women's numbers in Parliament have risen largely thanks to Labour Party selection policies that were in train before MMP and would have continued without it. National's list, incidentally, still looks light on women; only four rank in the top 24, from which a cabinet would be likely to be drawn.
Maori numbers have risen partly on Labour's list selections and partly on enrolment for Maori electorates, which are not a product of MMP. In fact, the royal commission on electoral reform wanted to abolish them. National, with no chance in Maori seats, should have been using proportional representation to court Maori more vigorously.
Its latest list is better in that respect. Though only one Maori, Georgina te Heuheu, ranks in the top 24, three more, Tau Henare, Hekia Parata and Paula Bennett, are in positions for an almost certain return to Parliament and two others, Rugby Union director Paul Quinn and Tauranga prosecutor Simon Bridges, will make it if National wins 60 seats. Six of 60 would be an advance on the present three of 48.
The list system is proving more effective as a device to bring into Parliament people who might not be prepared to take the slower electorate route. National's previous leader Don Brash was one example, Labour's Margaret Wilson is another. National's new list gives high spots to its campaign manager, Steven Joyce, who is not standing in an electorate, and others such as lawyer Chris Finlayson (Rongotai) and diplomat Tim Groser (New Lynn) in electorates they are not expected to win.
Only four of National's list are not standing in electorates, Mr Joyce, Mrs te Heuheu, Ms Lee and a sitting list MP, David Carter, who sought selection for Selwyn but withdrew in the face of opposition from supporters of the banished MP Brian Connell. Candidates ought to need a good reason not to stand in an electorate. It is a healthy exercise for every would-be MP to face the personal scrutiny of a voting community.
In fact, it would be no bad thing if MMP could be tweaked to remove the list system entirely and require every candidate to contest an electorate seat. Extra seats that must be allocated to parties to produce proportional representation nationally could be awarded to their highest-polling losing candidates.
That would restore important territorial electorate contests and ensure all MPs were more than party functionaries. Each would have a personal connection to a locality and its voters. No longer would people come and go from party seats without reference to an electorate.
Lists do not attract voters' attention at elections. They may make it easier to bring minority representatives into Parliament but every MP should have to personally win some votes.