Editorial: Keep self-interest out of politics

Last updated 05:00 18/08/2012

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OPINION: Never underestimate the ability of politicians to dress naked self-interest in the guise of public good.

That is how voters should view ACT leader John Banks' squeals of protest against the Electoral Commission's proposal to stop parties that win electorates, but which do not pass the threshold for list seats, bringing additional MPs into Parliament.

Mr Banks has branded the recommendation "woeful". What is woeful, however, is the repeated rorting of the coat-tailing provision.

ACT has been the greatest beneficiary. Mr Banks is back in Parliament only because National gave him a free ride in Epsom in the hope his party would get enough list support for at least one extra MP. In 2005 and 2008, ACT leader Rodney Hide brought extra MPs into Parliament thanks to equally assisted wins in Epsom.

UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne did the same in 2005 by virtue of his win in Ohariu. He retained the seat in 2008 and 2011 solely because National effectively stood aside. Not surprisingly, he is also against axing the coat-tailing rule.

The 1986 Royal Commission on the electoral system recommended the provision to preserve the proportionality of Parliament, but did not foresee its misuse.

It is also inherently unfair. In 2008, ACT's gifted win in Epsom and 3.65 per cent of the party vote secured five seats; NZ First won 10,000 more votes nationally, but got no seats at all.

According to Chief Electoral Officer Robert Peden, the coat-tailing provision is the most disliked aspect of the present system, with three-quarters of submissions to the MMP review wanting it scrapped. The commission's other main recommendation, to lower the threshold for list seats from 5 to 4 per cent, will be ample compensation for small parties.

Any lower than that, and there is a risk of too many parties to allow stable government, a key aim of any electoral system.

Mr Banks claims the commission has been captured by partisan submissions aimed at knocking his party out of the race, and is certain National will not axe the coat-tailing provision. However, ACT's destiny should be in his hands, not National's. The solution for ACT is therefore to present itself as worthy of support, something it has woefully failed to do in recent years.

National has yet to state its position on the coat-tailing and threshold recommendations, but it will be very difficult to ignore them. The commission was specifically charged with examining those issues in the legislation that automatically triggered its review if voters retained MMP.

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The commission has done what was asked of it. National must show good faith by implementing its findings. Anything less would smack of self-interest.

- The Dominion Post

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