List rigging shows need for better electoral system

RICHARD LONG
Last updated 09:23 05/04/2011

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OPINION: What wonderfully flexible constitutional somersaults have been performed over the Judith Tizard saga.

The same people who campaign to the death for MMP over what they see as the wicked Tory conspiracy of FPP openly defended the rigging of Labour's approved party list.

This was not just to keep Judith Tizard out of Parliament, but also to sideline the four other top list candidates in order to get the person the Labour leadership now prefers.

That is gazumping the electoral process. Whether they now like it or not, this was the list the party presented to the electorate for approval at the last election.

To corrupt that process at the whim of the recent party president (and now New Plymouth candidate) Andrew Little, and leader Phil Goff, is little short of gerrymandering.

The MMP party list is itself a blatantly undemocratic by-product of MMP - rewarding party acolytes without any input from the electorate - but to discard it when it suits, highlights its shortcomings. It is there at the whim of the Labour leadership.

It might make sense, for Labour's electoral purposes, to sideline Ms Tizard, Mark Burton, Mahara Okeroa, Martin Gallagher and Dave Hereora in order to fastpost the more attractive candidate Louisa Wall into Parliament, but that is beside the point.

MMP supporters are vociferous to the point of belligerence in defending their system over other electoral systems, but now they have demonstrated they think they have the right to cherry-pick aspects that suit.

Some commentators have suggested banning party has-beens and electorate MPs from the party list in order to avoid these unseemly spectacles. Some hope.

There is nothing quite so focused as the MPs' trade union - look at the way they have clutched on to travel and expenses perks till they are dragged away from them. List positioning is not just a polite queue, it is an all-out elbow-jolting, eye-gouging process so MPs can get their rankings ahead of outsiders.

MS TIZARD is an example of this patronage. She was well-placed on the list under her close friend, former prime minister Helen Clark, but now the leadership doesn't want a bar of her and has expressed this in fairly forthright terms. It would have been delightful to see her back settling some scores and fomenting insurrection.

Ms Tizard inherits some of her bluntness from a political family, with mother Dame Catherine a former mayor of Auckland and governor-general. Father Bob was a former Labour deputy leader and finance minister.

After wartime service in the Pacific, Mr Tizard will be remembered by fellow veterans for his blunt commentary after Japanese emperor Hirohito died in 1989. Clearly in the school that links Hirohito to the hardline wartime militarists, Mr Tizard said the emperor should have been chopped up after the war.

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Now Labour has achieved its aim over the list and frightened off Ms Tizard, the solution should be to adopt a better electoral system, not to tinker with MMP as Labour appears to be doing even before the referendums.

Going back to First Past the Post is not the answer in our unicameral system. The experiences of the Muldoon/Douglas years have probably made this unacceptable to the electorate.

The best solution would be a hybrid, such as the Supplementary Member system, which would safeguard an aspect of proportionality while placing the importance back with the real workers, the constituency MPs, who answer to and are judged by their constituencies.

It is outrageous that these MPs are outranked on many occasions by list MPs who do not have a real job and have the time to swan about ingratiating themselves to their party hierarchies.

The critics dismiss SM as MMP-lite and label it a copout, but it maintains an element of proportionality and would encourage in the same way, more women and minority candidates.

Importantly, it would also reduce the inefficient and costly tail-wag-the-dog aspects of MMP which stem from governments having to squander millions of taxpayers' dollars to fund the questionable pet projects of small coalition partners. MMP institutionalises this barmy loyalty-buying exercise.

- The Dominion Post

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