Proposed changes to MMP released

KATE CHAPMAN AND DANYA LEVY
Last updated 15:39 13/08/2012
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Labour is backing proposed changes to MMP but National says it is still considering its position.

Labour MP Lianne Dalziel said the public had spoken "loudly and clearly" about the so-called coat tails clause, which had allowed parties to win seats even though the party did not have sufficient support to get over the five per cent threshold.

The Electoral Commission today announced a proposed shake-up of MMP, which included lowering the threshold for seats in Parliament, probably from 5 per cent to 4 per cent, and also "strongly recommended" the one seat threshold, a "coat-tails" rule which allowed parties that won one electorate seat to bring other MPs into Parliament, be abolished.

Dalziel said people wanted to see an end to "political stitch-ups".

"Canning this clause will stop dodgy 'tea party' deals. Lowering the threshold to four per cent will mean a fairer system for everyone. "

A spokesman for acting Prime Minister Bill English said today the paper had been received and would be "carefully considered by National over coming weeks".

But National opposed lowering the 5 per cent threshold during the submission period.

The Electoral Commission conducted the review of the MMP electoral system following the referendum last year and
Chief Electoral Officer Robert Peden today announced the proposals.


The ACT Party had five MPs following the 2008 election on the back of then leader Rodney Hide's Epsom seat.

That was the "single biggest concern" people had about the MMP system, Peden said.

The 4 per cent threshold was an area "in which we can afford to move cautiously".

"Going to 3 per cent would be a really significant change."

Below 3 per cent would allow a proliferation of small parties and could reduce the stability of Parliament, he said.

ACT leader John Banks says he does not support the changes, particularly the one seat threshold which has been a lifeline for his party.

"The purpose of the one seat threshold was to ensure that political parties with concentrated support got representation in Parliament," he said.

"The proposed reduction to a 4 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."

Banks also said the 5 per cent threshold should remain.

"Those who want to gerrymander with the electoral system, do so because they lost the last election."

No electoral system was perfect but the proposed changes did not benefit New Zealand, he said.

The commission also found that the organisation of party lists should remain with political parties and that dual candidacy and the ability for list MPs to stand in by-elections should remain.

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However, it recommended the overhang be abolished, meaning there could not be more than 120 MPs.

There were currently 121 MPs because the Maori Party had more electorate seats than its share of the party vote.

That change would reduce the number of list seats available for allocation.

"The concern about removing the one seat threshold...one of the consequences of that is that the chance of an overhang would increase," Peden said.

He said there were few changes proposed but they were important.

However, they would not significantly alter the system and therefore a referendum on them was not needed.

That would mean the changes could be adopted for the 2014 election.

The review began in February with a consultation paper.

By the end of May 4700 submissions and 116 oral presentations had been made.

Submissions on the proposals paper released today were open until September 7.

The commission would then make a final report to Justice Minister Judith Collins by October 31.

The review did not consider the Maori seats, or the number of MPs.

Collins issued a statement encouraging people to have their say on MMP but there was no response on what the Government thought of the proposed changes.

"It's important that the public continues to engage and have their say on how MMP might work in the future,"Collins said.

Green Party MP Holly Walker welcomed the Electoral Commission's recommendations.

Abolishing the one seat threshold and lowering the party vote threshold would reduce the number of wasted votes, she said.

"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.

NZ First Leader Winston Peters does not support reducing party vote threshold and said the proposed changes went against public opinion.

He also opposed the removal of the overhang rule which he said was anti-democratic.

"If there were concerns about this then why didn’t they consider reducing Parliament to 100 MPs, theoretically leaving a number of seats available for the overhang."

Peters did support the one per cent threshold being abolished.

"There have been numerous attempts to corrupt the integrity of MMP by the National, ACT and United Future parties by misusing the intent of the one electorate seat threshold for the allocation of list seats."

Anti-MMP campaigner Jordan Williams said reducing the party vote threshold was dangerous and the review was a missed opportunity.

However, he supported other proposed changes.

 "It is a relief that the Commission has listened to the overwhelming calls for the one-seat threshold and overhang provisions to be removed but the 5 per cent threshold must stay if we are to avoid more Winston Peters-type politicians deciding who wins elections."

'DIFFICULT TO IGNORE'

Political parties would find it difficult to ignore today's recommendations from the highly regarded Electoral Commission, a political commentator said.

Otago University political science Bryce Edwards said today most politicians had made submissions to the review that aligned with their own interests.

"The Electoral Commission is held in quite high esteem so parties will have to make quite good arguments if they want to disagree with the Electoral Commission."

Edwards said lowering the threshold to 4 per cent it was "tinkering" and wouldn't make much difference.

Most arguments against an even lower threshold were "anti-democratic, that we can't trust the voters, that we might get too radical parties in", he told TVNZ's Breakfast programme.

Coat-tailing was the most contentious part of MMP because it led to deals over electorate seats which have given ACT and United Future a lifeline in recent elections.

"Lowering the threshold would address that problem but will disadvantage some minor parties. But most parties would be in favour."

ACT gained only 3.65 per cent of the vote in 2008, but won five seats on the back of a victory in the Auckland seat of Epsom, while NZ First got 4.07 per cent but failed to win an electorate so was excluded from Parliament.

Sandra Grey, who fronted the pro-MMP campaign last year, said the Commission could also recommend greater democracy in the way that parties selected their lists.

"The big question is, what will the public make of it? And what will the politicians do? I hope they will set aside protecting their own patch."

National and NZ First want the status quo retained, while Labour, the Greens, the Maori Party and United Future want a lower threshold. Labour, the Greens and Mana have pushed for an end to coat-tailing.

List of proposed changes:

* 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 sand 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.

* That 76 electorate seats be identified as the point at which the risk of proportionality from insufficient list seats becomes unacceptable. New Zealand is unlikely to reach that point before 2026. Parliament should review this matter as the gradual erosion of list seats relative to electorate seats risks undermining the diversity and representation of Parliament.

- Stuff

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