BIG NEWS: 12/01/2010 - 01/01/2011

Thursday, December 23, 2010

MMP is better for New Zealand than every other electoral system. Here’s why.

warning: longer than usual post
The upcoming referendum on the electoral system next year will end up being a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) walkover, or a choice between two electoral systems: MMP and either First Past the Post (FPP), or Supplementary Member (SM). Either way MMP should remain and then be modified.

Incidentally, the ‘first past the post’ label is completely misleading because there is no fixed winning post. The system was not designed for national elections, and is unlikely to enhance democratic accountability when a significant proportion of the population wishes to vote for parties other than National and Labour. Under FPP, what you need to win a local seat is just a ‘plurality’, namely more votes than anyone else. So the more parties compete in each seat, the lower the winning ‘post’ gets, and the greater the likelihood that most of the the voting public will vote for a party other than the governing party. Consequently political scientists call this system ‘plurality rule’, a much more accurate label.

MMP is proportional in that proportionality extends to all elected members – both on the list and through constituents. The SM electoral system - a bastardised FPP system which was comprehensively rejected in the 1992 referendum - has all of the claimed disadvantages of MMP, such as the status of list MPs, plus the disadvantages of FPP, including parties getting most of the seats with a minority of the votes. SM allows for a relatively small number of list MPs which “top up” the electorate MPs.

The big difference between the SM and MMP lists is that, under MMP the list is used to offset the distortions to proportionality that are inherent in the FPP electorate system, as the party vote only determines the composition of the list seats. Under MMP the party vote determines the composition of parliament. SM, however, uses the list to reinforce those distortions, and this list gives token representation to minor parties. List MPs are way outnumbered by electorate MPs, with list MPs only providing the proportionality. This means that a smaller percentage of list MPs would lead to decreased proportionality than is currently the case, and single party government will be the norm, as it is under FPP.

The advantage of a mixed-member proportional system arises because voters can indicate a preference for a candidate without supporting that candidate's party. A good candidate in an unpopular party has a stronger chance of election.

As an electoral system, SM is closer to FPP than MMP. FPP will only survive as a functioning electoral system if a high majority of people in the electorate support the two main parties, and the voters for these parties have sufficient confidence in their party to form a single party government. In most cases since 1996, SM would have produced the same government outcome as FPP, based on current voting, although minor parties would have had fewer MPs. In 1996 SM, under a 90/30 electorate/list top-up split, as proposed by the 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System, would have generated the same government outcome due top NZ First’s capture of the Maori seats. But in 1999, in one of the lowest election turnouts, Labour’s share of the seats was over two percent higher than its share of the party vote and had NZ First and the Greens not crossed the threshold, that share would have been higher.

Supplementary Member is likely to lead to Māori being disproportionately represented in parliament. While it won’t affect how Maori electorate seats are elected, due to split voting it may influence allocation of supplementary seats. Overall proportionality would not exist as the “top-up seats” are likely to be as low as 30 percent of total parliamentary seats. Alternative Vote is likely to rely on second choice preferences, as is STV; FPP is majoritarian in the extreme, is disproportionate, and is likely to “waste” votes. Perhaps this was among the reasons why the Royal Commission on the Electoral System, in its 1996 report Towards a Better Democracy, recommended that MMP was ‘to be preferred to all other systems’. FPP would lead to winners being over represented and losers under represented. This is particularly the case in the Maori seats, where, for example, in 1990, Labour won all the electorates with 65.4% of the vote. More than one in five Maori electorate voters voted for Mana Motuhake, which won no seats. If voters behaved the same way, the party would not be under represented as its share of the nationwide vote, nor would it have won a supplementary seat under SM either, as its overall vote was only 0.6% ( which is also under the MMP 5% threshold).

Single Transferable Vote (STV), in single member districts, as we have in New Zealand, is better than FPP, but not as proportional as MMP. Under this system candidates are ranked and the candidate with the lowest number of votes drops out and votes are reallocated among the remaining candidates and so on until a candidate gets the majority of votes. It is unclear whether this would lead to single party or coalition governments, but it would require a national top up to guarantee full proportionality between the larger parties.This system was rejected by the Royal Commission in 1986.

MMP is the better bet provided the proportion of list seats does not go below 40% - i.e. 48 seats in a house of 120. Currently under MMP it is 70/50.When discussing the choices between electoral systems, the discussion should not be which of the electoral systems - FPP, STV, MMP, SM etc – is preferable. Rather it should be whether one supports single party government or multi-party government – or whether one considers that the party with the most votes should get the most seats. Most supporters of single party government will probably prefer FPP. But when they realise that single party governments are less likely to do what the people want and are less likely to keep their promises, FPP support starts to diminish among those that value democratic ideals. Furthermore, as FPP was never designed for national elections it cannot guarantee that the party with the most votes will get the most seats. Indeed, in 1978 and 1981, the winning party, National, got more than half of the seats with less than half the vote. In 1981, National governed with just 38.8% of the vote. Had these elections been held under a Supplementary Member system (SM), with that vote, this would have still been the case.

There has been some discussion over recent years regarding the 1990 election. That year National got 67 seats for just 48% of the vote, and Labour got just 29 seats, as New Labour got the other one. That was more disproportionate than Labour’s 1972 result. That year Labour also won 48% of the vote but got 63% of the seats and Social Credit got its lowest ever election result (6.7%). Just three minor parties have since got a higher share of the party vote, all whom had leaders with parliamentary experience. Similarly, in 1951, the UK Labour Party lost the election despite outpolling the Conservatives and winning a majority of the popular vote. In 1974, Labour won the election despite the Conservatives gaining most of the votes. So FPP fails to ensure that the party with the most votes gets the most seats. FPP is not a fair system when 21% of the electorate can vote for one party and be represented by fewer than 2% of the members of parliament, as did Social Credit in 1981.

In fact, of four electoral systems - FPP, STV, SM, and Preferential Voting (PV), not one guarantees that the party with the most votes gets the most seats because some seats are allocated to parties who have not won them based on their share of the vote. The non-proportional preferential voting system maintains the basics of the Westminster system intact, but allows second-place votes to count towards determining the winner if no party wins more than fifty percent of the vote. FFP is likely to foster majoritarian extremes. Only MMP guarantees that the party with the most votes gets the most seats, and without these extremes.

While MMP makes it easier for a greater number of parties to enter parliament, it is not without problems. In the 2008 election, NZ First got more votes than Act, United Future and the Progressives combined, yet NZ First was out of Parliament because it failed to have its threshold effectively lowered by securing a constituency seat to gain representation. The others remained in Parliament purely because they did. All four parties- along with the Māori Party, polled less than the 5% threshold. Had the MMP threshold been 4%, NZ First would have relied on the threshold for their parliamentary existence, as would have the Christian Coalition when it gained 4.3% in 1996.

Open lists; or either lowering or removal of the threshold – which would prevent the situation where Act got fewer party votes than NZ First, who got no seats - is preferable to introducing a new electoral system such as SM. Also, as the population increases, this will lead to a greater number of electorate seats – and a fewer number of list seats, if the number of South Island electorate seats continues to be pegged at 16. Currently there are 52 list seats ( down from 55 in 1996) and 70 electorates (up from 65 in 1996) – including the seven Māori electorates which currently provide a two seat overhang.

But the fact remains: To the average voter, MMP, STV, FPP, PV and SM are not electoral systems, they are merely letters without much meaning. Prime Minister John Key has said that any change to the electoral system requires a major advertising campaign. "We can't ask people to make constitutional changes without understanding what the options are."

Politics is often seen as two sections: the left and the right. Act will go with National and the Greens with Labour. Many other PR systems are like this. New Zealand is different as we have centre parties that can go either way - United Future and even the Maori Party. So the left/right splits are not so relevant, as we have seen with New Zealand First when they held the balance of power in 1996, and chose National to govern when most thought Labour would have been picked.

There are a lot of matters on our electoral system options that need to be understood. The task of making sure any possible changes are understood will fall on the Electoral Commission.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

blogging in 2011

As you may have noticed, I've dropped the blogging frequency this year. Not sure how much I`ll be blogging in 2011, although we are having a general election (on Nov 26) and at least one by-election ( in March). However if Chris Carter resigns, we'll be having another by election to stop Judith Tizard entering Parliament.

Anyway, Facebook and Twitter have replaced much of the blog conversation, so catch me around there, and Delicious is a great bookmarking tool which you can share links with others. Before I go some awards:

Best MP( and best speech) was John Key, best national MP Steven Joyce, rising star Hekia Parata, best Labour MP Grant Robertson, best minor Party MP Metiria Turei, and best CD HTML - Hard Trance is My Life, by Steve Hill. Best right wing blog is Kiwiblog, best leftwing blog is No Right Turn -although Liberation comes a close second. Worst National MP Paul Quinn, worst Labour MP ( for 2010) is/was Chris Carter and worst minor party MP Roger Douglas. (yes even David Garrett was more effective). Best left wing twittering MP is Clare Curran, best rightwing twittering MP is Tau Henare.

Prediction for 2011: election date will be 26 November and Peter Dunne will win his seat. Pretty sure at least one will be correct.


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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

more from Wikileaks. Reassuring

█████ ██ █ ████ everything████is█████ ████ ████ fine ████ ███ █ ██████ love. █████ ███████ ███ your ██ government #wikileaks

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pansy Wong resigns from parliament after doing nothing wrong, apparently

Apparently former National Cabinet Minister Pansy Wong considers she has done nothing wrong in letting her husband fly around the world off the taxpayer. In resigning from Parliament, she has released a statement saying she “strongly refutes” all allegations of wrongdoing.

Problem is, she did no such thing. I doubt if she knows what the word “refute” means. It means to prove to be false. Wong has not proven the allegations against her to be false. Perhaps she is looking for the word “refudiate” – and she probably doesn’t know what that word means, either.

Wong’s resignation will take effect from Jan 17. The by-election will be on March 5.

Meanwhile, because she was unable to win a seat, and as an Asian, she was able to get into Parliament off the list in 1996, 1999, 2002 and 2005, obviously spending most of her career as a list MP before being selected for and winning the new (and safe) electorate of Botany at the last election, Pansy Wong and her husband still get 75% taxpayer travel subsidy for the rest of their lives. That will enable her to spend “more time with her family” ( here and overseas) as she and her husband jetset around the world compliments of the taxpayer.


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Sunday, December 12, 2010


(Click for bigger screen shot).


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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Constitutional review

The Government has finally announced details of its constitutional review.

The review will include matters such as the size of Parliament, the length of the electoral term, Maori representation, the role of the Treaty of Waitangi and whether New Zealand needs a written constitution. Bill English and Pita Sharples will lead the review in consultation with a cross-party reference group of MPs. They will write to all party leaders in the next few days and ask them to nominate a representative for the cross party reference group.

This will be followed by a public consultation process, with a break during the second half of next year for the MMP referendum and general election.

The whole process will be completed in 2013. This is after the next Maori Electoral Option and when we know what our electoral system will be after the referenda. It is also after the Electoral Commission’s review of MMP should we decide to stick with it. The Government then has six months to respond to the final report . This is five and a half years after the agreement to undertake such a review.

The only part of this process that will occur before the 2011 election is one of clarifying the issues and developing strategy for engagement. So the public won’t be involved until after the election.

The following will be part of the review:

Electoral matters including:
• The size of Parliament.
• The length of terms of Parliament and whether or not the term should be fixed.
• The size and number of electorates, including the method for calculating size.
• Electoral integrity legislation.

Crown-Maori relationship matters including:
• Maori representation including the Maori Electoral Option, Maori electoral participation and Maori seats in Parliament and local government.
• The role of the Treaty of Waitangi within New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements.

Other constitutional matters
• Whether New Zealand should have a written constitution.
• Bill of Rights issues.

What won’t be part of the review is a discussion on binding referenda, or whether NZ should become a republic.

Any proposals to reform elements of the constitutional framework will only be decided after securing broad cross-party agreement in the House or the majority support of voters at a referendum.

The Cabinet paper is here. Details of the last review are here.

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Monday, December 06, 2010

Another speech from Goff

Phil Goff delivered another speech today. You can read it here. It is about the forgotten middle income New Zealand families, those who work hard but still feel they are going backwards.

Labour wants to tell the country it can assist them better than National can. Phil Goff knows what it takes to turn the current situation around. It wants to grow the economy, provide jobs and keep living standards down. Yep, that`ll do the trick.

How will Labour do this – well, Goff doesn't know.

Labour will increase our stake in our own financial future, assist us to protect our asset base, and welcome foreign investment. Marvellous. But HOW?

By expanding innovation (which is what Labour tried to do when in Government) and implement a “skills strategy”. Goff says Labour won’t be using power company dividends as a surrogate for taxation ( like it did when in Government).

I really wonder why Goff bothers delivering speeches. The first half of the speech is a moan about our current situation and the second half is a dream about how to resurrect the nanny state, instead of the economy. He may as well have repeated his last big speech.

If Goff can’t do better than this, Labour needs to be led by someone who can, or hire people to write speeches that actually resonate. If there’s nobody else, why should Labour win the next election?

National would never have written a speech like this in opposition for John Key to deliver.


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Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Grinch of the Johnsonville Christmas parade

I see WhaleOil’s spies have tipped him off regarding the Johnsonville Christmas Parade today. Namely that there were no lollies and no balloons and certain floats missing that were there last year.

I live in Johnsonville and my kids have been involved in every parade for the past five or so years. We were not involved in this one- and this one was different. I attended and noticed a big difference. The organisers decided that no balloons were to be given out, no flyers were to be given out and no lollies were to be distributed. The rationale behind this was that distributing lollies and balloons to the kids held up the flow of the floats. This is a pathetic excuse as there were bigger gaps between floats this year than any other year. This rule meant that groups like The Salvation Army couldn’t hand out fliers to advertise their Christmas service. And the Sallies have a big presence and community outreach in Johnsonville. The rule meant that other groups couldn’t use their balloons and kids were asking their parents why they didn’t get any lollies this year.

One of the other reasons kids would have got fewer lollies, even under last years’ lolly rules, is that many groups who gave out lollies last year- such as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, which has a prominent presence in Johnsonville, were banned from having a float as they don’t deal with kids. The organising committee had a rule that only those groups that have involvement with kids were allowed to have a float and participate in the parade. So why was the Hari Krishna’s there, why were some retail outlets that have nothing to with kids allowed to drive their cars along the parade route – and why was there a whole bunch of police with their police dogs. I was told by the organisers that kids like dogs, so that made it OK.

They also like lollies and balloons, a great deal more than police dogs.

National thought it was a bit unfair that it was prohibited from distributing balloons along the parade so a few people pumped some up anyway in Katrina Shanks’ electorate office and distributed them to the kids before the parade started – and good on ‘em.

Peter Dunne, the local MP was in the parade as Santa’s Elf again, but he’s the chair of the Parades’ organising committee as well. The parade’s organising committee, or whoever they delegated the decision to ban lollies, fliers and balloons - need their heads read, and would do well to broaden the entry requirements for floats, and allow for flyers, lollies and balloons to be distributed in next year’s parade. As one person who had a hand in making such decisions told me today, it’s all about the kids.

Kids like lollies and balloons. And they don’t care if they get lollies from the Citizens Advice Bureau, The Salvation Army, or the local scouts. They don’t care if they get balloons from the BNZ, National or the local kindy.

Let the kids have their parade back, if it is all about the kids.


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Ordering Pizza

Pizza Hutt has three sizes of pizza: regular, large and big. David Farrar asks, which costs the most -the big pizza or the large one? I'd ask which one is the best value for money.

It transpires that the large pizza is not bigger than the big pizza. That's because the large pizza, at $12.90 has eight slices. The big pizza is actually 33.3 percent bigger than the large pizza as it has 12 slices, (assuming all pizza slices are the same size). That makes the big pizza twice as big as the six slice regular pizza, but at $15.90, it is much less than twice the price of the regular pizza, so it is better value for money. The large pizza is better value than the big pizza as well , as it is less than 33.3 percent more expensive then the big pizza. At $1.32 a slice it is the best value for money.

This means that while three (smaller) large pizzas have the same number of pieces as two ( bigger) big pizzas, at $38.70 that is $7.20 more than the two big pizzas cost. If you want a better deal, go to Dominos, where eight slice pizzas are a lot less than $10.90. On a good night you can get five large pizzas - usually called regular at Dominos - for a few bucks more than two big Pizza Hut pizzas.

Aternatively, you can go to Hell. Where an equivalent pizza will cost more than one at Dominos, but the biggest one costs less than the big one at Pizza Hutt, but more than the large one.And the large one is the same size as the regular Dominos one which costs even less. Wonder if the size of the slices are the same in all three stores?


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