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Q+A: The panel on the MMP debate

Published: 6:20PM Sunday August 12, 2012


GREG Our panel Bryce Edwards, Helen Kelly and Matthew Hooten.  5% looks like it's probably going to go to 4%.

Dr BRYCE EDWARDS - Political Scientist
 No one really knows whats coming on to this report tomorrow, but everyones talking about 4%.  I think its tinkering.  Its not much different.  Its an arbitrary figure - 5%, 4%.  I think Hone Harawira was just making a very good case for getting rid of the threshold.  There are no good democratic arguments in favour of having a threshold.  Its a way of- Its incumbency protection.  Its keeping the parties that are in Parliament there and protecting against new parties coming up.  And we havent seen any new parties come into Parliament under MMP that havent already had an MP, so we need to shake up the party system.

GREG He made a really good point as well, I though, Matthew, you know, using the Bill and Ben example.  If people thought there was no threshold, they would vote differently; they would think differently.

MATTHEW HOOTON - Political Consultant
Yeah.  Well, it also wouldnt be the end of the world if there were one or two joke MPs in our Parliament as a result of a 0.8% threshold.

GREG Some could argue there was some there now.

MATTHEW  Yeah.  But I think there is a coherence to what Hone Harawira was saying - 0.8% makes a certain degree of sense.  I think, however, in the end whats going to be recommended is a 4% threshold and getting rid of the coat-tail issue, and theyll be the two main aspects of the report.

GREG Helen, do you agree?  Coat-tailing gone and 4%?

HELEN KELLY - CTU President 
I think that is going to be the recommendation.  I mean, its always hard to get a perfect balance, isnt it?  And I think the issue about whether you have a threshold at all really is an important one in terms of stability.  I do think there are examples where that doesnt work, but also whether people can buy themselves a seat.  You know, if theres no threshold, you can just get enough money to get enough publicity to push yourself over the line, so there is an argument that having some threshold requires a collective effort, a community effort to get a party over the line.

GREG All of this, though, you have to say who is going to benefit most, 5% being the best example.  You know, its going to be great for various parties if it doesnt, because theyre not going to be able to get in because the threshold is there; were going to be able to take them on board.  Is it going, Bryce, to be any better for voters?  Really, is it going to make much difference?

BRYCE Well, in the last election we had a turnout rate of 69% of eligible voters, so people were turning away from elections in droves.  And the party system isnt exciting them and inspiring them, so I think we should be creating some sort of system where minor parties, new parties might rise up and knock out some of the boring ones, but thats not happening.  So its self-interest in terms of what the political parties have been submitting to the Electoral Commission, and tomorrow we find out whether, you know, theyve been dominated by the parties.

MATTHEW  Except theres not.  The irony here is that the National Party has opted for a 5% threshold in its submissions, and the Labour Party has advocated 4%.

BRYCE Well, they might change their mind.

MATTHEW  But if you look at their narrow political interests for the next election, its National that will gain, in my view, by a reduction to four, and its Labour that would gain by keeping it at five, so I wonder if well see the two main parties flipping their positions on that issue.

GREG On the Tory side of the ledger, though, if it stays at 5%, wonderful news for Winston Peters.  As far as United Future and ACT go, it couldnt- you know, going on the last election couldnt be much worse, could it?

MATTHEW  Well, no, and, I mean, Winston Peters, I think his party will get over 5%, so I think hes in either way, and that could be perhaps something behind his support for 5%.

BRYCE  I think so.

MATTHEW  The issue is the Conservative Party.  The Christian Coalition of Graham Capill got 4.6% in 1996.  Christian parties seem to be in that four to five.  Now, Colin Craigs Conservatives got 2.65% with a very short campaign-

HELEN A huge budget funded by him.  A personal budget to get himself into Parliament.

MATTHEW  Yeah, but it was- I think with more money and more time - more important than the money would be the time - I think he would get 4%.  And, of course, that creates, in my view, the most likely outcome of the next election, which is National, Sir Winston Peters as Deputy Prime Minister and the Conservatives Party.

BRYCE Which is why the Government might accept the 4% threshold being advocated tomorrow by the Electoral Commission.

GREG Bryce, going back to a point you made earlier on - actually, it may not have - one of you made earlier on - there has been no new political movement really since the start of the system.  You know, off the top of my head, youd think thered be a Pacific Island Party.

HELEN  Mana.  Manas new.

BRYCE  But they had existing MPs.

GREG  They had an existing MP, and theyre along the Maori lines.

HELEN  Yeah, but theyre a new party and a new movement.

BRYCE  Yeah, but you cant get into Parliament unless youve got an existing MP is the lesson.  So new movements cant come up organically from outside of Parliament, and thats a great misfortune-

HELEN  But they got in through one MP.  You said United Future couldnt get worse.  Well, theyve only got one MP and he won the electorate, so, you know, its probably not going to get any better is a better description of whats happening there.

MATTHEW  I dont think ACT and United Future are really part of the future-

BRYCE  Theyre dying-

MATTHEW  Theyre finished.

GREG Lets talk about the parties voting for the list.  This is something we didnt actually touch on with our politicians before.  That needs to change, do you feel?

BRYCE Well, I think we could be surprised tomorrow by the report that it might suggest a shake-up in how the parties invent their lists.  In the case of there might be some provision parties, you know, mandatorily making them have elections - internal elections - to decide the lists.

GREG The utopian hope for this is that more people are going to join political parties so they can have a say. Is that realistic, Matthew?

MATTHEW  No, not really.  I mean, the law requires it to be a democratic process.

BRYCE   Which is vague.

MATTHEW  In the National Party, there is a very highly democratic process that they begin with their regional conferences and then their national conferences and then the list gets ordered through this highly democratic process.  And then in the final meeting of the list-ranking committee, the leader says what he wants.

BRYCE  Exactly.

GREG Would this change the unions and the Labour Party - the involvement, the relationship there?  Will that change that?

HELEN  Well, of course the Labour Party is looking at how it selects its list.  I think if you want to get more people voting, you have to actually change the way - the access of people to the voting system.  And that includes things like mobile voting electorates, perhaps compulsory voting, which no ones actually discussed,  but, you know, a whole range of opportunities to get more people participating.  You know, why cant we have buses driving around shopping malls and workplaces and things on Election Day with polling booths in them, rather than expecting people to go to them, going through small towns, having a longer time to vote, you know, than the one day?  There could be a whole lot of ways to get people to participate.

GREG Okay, we dont know the exact what were going to see tomorrow, but just briefly, Matthew, what do you think will- the Government will go for, will give a green light to on this one tomorrow?

MATTHEW  I think they will decide to accept the recommendations of the report.  As I said, that will serve their political interests too.

BRYCE  Well see self-serving all around, I think, from the political parties response to this.

HELEN  I think theyll accept the recommendations, yeah.

GREG  Right across the board?

HELEN  I would say so, yeah, unless theres something very very unexpected in there that any party that does it will look self-serving, and probably if theyre self-serving recommendations anyway, why not?

MATTHEW  Its actually been quite a good review process.  Theres been people- I did a one-minute submission.  Its a good way-

GREG We will leave it there. Were running- Weve run out of time, actually.  All three of you, thank you very much.

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