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Q+A: Transcript of MMP debate

Published: 1:34PM Sunday August 12, 2012


GREG You may remember that when we voted to keep MMP at last years election, we signed up to a review of the system by the Electoral Commission.  Well, tomorrow well get our first chance to see what changes may be in store. 
Should we lower the threshold from 5% to open the door to the smaller parties?  Should we get rid of the coat-tailing law, as its called, that has allowed ACT and United Future to bring in extra MPs on the back of a win in an electorate seat?  What do we want?  And perhaps more importantly, how do the political parties think MMP can be improved? 
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, Labours Lianne Dalziel and Mana leader Hone Harawira join me now.  Welcome to you all. 
First of all, Winston Peters, 5% - should it be lowered?

No, it shouldnt, because were talking about a compromise between democracy and stability.  And if you start lowering the threshold and allowing this coat-tailing to go on, youll actually destroy stability, and thats not what the public want.  The public went for MMP and they want it to work, and it is working with a few aberrations.

GREG 2008 and 1999, though, if that law hadnt been in, it wouldve been very very bad news for New Zealand First.

WINSTON No doubt about it, and- well, actually, if the law had been 4%, it would not have been bad news at all.  But we had been through that experience.  We think that if youre good enough, you should make 5%.  And on the question of coat-tailing, if you want to coat-tail, you must get 4% to bring anybody else in.  I think were talking about stability here, and Ive seen the sort of MMP systems where they have very low thresholds and the things chaos from start to finish.  Weve not had that, and I think the public want to see us tweak the system and make it fairer.

GREG Lianne, from overseas examples, though, theres not a lot of evidence that tweaking that side of things causes instability in governments.  What do you think it would do?

 Well, I think not having a threshold would certainly cause great instability, so we certainly wouldnt support that.  But when the Royal Commission actually looked at the issue, they recommended 4%, and I think it is time to go to the 4%.  And I think that the coat-tails provision as we all know it now should go completely.

GREG  Hone, on the other side of all of this, you say there should be no limit, just an open door?

HONE HARAWIRA - Mana Party Leader
 Yeah, well, Im not a great fan of, for example, the Legalise Cannabis Party, right, but they put themselves out there, and they consistently get a vote and they never ever get a voice in the House.  And at one point everybody used to think that was the Green Partys position, but it turned out not to be.  I dont smoke dope myself, but theres other factions within the community whose views are simply not getting in.  I think that there needs to be a review of the situation.  Im not talking about that because I support coat-tailing necessarily, but I do think that the broader the democracy, the better its going to be.

GREG You take this to the extreme, though, in the election before last, Bill and Ben - the TV3 guys - it was a joke thing, but they wouldve got enough to be in Parliament.  You know, thats the sort of situation wed be faced with, isnt it?

HONE Yeah, but I think that if the system had have been in place, its unlikely that people would have actually voted for them on that basis.  Im not saying that it should open the door for everybody, because, I mean, at one point there we could have had Graham Capill in Parliament, you know, a convicted paedophile.  What weve got to do, though, is recognise that the system is about encouraging more and more people to want to participate.  And the higher the threshold, the more people start thinking that, This is not something that really matters, so Im not going to bother.  And thats why New Zealanders dont bother to vote.

GREG Winston, a cynic would say youre all for keeping it where it is because that is pretty good news for you in that theres a lot of the smaller parties on the side that are going to be shut out if that threshold is kept at 5%.  What do you say to that?

WINSTON Well, they couldnt be more wrong, could they?

GREG I dont know.  Could they?

WINSTON The fact is that a lower threshold would have suited us.  But weve lived through-

GREG Then, but now?

WINSTON Well, but we stand for the 5% threshold on the interest of stability.  Ive seen, for example, countries like Israel with 53 parties sometimes getting near parliament and the kind of chaos that that breeds.  And we think that if youre good enough and you stand for something, you should be able to get to the 5%.  Now, the problem with lowering the threshold is that it makes it far easier for a group - a certain specific group - to manipulate the results because theyve got the resources or usually the money and the insidious purpose of undermining the system.  So thats why we think its critical that& Is that a panel moving across there?

GREG Well get some CRC on that later, dont worry.


WINSTON That sounds like New Zealand Railways.  You know, people who make that criticism dont understand.  Were saying we are for a higher threshold which is tough because it means a more disciplined, better-focused party with a better organisation, and thats what the public deserve.  They vote-

GREG All right, I want a yes-no from all three-

WINSTON They got rid of First Past the Post to allow far more people in, and they have.

GREG Well, well touch on that shortly as well.  I want a yes-no from all of you.  Theyre saying most likely the actual admission will drop to 4%.  Hone, yes, no?

HONE Id like to see it lower.

GREG Lianne?

LIANNE I think they will go to the 4%, and well support that.

GREG Winston?

WINSTON They havent got a majority out in the public to think that, so they shouldnt.

GREG What is National most likely to go for on that?  That seems the easier one.

WINSTON Nationals going for five, so is New Zealand First.

LIANNE  But I think that the issue for the publics opinion on all of this is actually very clear, and it was evidenced, I think, from the 2008 general election where we saw, you know, a party that just got over 3.5% of the vote getting four Members of Parliament on the coat-tails of the leader of the ACT Party, and Winston Peters, leading New Zealand First, getting over 4% of the vote, so on my assumption, he would have been in Parliament with his full team entitled to be there, but he ended up with nothing.  And I think Parliament was poorer for the absence of New Zealand First during that period.

GREG Okay, coat-tailing - Hone, does that need to go?

HONE Yeah, I think it should change.  I think it needs to change considerably.  That would affect me, but I think the principle is valid that you shouldnt just squeak people through on a minority view.  But I still hold to the view that we need to be a lot more democratic, ensuring as many of the votes that have been cast count when it comes to the election-

GREG Does it really make voters think, Well, that was a waste if thats how it turned out?

LIANNE  Well, thats my point, in fact.

HONE Under the current system, people dont care.

LIANNE  And perhaps theyre-

HONE The current system doesnt care.

LIANNE  I didnt finish exactly what I was saying, which was the reason that Parliament was the poorer for the absence of New Zealand First were the thousands of people that used their party vote to support them.  They were unrepresented in our Parliament for three years.

GREG Winston, time for it to go?

WINSTON  No, its not time for it to go.  The fact is when you lose, dont start moving the goalposts.  Realise that you have- No matter what circumstances and how the unfairness of it all may have worked itself out, realise that in the end we shouldve been good enough to win and didnt, and we faced up to it and thats why we made a comeback.  But, you know, frankly, the size of Parliament is too many.  We dont need 120.  100 at 60-40 would be fair enough.  These are the kind of changes I expected them to make, but theyre not touching, for example, the financial backing of parties is not being touched, the broadcasting allocation is not touched and the size of Parliament is not being touched.  Why?  Because Parliamentarians didnt want them to look at those three critical areas.

GREG Lets look at what you just touched on, that ratio, that list electorate ratio - 60-40 now - and theres talk of that changing.  Should that be switched more?

WINSTON  Well, theyre trying to corrode MMP.  The choice that people made back in 1992, 1993 and again at the last election, I think its an attempt to corrode it because the more you take down the MMP factor and retain the First Past the Post Westminster factor, the more the publics wish is being diluted.

GREG My mistake, by the way, its 70-50 at the moment.  That is the thing.  We are slowly edging back towards the system we had before if we take this too much, arent we?

LIANNE  Except that the party vote is the vote that gives everybody equal standing in terms of the outcome of an election.  I mean, I remember the olden days, you know, when we had First Past the Post, when essentially it didnt matter how you voted, because it made no difference.  If you were in a safe Labour seat or a safe National seat, we had an entrenched two-party system.  That can never happen, even if the ratio changes.  What concerns me is that weve got very large electorates that dont have that community of interest that I think people expect.  When I was Minister of Immigration, I had people coming into my office who gobsmacked that they could see a minister of the Crown in their electorate office on a Saturday morning.  And I think that something that we value about our relationship with our politicians is that they are very accessible, so thats why I actually do support having constituency-

GREG  The other side of this, Hone, if this ratio does change, potentially it could mean one or maybe even more - if our maths is right - more Maori seats, potentially.

HONE Yeah, well, the Maori Option is coming up next year, and Ill be supporting Maori getting another seat for the simple view that I think that if you want to represent Maori opinion, then you have to keep yourself free of trying to represent a whole lot of other interests.  Maori are very strong, very opinionated and very demanding of what it is that they expect of their politicians, and you have to be flexible enough to respond to that need.  And at the moment, if the vote goes that way, Id like to see it increase to eight, possible nine.

WINSTON  Look, the problem with that is it takes far fewer Maori to elect a Maori MP now, and we ask- weve got people who are going to exacerbate that, dilute it even further so that an even fewer number of Maori need to vote on the Maori seats.  The mass majority of Maori entitled to vote are voting in the general electorates, so how can their numbers nevertheless be used to increase the Maori seats?  Its simply not democratic.  Its not fair.  Its not constitutionally equal.

GREG  Wouldnt it be better to have more electorate MPs, using Michael Laws as an example, who arent afraid to rock the boat,  because theyre not sort of hanging on the edge of things?  Theyve got their constituency, they got there, its theirs, and they can say what they want and do what they want.  Wouldnt that be a better way?

LIANNE  Michael Laws?

GREG   Okay, well, Michael Laws probably isnt the best example.

LIANNE  Probably not a good example. (laughs)

GREG Okay, an example.  An example.  He wasnt afraid to say what he thought whether you agreed with it or not, because he wasnt a list MP; he was there.

LIANNE  Well, I think, you know, Ive been a constituency MP and a list MP by choice, and I stood as a list MP because I really wanted to make the point when we first moved to MMP that it was the party vote that really counted.  That was the vote for government, and I think that it took a while for the general population to cotton on to that.  But having a local constituency MP is actually an important part of our historic tradition in this country.  And I believe having, you know, more of those and making them much more accessible is actually an advantage, so I dont see it as a disadvantage at all.  It doesnt creep away at the fundamental underlying principle, because the proportionality is delivered by the party vote. 

GREG Okay, lets look at the big picture.  What are these do you think National will actually take up and do?  Theyve got to do something.  They cant-

WINSTON  It should be Parliament, not just National.  It should be about Parliament.

LIANNE  Yes, thats right.

GREG What recommendations will be done?

WINSTON But you might be right. (laughs)

GREG Good point.  What recommendations will actually-?  They cant ignore all of them.


GREG Which, if any, are they actually going to take up and do?

HONE We havent seen the report yet.

GREG No, but we know roughly whats going to be in there.

HONE But its likely that 5% one will come up,  and chances are theyll probably go with it.

GREG To four?

HONE Yeah. They will want to change the one-seat coat-tailing laws.  But just coming back to what Winston was saying before, Maori seats are generally voted in on pretty much about the same numbers.  The split in terms of those being on the Maori roll, those being on the general roll is that much different, and I suspect that at the next Maori Option, more people will opt to come on to the Maori roll.  In general terms, I think, finally, whether National likes it or not, the more people feel that their vote is going to count at the election, the more New Zealanders will want to participate.  At the moment, New Zealanders just dont want to know.

LIANNE And I think that the public were a bit angry at the rorting of the two votes that we saw in the Epsom electorate and we saw in the Ohariu electorate, so a deliberate strategy by National to get ACT re-elected to Parliament.  They were disappointed that it only delivered John Banks, but it was the one vote that really counted when we were dealing with asset sales, for example, along with Peter Dunne, so two people that were supported by National with the electorate vote in order to make sure that they had the balance of power thats seeing our assets sold.

GREG So pretty confident coat-tailing will be-?

LIANNE  Yeah, Im absolutely confident, but I bet National doesnt want it to go, because it suited them very well.

WINSTON  But one of the great reforms which will not be in tomorrows report and probably not be in next years report either is the need for the media of this country to grasp that we are living under MMP and not First Past and the Post, and so this constant Labour, National, National, Labour as though they are the only two alternatives when its never happened, since 1990, in fact.  Even 1993 was a hung Parliament.  They had to get a Labour guy to be the Speaker.  So lets come to grips with the fact that in those years, 22 years on, you, maybe, in the media should be able to understand that its more than about Labour or National; its about all of Parliament.

GREG And on that note, we will leave it right there.  To all three of you, thanks very much.

WINSTON  We live in hope.

LIANNE  Thank you.

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