David Farrar thinks that Labour is bad for not doing what National has not done as a result of the Electoral Commission's report into MMP, and Labour should not do what David thinks National should have done as a result of their election victory in 2008.

Over on Kiwiblog, David Farrar is having conniptions about David Cunliffe's promise to repeal the "coat tails" rule in MMP that allows electorate MPs to bring party list members into Parliament, as well as to lower the party vote threshold to 4%. (That said, he's right to be upset if Labour really does mean to make the change in just 100 days after being elected - that would be a bad thing.) He reasons as follows:

[N]o party should be declaring they will change such a major aspect of electoral law (it would have probably changed the result of the 2008 election and given Labour a 4th term) unilaterally. It is quite appropriate for parties to state their positions and ask people not vote vote for parties that have a different position. The way to remove the one seat threshold is to place pressure on all the parties (or at least the major ones) to support a change, or risk being punished by the voters. But in the absence of an agreement, a Government should not use a bare majority to tilt the Electoral Act in its favour (and make Parliament less proportional). You do what National did with the Electoral Finance Act – work with other parties on the replacement law, and compromise when necessary.

If Labour can change the Electoral Act unilaterally after the election to try and wipe out smaller parties, then how could you argue against National changing the Electoral Act to move the threshold to say 10% to wipe out the Greens?

You really really do not want to go down the path of a Government making major changes (and this is really major) to the Electoral Act without broad parliamentary support.

This actually is not a new issue. Labour (or, at least, Ian Lees-Galloway) already has a member's bill awaiting debate in the House to do exactly what David Cunliffe proposes. And so I've had cause already to register my disagreement with DPF on the legitimacy of Labour's position:

refusal to change the law is just as much a decision as is one to change the law. So by saying "we won't take the action needed to implement the Electoral Commission's recommendations (because we don't agree with them)", National is doing the exact same thing that Labour is by introducing a Bill to implement them. It is seeking to use its narrow majority support in the House (which gives it governmental power) to dictate what the electoral rules will be, irrespective of whether other parties may want to see those rules amended (and, it should be noted, in the face of the considerable number of public submissions indicating that the New Zealand public want to see these changes made to their electoral system).

What is more, National's refusal to allow the changes to MMP that the Electoral Commission recommended looks to be driven by partisan political calculations as to how those changes would affect its own chances at election time. Given the fact that all its most likely support partners (and current cohabiters in government) rely on the "electorate lifeboat" rule to get into Parliament, refusing a recommendation that this be abolished works to advantage National at the next election. Which looks exactly like treating the Electoral Act as "some sort of grand prize which winning parties use to screw over losing parties, to try and stay in power longer" that David (with some justice) criticises Labour for in relation to the Electoral Finance Act.  Again, it doesn't matter that the treatment involves arefusal to act rather than a positive decision to act - where the status quo has a perceived partisan benefit, the effect is the same. 

So complaining that Labour is seeking to "abandon consensus" and make changes to the Electoral Act without "the more significant political parties" agreeing is true. But Labour is only doing this because National has first "abandoned consensus" by refusing to change the Electoral Act, even though some of "the more significant political parties" want this to take place. So either both parties are equally guilty, or we need to accept that while Simon Power's model for changing electoral law provides an ideal-type response; [and] in the absence of any such mechanism for debating change parties should be free to pursue their own favoured electoral rules. And then we might ask, whose fault is it that there wasn't a Simon Power-type response to the Electoral Commission's recommendations in the first place?

Furthermore, we might care to revisit the aftermath of the Electoral Finance Act and National's victory in the 2008 election. National campaigned on a policy of repealing the Electoral Finance Act and not having any restrictions at all on "third party" spending in campaigns. This was something that David very strongly supported. However, other parties in Parliament wanted to see such spending restrictions in place. So National (to their credit) compromised and put them back into the law, albeit at a much high level than previously.  David's response to this display of ensuring that electoral laws have a very broad consensual underpinning?

God I am pissed off. The Electoral (Finance and Advance Voting) Amendment Bill has been reported back, and  and have voted for introducing a cap on third party spending.

I really wonder sometimes why we bother changing Governments, when the  new Government adopts so many politics of the old Government – especially a policy that was a big part of why they got thrown out.


I think many of those who protested against the EFA will feel a sense of betrayal with this bill. National has put the desire to be bipartisan with electoral law (which is commendable) ahead of doing what is right.

So it would appear there is a certain amount of rewriting history to fit contemporary needs at work here. Labour is bad for not doing what National has not done as a result of the Electoral Commission's report into MMP, and Labour should not do what David thinks National should have done as a result of their election victory in 2008.


Comments (12)

by Nick Gibbs on June 04, 2014
Nick Gibbs

The amusing part of course is that DC will coat-tail into government via the IMP. And then decry coat-tailing. Crocodile tears I think. Let's see him rule out a coalition with IMPfirst and then get on his high horse.

by Andrew Geddis on June 04, 2014
Andrew Geddis

To be fair, Nick, Labour (or, Ian Lees-Galloway) already had proposed this measure befor the IMP came on the scene. And let's not be too precious about principles in this MMP world - National's opposition to the Maori seats didn't stop them accepting the Maori Party's votes on confidence and supply!

But, yes, there is a large element of Labour trying to insulate itself from any public backlash against the IMP's "gaming" of the system. That's a fair comment.

by Alex Coleman on June 04, 2014
Alex Coleman

The amusing part of course is that DC will coat-tail into government via the IMP. And then decry coat-tailing. Crocodile tears I think. Let's see him rule out a coalition with IMPfirst and then get on his high horse.

I've seen this argument in a few places, but I don't really understand it, to be honest.

What is wrong with advocating for a change to the rules, winning under the current rules, and then following through on changing the rules? Should you have to win under the rules you wish we had? How does this make any sense whatsoever?

Why should he rule out a coalition? The argument is about the rules, not with an outcome of the rules.

I don't see many people who say they think list MPs aren't real MPs vowing to not use their list vote. They would be ridiculous to do so, and they are not hypocrites if they don't.

by Nick Gibbs on June 04, 2014
Nick Gibbs

Alex, I think it comes down to believing that the ends justify the means. If Labour can win by coat-tailing they should. And when coat-tailing will no longer delivers the desired result; change the rules. Simples!

But then when National get in they can adjust the rules to suit themselves as well. I know National didn't get rid of coat-tailing when they could have and that was cynical. But Labour's not helping here. One million people already avoid the ballot box on election day. More of this hypocrisy and no one will bother.

by Alex Coleman on June 04, 2014
Alex Coleman

But if coat tailing no longer delivers the desired result for a party, they won't be in a position to change the rules.

And I do think you are drawing a flase equivalence. We had a referenda at the last election, and retaining MMP won. It was understood before that question that if MMP won there would be a review of how it was performing. The results of that review were simply discarded, and as much as I have some qualms about what Cunliffe said today, he is at least suggesting that those suggested reforms be progressed.

You can argue that he has partisan motivations for wanting to change the system (and you'd probably be right!), but it's odd to argue that if he benefits from the dirty deal workarounds then he is honour bound not to remove them. Surely a government removing unpopular rules that they just benefited from is the least cynical way forward out of this mess. 



by Nick Gibbs on June 05, 2014
Nick Gibbs

Very few people will see it as the least cynical way forward. Most people, IMO, are going think that he'll remove it if it suits and if it doesn't then, excuses, such as those National offered, will be dusted off and presented to voters again.

by Ian MacKay on June 05, 2014
Ian MacKay

It does occur to me that when National announces a coat-tailing arrangement for Act, or Conservative or anyone else, will the greater awareness (annoyance) cause anguish amongst the voters?

by Ross on June 05, 2014

David Farrar's mistake is that he thinks that there cannot be a consensus without National's support. That is an absurd notion, and DPF should know better. Consensus doesn't mean unanimous. If National wants to play silly buggers - that's fine. But it cannot complain if there is consensus around change.

by Ian MacKay on June 05, 2014
Ian MacKay

Ross. They already did play silly buggers. Collins said there was no consensus for updating the coat-tailing law or changinging the threshold. The parties who would not agree were National and Act.

by Siena Denton on June 05, 2014
Siena Denton

Kiaora Andrew

I try to ignore Kiwiblog because of his anti-Māori attitude that reeks throughtout his blog and on twitter especially when it comes to investigations into Māori organisations (not that I don't agree when it comes to transparency and accountability for taxpayer's money beit Māori or otherwise), it's his whole demeanour on any issue relating to Māori.

I refer to him as granpa &&&&ing munster on twitter.



7.1 The vote of the people is essential to any modern democracy. It is used to elect representatives to Parliament and to choose and reject and to choose and reject Governments. It is the major way the people give their consent to Government, and hence by which Governments acquire or lose the support they need in order to obtain general acceptance for their actions. It is the final arbiter when those elected to the House of Representatives are unable to form a Government, or when a Government is unable to have important legislation approved by the House.

In November 2012, the Electoral Commission released its review of the Mixed Member Proportional system, estimated to have cost $1.4 million.

The commission recommended dropping the party vote threshold from 5% to 4% and scrapping the "coat-tails rule", which would stop a party that won an electorate seat bringing in extra list MPs unless it reached the party vote threshold.

The Minister of Swamps Judith Collins released a table of what different parties wanted, which showed that the National Party rejected both changes.

She said there is not enough support in Parliament to change the voting system and it is not her role to get consensus from parties on the matter.

"If these parties want changes, they should come and talk to each other. It's not my role, for goodness sake. I've asked them what they would like and they were utterly free to go and discuss things with other party leaders. But I'm not in charge of these other parties."

On the coat-tails rule, the Ms Collins told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme that five parties want to keep the status quo and three want it abolished, so there according to Ms Collins were major differences of opinion.

I concur that getting a cross-party agreement would have been an unrealistic expectation given that both the two major parties need these coat-appendages in order to be able to form a coalition government beit full of badly behaving court jester's (like the current government who should drink water instead of curdled milk), or not.

New Zealanders voted to keep the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system by more than half at 56.17% as a result of the 2011 Referendum on the Voting System.

The MMP Review came out as a result of the 2011 Referendum on the Voting System and that triggered an independent review of MMP conducted by the Electoral Commission.

During that time, it released discussion papers for public comment. As a result of this and advice received a report  was completed in October 2012 and presented to the Minister Judith Collins.

The Commission released a Consultation Paper in February 2012 and invited public comment.

After having considered all the submissions and advice received, the Commission released a Proposals Paper in August 2012 and again requested public input on its proposed changes to MMP.

The Commission presented its final report to the Minister of Justice on 29 October 2012 with the following recommendations:

  • The one electorate seat threshold should be abolished (and if it is, the provision for overhang seats should also be abolished);
  • The party vote threshold should be lowered from 5% to 4% (with the Commission required by law to review how the 4% threshold is working);
  • Consideration be given to fixing the ratio of electorate seats to list seats at 60:40 to address concerns about declining proportionality and diversity of representation;
  • Political parties should continue to  have responsibility for selecting and ranking candidates on their party lists but they must make a statutory declaration that they have done so in accordance with their party rules;
  • MPs should continue to be allowed to be dual candidates and list MPs to stand in by-elections.

It was then left up to Parliament to decide what to do with the Commission’s recommendations.

The rest I guess since then is history.

Excuse my language, but after a cost to we the NZ voter's what did we get for our $1.4 million? Absolutely jack shite!

Quite frankly I am sick of the dirty games of the current government  and the way this PM cuts across our processes to suit himself and his friends, his minister's engaging in dubious private meetings on immigration, another minister who lost "on solid ground" and ended up sinking in liquefaction, endorsements that are not endorsements, a dinner that has "no ministerial responsibility" etc, etc.

I am currently onne of those who are not going to vote, I want to but I don't like whats on offer.

If the Taxpayer's Union were to register themselves as a political party, they'd probably get both my votes.



by Nick Gibbs on June 05, 2014
Nick Gibbs

You do know that DPF is a founding father of the Tax payer's Union.


by Siena Denton on June 07, 2014
Siena Denton

Nick Gibbs 

DPF would be in for one hell of a robust ride with me and he's only one, as far as I am concerned, an insignificant little stirrer and hell hath no #fury12 like a passionate and dare I say it, intelligent young Māori wahine.

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