The Electoral Commission's proposed changes to MMP are on the table. Whether or not you like them, you still should tell the Commission what you think.

Given that the Electoral Commission's preliminary report on its review of MMP pretty much says what I thought it should, it shouldn't be much surprise that I agree with its conclusions and recommendations.

In fact, there is only one issue on which the Commission's report really differs from the submission I made to it. (While I neglected to discuss the issue of overhang seats in my written submission, in my oral one I supported doing away with them and simply fixing Parliament at 120 seats (as the Commission is now recommending).) My submission favoured a 2.5% party vote threshold as representing the best balance of ensuring proportionality and safeguarding effective government and legislative institutions.

The Commission instead has plumped for a 4% threshold. It's reasoning is:

In conclusion, therefore, the Commission’s sense is that 5% is too high and that 3% is the lowest end of an acceptable range. We suggest 4% is preferable. It reflects the Royal Commission’s original recommendation. It would compensate for abolition of the one electorate seat threshold. It is in line with comparable democracies such as Norway and Sweden. And it is in line with public opinion and the weight of submissions received by the Commission.

I guess that's OK with me - any figure is a compromise one (as I discuss here), and reasonable minds may differ on the right place to strike that compromise. Further, I think the Commission couldn't really justify recommending Parliament go as low as 3% (it's view of the lowest "acceptable" figure) in light of the weight of submissions it received. Granted, a big part of its job was to assess the merits of arguments presented to it, not just count the numbers of people favouring different proposals. But there were so few submissions favouring a threshold of 3% as compared with those favouring 4% (or even the status quo of 5%, much less raising the present figure) that the reasons for going that low would have to be very, very compelling. Or, to put it another way, the Commission would have had to have a solid, knock-down argument to justify why it's view of the proper balance between representativeness and promoting cohesive government and legislative teams ought to differ so markedly from that of "the people". And I'm just not sure such solid, knock-down arguments exist on this particular issue.

So now we move on to the next stage. The Commission is now seeking feedback on its proposed recommendations (many of which are "don't change anything"). From there, its final report will go to the Minister of Justice. And from there ... who knows? Because the Commission's preliminary recommendations are a bit different to those put forwards by the political parties that have MPs in the House, and who thus will get the final say on what (if anything) happens to MMP.

Therefore, if you want to change the Commission's mind on its proposed recommendations, you'll have to tell them why. And if you think there's merit in the Commission's views and would like to see them put into practice, you also should tell them so. Because unless there's demonstrable public support for what the Commission is saying, then it'll be in the interests of at least some parliamentarians to ignore it.

Comments (4)

by Andre Terzaghi on August 13, 2012
Andre Terzaghi

While I'm disappointed the Commission targeted the part vote threshold as high as 4%, the main reason seemed to be that that figure was the most popular among submitters. So it looks like there's still a chance to move them to the bottom of their preferred band, ie 3%, if there's enough good reasons and evidence to support the lower threshold. Calling Rob Salmond, any help here would be great.

No surprise Banks has already started frothing about abolishing the one seat threshold. Think he has any actual awareness that he personally exemplifies what most people think is wrong with this rule?

by Andre Terzaghi on August 13, 2012
Andre Terzaghi

To further nitpick the Commission's Porposals Paper: I'm not entirely happy with their rather limp treatment of the ratio of list seats to electorate seats.

While I'm aware that much of the electorate views list MPs as second-class hanger-on MPs, I think the list MPs can and should serve a somewhat different set of responsibilities compared to electorate MPs. I really think Cullen, Joyce, Groser etc do a better job by not having to deal with electorate issues. As such, I think it's healthy for all parties to have a reasonably large number of list MPs regardless of how many electorate MPs they have.

In the Proposals Paper, the Commission only considered proportionality. No consideration was given to the possibility that a major party could end up with their entire allocation of seats being won by electorate MPs, leaving no seats for list-only MPs. With Labour still in disarray and climbing Greens support and with the current 70/50 split of seats, it's not very far-fetched to imagine say National winning say 45 electorates (the current 42 plus Epsom plus West Coast plus Ohariu) on say 41% of the party vote, which might only give them 5 list MPs. Change the seat split to 76/44 and it's easy to see how those 5 list MPs might go to none.

So I think the Commission should much more strongly push its "deal with it sooner rather than later" message, and should also try to push back towards an even ratio of list to electorate MPs, as recommended by the original Royal Commission.

by Graeme Edgeler on August 14, 2012
Graeme Edgeler

But there were so few submissions favouring a threshold of 3% or less as compared with those favouring 4%...

Are we reading the same proposal paper?

3D bar graphs besides, the paper I'm reading shows that there more submissions favouring 3% or less than there were favouring 4%.

by Andrew Geddis on August 14, 2012
Andrew Geddis


True. Should just read "there were so few submissions favouring a threshold of 3% as compared with those favouring 4%...". The Commission essentially said 3% was as low as it would go, so those favouring less than 3% (like you and I did) don't count.

I've amended the main text accordingly.

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