MMP Symposium

August 26th, 2008 at 7:40 pm by David Farrar

I’m live blogging this from Victoria University where a symposium on MMP is being held in conjunction with the University of London.

An impressive collection of political scientists, lawyers and academics are in attendance, along with a couple of disreputable bloggers.

The symposium is tonight and tomorrow morning. The first session tonight is about the effect of on the parliamentary process, on political parties and on the Executive.

Dr from the Law Commission is first up, talking on the effect of MMP on the parliamentary process. He has pointed out how MMP makes opposition parties compete harder for media coverage, as there is no longer just one Opposition.

A lot of focus on how a Government has to get the numbers for every Bill now, and also due to agreements with parties may have to support some bills unwillingly – at least to select committee stage.

Another major change has been that the Government no longer has a majority on select committees and doesn’t chas as many of them. This gives more power to Parliament.

Related to this, is that the Opposition and minor parties can also force through hostile amendments during the Committee of the Whole stage.

This has all led to slow down the legislative process. From 1987 to 1996 an average of 160 government bills a year were passed. From 1997 to 2006, it was only 107 government bills a year. For those who want less laws, that is a good thing!

Associate Professor is now talking on how MMP has changed the legal status of political parties. Somewhat surprisingly, he is arguing that in fact the status of political parties under the law has not changed greatly due to MMP. There are more regulations for parties, but they remain essentially private bodies.

The old Electoral Act had minimal regulation of parties – just what they could display on election day, and that they could make submissions on boundaries. All the focus was on candidates.

Peters v Collinge established that political parties were largely private bodies, and that their rules were not generally open to challenge – only whether or not they followed them.

Payne v New Zealand National Party this year reinforced that approach, so long as they met the minimal requirements in the Electoral Act 1993 to have some provisions for members to be involved in selections.

Geddis looks at whether the greater regulation of parties (registration, spending caps, donor rules) is due to MMP, or whether the introduction of MMP was just convenient to do so, and these may have eventually happened under FPP. The UK did so in 2000, despite remaining under FPP.

Geddis concludes it was more a growing awareness of the importance of political parties in elections that led to their increased regulation, rather than MMP per se. I had never considered it quite like that before,but upon reflection I think he is right.

Finally in this session Professor spoke on how has Executive Government functioned under MMP. He focuses on agree to disagree provisions in coalition agreements, and that these worked fairly well up until 2005.

He describes the 2005 arrangements as novel and unorthodox with a coalition agreement, two supply and confidence agreements and a co-operation agreement. Also how two party leaders would be Ministers but not formally part of the Coalition Government, and how MPs not in the Executive would be Spokespersons for the Government on some issues.

He looks at the principle of unanimity within the Executive or at least the Cabinet (collective responsibility) and concludes it has under MMP been progressively modified and significantly weakened.

12 Responses to “MMP Symposium”

  1. deanknight (240 comments) says:

    I hope that I’m not counted as one of those disreputable bloggers… despite being online at the symposium!

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  2. riki (234 comments) says:

    fantastic stats!

    The next move is to down size govt beginning with the hundreds of consultants that make up bare faced socialism

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  3. riki (234 comments) says:

    Btw David,,

    You may finally get to meet Jon Johansen. Has to be there on the night

    Fine political analysist from all accounts.

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  4. pushmepullu (686 comments) says:

    Jon Johanssen is a disgusting socialist who doesn’t deserve to be in the same room as Farrar.

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  5. Bryce Edwards (236 comments) says:

    I look forward to reading Andrew Geddis’ paper. And I agree he could be correct. There were obviously a number of reasons that greater regulation of NZ parties occurred. Also I’d suggest that the general breakdown of the old two-party system during the 1980s and 1990s had a lot to do with it as well.

    That New Zealand’s political parties remained unregulated or without legal status for so long was probably because the parties themselves desired to remain outside the jurisdiction of state control. Margaret Wilson has commented that, ‘As voluntary organisations, political parties have been protective of the right to manage their own internal affairs. They therefore resisted legal categorisation and control’ (Wilson, 1998: p.172).

    It seems that historically the two main parties dominated and controlled the legislature and thereby avoided their own party organisations becoming restricted by the state. This is in line with Bernard Hennessy’s theory that ‘parties will be only minimally regulated by law in states where… two mass parties are both electorally strong and agree in the legislation to leave themselves as free as possible from legal restrictions’ (Hennessy, 1968: p.11). This meant that for many decades the issue of state intervention in their affairs was never allowed to emerge onto the political agenda. With the emergence in Parliament of the NLP, the Alliance, NZ First, etc the old arrangements began to be challenged.


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  6. Paul (995 comments) says:


    Is that it? IS that the sum total of political criticism, labelling someone socialist. Well how bloody pathetic.

    BTW, i don’t know if this of any help to you. Jon Johanssen is a Political Psychologist who studies primarily Political Leaders and I doubt very much if he was there, so not his field. But that doesn’t really matter if there is a good commie to kick, any mud will do.

    I hear tonight’s session went well, but tomorrows session will be interesting, with discussion on future directions for MMP. They’re all up early for a 7am feed to London kicking in. David, you were sitting in front of my wife BTW.

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  7. David Farrar (1,766 comments) says:

    As I was in the back row, that could be difficult!

    But I was just behind some people, so I think I know who you are referring to.

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  8. JC (1,102 comments) says:

    I hope they get to the nub of MMP as applied in NZ.

    “The operation was a success, but the patient has become progressively more ill”.


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  9. deanknight (240 comments) says:

    For folk not attending, the papers are available online here:

    > NZ Centre for Public Law: MMP and the Constitution

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  10. Nigel Kearney (1,977 comments) says:

    The test of a political system should be whether it leads to laws and policies that make New Zealander a better place. Applying that test, MMP has been a miserable failure compared to FPP, and it was almost inevitable this would be so. MMP replaced responsible governance with a system of buying and selling of political favours to shore up support, and elevated appearance over substance. MPs from small parties now just want to get their faces on TV or in the paper any way they can.

    MMP has a kind of mathematical attraction in the way that the makeup of Parliament reflects the way people voted, but that doesn’t lead to the end product of Parliament’s work being in line with the wishes of the majority of voters, which is what really counts.

    The key point about regulation is that, as in the economy, regulation increases the gap between the weak and the strong. National and Labour benefit from increased regulation and everyone else loses. Parties look at how it will affect them relative to their opponents. With big and small parties there is a motive for regulation that never existed in the two party system.

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  11. Grant Michael McKenna (1,165 comments) says:

    The test of a political system should be that all participants agree that it is a fair system- not that it “leads to laws and policies” that improve life- because we cannot agree on what those laws and policies should be. The whole purpose of parliament is to enable us to argue about different ideas rather than taking up arms.
    I agree that there are problems with MMP- I just disagree that the system is meant to make things better. People do that- politics can get in the way or enable people to do it.

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  12. s.russell (2,072 comments) says:

    Slowing down the law-making process, and passing fewer laws also means that laws are (usually) subjected to greater scrutiny. Policy analyst friends have said that legislation has to be much better prepared now, and it is more thoroughly vetted by MPs.
    If a majority is determined to pass a bad law then it will be passed, but generally better quality law is the usual result.

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