Submission on MMP Review

April 5th, 2012 at 7:17 am by David Farrar

Submissions on the review of MMP close today for those wishing to appear in person, so of course I finished by submission just after midnight this morning. If you wish to do a written submission only, you have until 31 May.

My submission is below. The summary of my recommendations are:

  1. That the party vote threshold be set at 4%, as originally proposed by the Royal Commission.
  2. That the electorate seat threshold be abolished, subject to the party vote threshold reducing to 4%.
  3. That a party which gains an electorate seat, but does not make the party vote threshold, should be included in the St Lague calculations, but not allocated any quotients in excess of their electorate seats.
  4. That sitting MPs be barred from contesting a by-election.
  5. That dual candidacies be banned, with the possible exception of party leaders who should symbolically be placed at the top of their party’s list even if standing in an electorate.
  6. That parties be required to allow all party members to have a vote on the party’s draft list, and that the results of the membership ballot be made public.
  7. That the status quo with regard to overhangs should prevail.
  8. That the Electoral Act should set a minimum proportion of List MPs to be 33% of Parliament to ensure proportionality and minimize overhang, and that the total size of Parliament should automatically increase if necessary to maintain that ratio.
  9. That the tolerance for electorate seats be increased to 10%
  10. That a superior court be given the power to revise the allocation of List MPs, should an electoral petition affect the eligibility of a party to List MPs.
The full submission is embedded below.

MMP Submission

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21 Responses to “Submission on MMP Review”

  1. SalParadise (54 comments) says:

    Based on my, admittedly simple, calculations (100/120) you need 0.83% of the vote.

    Does the St Lague method add the Party and electoral votes together?

    [DPF: The way the actual formula works, means that the first seat is generally gained at 0.4%, and then each seat thereafter at every 0.8%]

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  2. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    Regarding the banning of dual candidacy, do you have any actual evidence for the claim:

    “MMP has made parties, and party leadership much stronger. As almost all electorate MPs are on the list also, they have to consider the risk of a lower list place if they rock the boat. Hence you have far less scrutiny of Governments from within their own caucuses than previously”

    After all, under FPP there was little evidence of backbench preparedness to go against the party line (witness the 4th Labour Government/National 1990-93) – so just how do you know that things “worse” now? Plus, why is the list placing the reason why electorate MPs won’t stand up to their parties … what about other incentives to behave (such as seeking internal promotion, etc). And why will electorate candidates listen to their constituencies and adjust behaviour accordingly (because they don’t want to lose their seats), while lower-ranked list MPs somehow won’t listen and be oblivious to the threat to the party vote (which means losing their seats). And finally, who chooses electorate candidates? Why will electorate MPs not fear losing their party’s endorsement, full stop?

    Point being, introducing a major First Past the Post influenced change to MMP on the grounds that things somehow were better back in the good old days (even if it can’t be proven that they were) and in the hope it will lead to changes (which it probably won’t) seems a bit silly.

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  3. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    The changes sought by this submission would simply entrench the perception of difference between electorate and list MPs. We already have enough uninformed chatter that list MPs are not ‘real’ MPs.

    [DPF: I submit it is more than a perception. They are real MPs, but they represent their parties, not their electorates. We should recognise this fact.]

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  4. David Farrar (1,894 comments) says:

    AG: Actually there was very significant backbench resistance under FPP. They may not have suceeded but Anderton left Labour, but more pertinent several National MPs crossed the floor in the early 90s, and some even left the party.

    But it goes beyond that. Government decisions used to be vigorously debated in the Government caucus. I think you will find with both major parties, that caucus debate on policies is now quite rare.

    I agree it is not just list rankings that incentivise MPs not to stand up to their parties – the promotion possibilities are also part of it. As for losing an electorate nomination – this is very very rare, and at least in National in the hands of the local party unless there are major behavioral issues that generate a veto.

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  5. alloytoo (541 comments) says:

    You really should add a provision that parties should have a minimum if 5 members before they qualify for party leader funding.

    One man Parties are really troughing it.

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  6. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    André Sainte-Laguë was not a Saint, so tends not to be abbreviated as one :-)

    The High Court, in which constituency election petitions are determined, is a superior court. But now the general word for courts above it has escaped me, so I can’t really correct you.

    [DPF: I wasn't ruling out the High Court, but think Court of Appeal is better placed]

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  7. Archer (208 comments) says:

    I think Dual Candidacy is okay, well, it is better than banning it. If a large party wants a certain candidate in a winnable electorate, instead of what the local grassroots party membership want, then the party will win out. That has happened in Manurewa and Mana recently. Small parties don’t hold really ‘safe’ electorate seats to do the same. So electorate MPs being loyal to their electorate over the party doesn’t really count for much.

    I also think campaigning will be difficult if small parties can’t attract high quality candidates to stand for electorates to push the party message at ‘meet the candidate’ events (at the electorate candidate events, if there are 2 types as you suggest) because the candidate will know they will be banned from getting in on the list if the party polls well on election day. The party will still want to get the message out so will have to basically stand second-string candidates.

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  8. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    David,

    Of course, as you note, those examples of back bench rebellion didn’t change anything. Plus I’d question if Anderton’s decision to leave Labour was brought about simply because he was scared of losing his electorate – it was the equivalent of Tariana Turia leaving Labour over the Foreshore and Seabed (which, you may note, happened under MMP).

    Further, if “crossing the floor” (or, refusing to support the party line in the House) is the metric of electorate MP freedom to dissent in the name of the interests of the electorate, then don’t the examples of Damien O’Connor/Nania Mahuta/Nikki Kaye demonstrate that your fear that MPs have simply become party-serving lackies is a bit overblown? And I’d be cautious about comparing inter-caucus debate now and pre-MMP. For one thing, the sorts of issues debated under the 4th Labour Govt/National 1990-93 were somewhat more contentious than we’ve seen under MMP. For another, memories can play tricks – how people remember what things were like “way back when” can be quite different to how things actually were. And finally, policy formation and legislative practice is different under MMP to FPP … there is the added dimension of support party negotiation today that didn’t exist in the past. So, Government MPs know that any policy proposal put before them is either a starting point for negotiation, or the result of an already negotiated deal … which limits what the caucus can actually achieve in terms of changing it.

    Finally, any “good” that banning dual candidacy may create has to be balanced against the demonstrably bad outcomes. To take a concrete example – your proposal will in practice mean my choice in Dunedin North will go from being between 3 sitting MPs to one sitting MP and a range of cannon fodder no-names. Or do you think Michael Woodhouse and Metiria Turei are brave (or dumb) enough to keep on challenging David Clarke in one of the safer Labour seats in the country? How does this removal of quality competition help keep David Clarke focused on his electorate’s wishes?

    [DPF: I don't think there is any competition for the Dunedin North seat. Turei and Woodhouse are campaigning for the party vote. Having them as List Candidates only will make it very clear that if you want them in Prlt give their party your party vote]

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  9. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    @Graeme: ” But now the general word for courts above it has escaped me, so I can’t really correct you!”

    The appellate courts?

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  10. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    To take a concrete example – your proposal will in practice mean my choice in Dunedin North will go from being between 3 sitting MPs to one sitting MP and a range of cannon fodder no-names. Or do you think Michael Woodhouse and Metiria Turei are brave (or dumb) enough to keep on challenging David Clarke in one of the safer Labour seats in the country? How does this removal of quality competition help keep David Clarke focused on his electorate’s wishes?

    Have you any reason to believe that if we banned dual candidacy, both Michael and Metiria would wish to move, even if only candidates on the list?

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  11. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    @Graeme: “Have you any reason to believe that if we banned dual candidacy, both Michael and Metiria would wish to move, even if only candidates on the list?”

    According to David’s logic, yes. Remember, the prime motivation for MP behaviour is said to be retention of their seats (which is why it is alleged that electorate MPs who cannot rely on the safety of the list will be braver in opposing their parties in order to retain the support in their electorate they need to be reelected). Consequently, if this IS the primary motivator for MP behaviour, how are we to predict two sitting list MPs will react to a rule saying their route back to Parliament is either by beating an incumbent electorate MP in a safe seat that the MP’s party has held for near 4 decades, or not standing in the electorate and instead relying on the party list? And if preserving their position in Parliament isn’t the primary motivator for MP behaviour (thus leading the list MPs to gamble everything on competing for the electorate vote in a seat they are very, very unlikely to win), then isn’t the basic assumption for David’s rule flawed?

    So – either you get bad consequences from the rule, or you get a rule that is addressing a problem that doesn’t exist. Which is better?

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  12. s.russell (1,641 comments) says:

    I agree or nearly agree with most of this. But not with regard dual candidacy. My submission on that subject was this:

    6. Dual candidacy

    Dual candidacy (list and electorate) should continue to be permitted and should not be compulsory. It is my view that philosophical objections to dual candidacy are invalid, and that the practice has considerable practical benefits for parties and the country.

    Philosophical objections

    What annoys people about dual candidacy are the instances where candidates “rejected” by local electorates return on the list. There are two general cases:
    • That in which one or more candidates for an electorate never obtains a plurality of the vote there, but are never-the-less elected on their party’s list. Examples from 2011 include the National candidate for New Lynn (Tim Groser), the Labour candidate for Epsom (David Parker) and the Green candidate for Rongotai (Russell Norman).
    • That in which a sitting MP loses to a challenger but is never-the-less elected on their party’s list. There were only two instances of this in 2011: Chris Auchinvole in West Coast-Tasman and Clayton Cosgrove in Waimakariri.

    The second class is what really arouses the ire. But it needs to be observed
    a) that instances of this are actually quite rare (two in 2011, four in 2008); and
    b) rather than the loser being “rejected”, it is more accurate to say that another candidate has been favoured. Auchivole and Cosgrove received 13,214 and 16,145 votes respectively – more than some successful candidates elsewhere, while in neither case did the winning candidate receive a majority (50%) of the vote.

    My contention is that the MPs chosen as a group by all voters (via the list) are just as legitimate as individual MPs chosen by only 1/70th of voters.

    What right have people in one electorate to complain that another group of people (all New Zealand voters) have chosen someone who they did not? Surely no more than the right of people in Pakuranga to complain that the voters of Invercargill have chosen someone they dislike, or vice versa.

    Besides, would the election to Parliament of Tim Groser really be more legitimate if he had not stood in New Lynn but spent the election campaign in Hawaii? No.

    The objection to unsuccessful candidates entering Parliament on the list is entirely negative in nature: it is a claim that “we the voters of Waikikamukau have the right to determine who is NOT elected to Parliament – that being all the persons who are less popular with us than our chosen local MP, but have chosen to seek our approval”.

    I content that while said voters indeed have the right to choose who they want as local MP, they do NOT have the right to debar others from election by a wider group.

    Practical benefits of dual candidacy

    One of the great virtues of MMP is that it frees prospective MPs from the tyranny of geography. If National has an outstanding candidate in Hokitika or Mangere or Porirua, they do not have to move away from their local community in order to gain a place in Parliament. Likewise a Labour MP can be elected from Matamata or Gore or Devonport. A Green MP can be elected from Invercargill or Tokoroa even if there are few Green voters in those places.

    Under FPP, with no list, the consequence was that those promising persons either never got elected (being unwilling to move or rejected as carpetbaggers if they did) or got cut off from the communities they best knew and could best represent.

    Likewise, if a party has two great candidates in one place, MMP allows room for both. It is not necessary for one to wait a decade for the other to retire or to risk a move elsewhere in the hope of getting a seat (with the same disadvantages described above).

    This is good for parties too because they are freer to put the best people available into Parliament and they are enabled to have a broader range of regional representation. National benefits from having a South Auckland voice in its caucus. Labour benefits from having a Gisborne voice in its caucus. And New Zealand benefits from this in turn.

    However, a ban on dual candidacy would subvert most of those benefits. It would deter good candidates from standing outside their own party’s fortresses because that would bar them from election on the list. National could still get an MP elected from Mangere, but only if they did not seek election there. What good could this possibly achieve?

    Standing in an electorate is an excellent way for list MPs to maintain connections with communities – something that is of benefit to the country. It also means that parties have the best possible people putting that party’s position before local voters, contributing to informed choice.

    The fact that most list candidates also stand in electorates also contributes to equality between the two classes of MPs.

    Compulsory dual candidacy

    The virtues of list MPs seeking election in electorates has led some to suggest this should be compulsory. This would, I believe, be taking a good thing too far.

    Dual candidacy has become the norm in New Zealand, which is good. But there are still some MPs elected on the list who have not sought to win an electorate, and there are plenty of situation where this is a good thing. Examples are:
    • Where the list candidate is focused on representing a distributed community, such as a particular ethnic group spread throughout the country (cases in point being Jian Yang and Rajen Prasad). Tying them to a particular electorate would be counterproductive.
    • Where a candidate is known nationally and whose role in the party is promote policy to the whole community (cases in point being Winston Peters and Don Brash).
    • The practice of selecting local candidates a year or more before an expected election means there may be no opportunity to seek a local electorate seat for someone who becomes available later in the electoral cycle. The ability to continue recruiting until a few months before the election has enabled parties to recruit some outstanding candidates who otherwise may not have been available (examples include Tim Groser in 2008 and Shane Jones in 2005).
    • Where there are special reasons for separating a candidate from intense coal-face politics, such as for the MP holding the position of Speaker.
    • Where an MP representing a safe seat anticipates retiring in the next term – perhaps as a contingency depending on the election result. This avoids having MPs in Parliament who no longer wish to be there sitting around for three years killing time in order to avoid an inconvenient by-election, and not having their talents applied where they would be of more use. An example of this is Michael Cullen after 2008. Being on the list meant he could step aside for fresh blood, and apply his skills to more productive roles than as an opposition backbencher.

    Best losers

    People who do not accept the legitimacy of list MPs have sometimes suggested the Hansard Commission proposal – that list MPs should be the highest polling (by percentage) losers in electorate contests.

    This proposition was rightly rejected by the 1986 Royal Commission. Any notion of voter choice created by such a system would be an illusion. While the virtues of an individual are a factor in the performance of a losing candidate, the reality is that such performance is overwhelmingly determined by support for their party in that electorate, and the qualities of other candidates in that particular race. Thus the system has all the disadvantages of FPP in finding the best people to be MPs.

    After all, how can voters make two decisions at once with only one electorate vote? It would just make for bizarre complexities in trying to figure out what effect your vote would have.

    By-elections

    My view is that sitting MPs (ie when there has not been a dissolution) should not be permitted to contest by-elections. If one wishes to do so, let them resign from Parliament first. Allowing this has confusing consequences and allows by-elections to be hijacked by national political campaigns when they should be about local representation.

    [DPF: Yeah I read your submission on the website. Is very good, even where we disagree :-)]

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  13. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    s.russell,

    You had me up until this: “My view is that sitting MPs (ie when there has not been a dissolution) should not be permitted to contest by-elections. If one wishes to do so, let them resign from Parliament first. Allowing this has confusing consequences and allows by-elections to be hijacked by national political campaigns when they should be about local representation.”

    First up, I assume that the “confusing consequence” you refer to is that electing a sitting list MP will also bring in the next person on that parties list … so it is in effect electing two-for-one. But how is this particularly confusing? Why can’t the list MP’s opponents point this out at every opportunity … “If you vote for A, you actually will be putting X into Parliament!” Remember how DPF was so convinced that this “Tizard factor” was the reason why various Labour list candidates didn’t seek nominations for by-elections back in 2008-11? Was he wrong about that, do you think?

    Further, why is THIS particular consequence more confusing than any other potential outcome of a by-election? For example, what would be the effect of (say) Paula Bennett falling under a bus and Labour winning the resultant by-election in Waitakere? Well, National would no longer have a majority in the House with just ACT and UF, meaning it would have to rely on the Maori Party to govern. That’s a pretty complicated future scenario … yet we’d assume voters in Waitakere can work out well enough?

    Also, “national political campaigns” ALWAYS try to hijack by-elections, irrespective of who the candidates are. That’s because they offer an opportunity to hog the news media, as well as potentially embarrass a rival party by “stealing” a seat from them. Whether or not a sitting MP is a candidate does not change this fact one little bit.

    Finally, if byelections are about local representation, why prevent the voters from being able to choose a list MP who may have spent considerable time and effort building up a local profile as their new local electorate MP? Think Hekia Parata in Mana, or Michael Woodhouse in Dunedin.

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  14. s.russell (1,641 comments) says:

    AG,
    Thanks for the constructive criticism. I admit I have not explained myself very well on that point (which was rather an afterthought).
    There certainly are other sources of confusion – some irreducible and some accepted because they come tied up with other desirable things. But confusion should still be reduced where possible! I find the situation of “Vote for Mr X and Mr Y becomes an MP” to be particularly bizarre. And I find it unseemly that people like Russel Norman could go around the country contesting every by-election that comes up when he is already an MP anyway.
    But there are some pros and cons here and this is not one of the points I’m most passionate about. I am glad you appreciated the rest of the submission on the subject though.

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  15. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    “And I find it unseemly that people like Russel Norman could go around the country contesting every by-election that comes up when he is already an MP anyway.”

    In fairness, he contested one (Mt Albert) – as did ACT list MP John Boscawen and National list MP Melissa Lee. Yet the voters were able to see through all that and elect a non-MP … David Shearer.

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  16. awb (304 comments) says:

    It is ridiculous to suggest that a list MP is not a representative of voters. They are put up by their party, who people use their Party vote to elect. It is well known that your important vote is the party vote, and as such the list is who you are electing. If you do not like the people on a party’s list, do not vote to elect that party. List MPs are just as beholden to the electorate as electorate MPs, because a very unpopular MP will drag down the image of their party, thus costing them votes. It is actually really simple.

    Furthermore, where is the evidence that an electorate MP is any less beholden to their party than a list MP? An unpopular electorate MP such as Trevor Mallard survives because he has an iron grip on the party organisation in Hutt South. He is entirely dependent on maintaining good relationships with his party organisation or they would de-select him for that safe seat.

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  17. DJP6-25 (1,387 comments) says:

    Good submission David.

    cheers

    David Prosser

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  18. AG (1,827 comments) says:

    @DPF: “I don’t think there is any competition for the Dunedin North seat. Turei and Woodhouse are campaigning for the party vote.”

    You’d better not let Michael Woodhouse see/hear this!

    However, your argument now seems to be that as there is no real competition at the moment for the seat, then it doesn’t matter if only second rate candidates run against sitting MPs like David Clarke, because this will make him more likely to listen to his constituents and go against his party. Which, with all due respect, seems a bit silly.

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  19. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    awb
    I generally agree with you, but did you mean to say that Mallard is an unpopular electorate MP or an unpopular MP who is also an electorate MP? My observation, backed by successive electorate results, is that he is actually very popular in his electorate.

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  20. Inky_the_Red (759 comments) says:

    Strangely I find I mostly agree with DPE except
    I favour regional lists over a single Nationwide list for each party.
    That dual candiancy be allowed, however only only 15 sitting MPs from any party should be allowed to stand on a list.
    That the tolerance should be higher than 10%
    That overhang be changed so that the number of MPs is fixed (to 120 even ig I prefer more and an odd number)

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  21. BlairM (2,339 comments) says:

    I really like the idea of forcing parties to hold a ballot of all members and publish the results. It should be as democratic a process as possible. I would go even further and suggest that open primary ballots be held for the lists, where a voter chooses one party only and votes on that list. They are of course not bound to vote for the same party in the general election.

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