Draft Submission on Size of Parliament Bill

Like No Right Turn, I’m planning to put in a submission against the bill to reduce the size of Parliament to 120 MPs.

My current draft is below. Feedback is welcome from people on it.

SUBMISSION TO
Justice and Electoral Committee

REGARDING
Electoral (Reduction in Number of Members of Parliament) Amendment Bill>

FROM
David Farrar
Thorndon
Wellington

1. This submission respectfully asks the Justice and Electoral Committee Secretariat to recommend to the House that the Electoral (Reduction in Number of Members of Parliament) Amendment Bill not proceed.

2. I would like to appear before the Committee to speak to my submission.

3. I only represent myself in this matter.

4. For over 10 years I have been professionally involved in electoral issues, including the Electoral Act, electoral boundaries, electoral administration, and analysis of election results. I consider myself highly knowledgeable on electoral systems, and specifically the New Zealand electoral system.

5. The major reason I oppose this Bill is because reducing the size of the House of Representatives to 100 MPs, as outlined in the Bill, will over time break the MMP electoral system.

6. Other reasons for opposition are
a. The size of the House is small amongst countries of our population size.
b. It would allow the Executive to dominate the House more easily.
c. It would reduce the number of MPs available for Ministerial roles.
d. A compromise to reduce the probability of overhang may see the size of Electorates increase.
e. Parties would have fewer List MPs, and this would lead to a less diverse Parliament.
f. The Royal Commission on the Electoral System recommended a House size of 120, preferably as much as 140.
g. Expected Cost Savings would be relatively small.

7. Overhang

8. The number of electorates is basically governed by the relative populations of the South and North Islands. The Maori option also has some effect but the general rule is that if the North Island population grows faster than the South Island population, then the number of electorates will increase after every census.

9. The number of seats grew, due to this uneven population growth, from 80 in 1966 to 99 in 1993.

10. Under MMP the number of electorate seats increased from 65 in 1996 to 67 in 1999 and 69 in 2002.

11. The number of electorates is recalculated after each five-yearly census. Using the medium growth assumptions of Stats NZ, I project the following number of electorates in the next 20 years:
2006: 71
2011: 73
2016: 74
2021: 76
2026: 77

12. If however the South Island followed a low growth path and the North Island a high growth path then the no of seats would be:
2006: 73
2011: 78
2016: 82
2021: 86
2026: 90

13. I think this clearly demonstrates that any reduction to 100 MPs, as proposed in the Bill, would be unsustainable as there will not be enough List MPs to allocate to parties to prevent over-hang.

14. In the 2002 election Labour got 41.3% of the vote, which in a 100 MP house meant they should have 43 seats. However they won 45 electorate seats so in 2002 they would have had an overhand of two MPs.

15. We have already seen over-hang for the first time in the 2005 election with the Maori Party having one more seat than its share of the vote would normally entitle it to. Over-hang is generally seen as undesirable as it makes The House less proportional, and proportionality was a major rationale of MMP.

16. Size of the House compared to overseas Parliaments

17. Some people assert that the size of the House making up the NZ Parliament is large compared to other countries. I have gathered data from all 30 OECD countries, and the eight countries expected to join the OECD in 2007.

18. The results are set out in the table below:

house size.JPG

19. The size of the NZ Parliament, per 100,000 residents is ranked 17th out of 38, or just about dead centre.

20. In absolute terms the size of Parliament at 120 is 30th= out of 38. Our population is also ranked 30th out of 38.

21. However even this simple comparison is somewhat unfair to NZ. Because very large countries always have a very low MP to population ratio, and very small countries a relatively high ratio. This reflects that there is a maximum and minimum size for a Parliament, for it to be an effective law maker.

22. If the US wanted a ratio equal to NZ, it would need a Congress of 9,000 representatives and Senators. Likewise for Iceland to have the same ratio as NZ, it would have a Parliament of only nine MPs.

23. Therefore the best comparison for NZ, is to look at countries of a similar population. Now of the seven countries with a smaller population than NZ, none of them have a lower MP to population ratio..

24. If we take countries with a population of between four million and ten million, we find NZ has the smallest Parliament and is ranked 9th out of 11 for ratio of MPs to population.

25. Therefore I conclude that overall NZ has a small Parliament relative to countries of our size

26. It is also worth noting that NZ is one of the few countries with no provincial or state governments. This puts NZ in an even more favourable position.

27. Executive domination of the House

28. One of the good features of MMP has been the increased role for and importance of the House. The days of not having the House meet for six months, and then just rubber stamping legislation are long gone.

29. The Executive in recent years has tended to number 26 (currently 29). In a 120 member House 61 votes are needed to pass legislation. If Cabinet decides on an issue, all Ministers are obliged to support it at the Government Caucus meeting. Reducing the House by 20 members will make it almost inevitable that the Executive will form a majority of the Government Caucus.

30. No of MPs available for the Executive

31. The size of the Executive, has grown significantly over the years. It is currently 29 which is an all time record. A century ago it was only seven.

32. A new Government has to fill the Executive roles, two or three of the four Speakerships, and perhaps eight to ten of the 18 Select Committee Chairmanships. This is a total of around 40 roles.

33. Even with a 120 MP House, a new Government often will have only around 40

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