MMP Symposium

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 MMP on the parliamentary process, on political parties and on the Executive.

Dr Ryan Malone 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 Andrew Geddis 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 Jonathan Boston 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.

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