Defending the Threshold

Idiot/Savant at NRT blogs:

With ACT cutting a deal in Epsom, and Peter Dunne cutting one in Ohariu, MMP’s “electorate lifeboat”, which sees parties gain list seats in parliament if they gain a single electorate, has come in for a fair amount of flack. And today, Labour leader Phil Goff has reminded us all that he opposes it, and that he wishes MMP to have a strict 5% threshold, with no exception for electorates. I think this is exactly the wrong position to take. Why? Because the “electorate lifeboat” improves proportionality.

Phil Goff’s stance is pretty naked self interest. He only opposes it, so ACT will lose representation in Parliament. Goff’s view of a good electoral system is one which gets rid of Labour’s opponents.

My concern is that a future Labour Government will make unilateral partisan changes to the Electoral Act, as they did with the Electoral Finance Act. Simon Power set the model for bipartisan co-operation on electoral issues, but will Labour return his generosity? My concern again is that they will think National were suckers for giving them a say on electoral law, and that they will revert to type as we saw with the Electoral Finance Act and the retrospective legislation to retain Harry Duynhoven as an MP.

Proportionality, remember, was the entire point of MMP. We wanted parties to be represented in direct proportion to the votes cast. The 5% threshold undermines this, but the “electorate lifeboat” provides a way around it. Without it, the Parliaments of 1999, 2002, 2005, and 2008 would have been less proportional, and less representative, thanks to the exclusion of (respectively) of NZFirst, the Progressives, United Future and ACT. That would have been bad for our democracy.

Sometimes the lifeboat gives perverse results, as in 2008 when ACT gained 5 MPs while NZ First gained none despite receiving more party votes (4.07% vs 3.65%). This is obviously unfair. But you don’t remove unfairness by increasing it. The appropriate response to this situation is to give parties in NZ First’s situation representation, not deny it to both.

Even though personally I do not want NZ First in Parliament, I agree (somewhat) with Idiot/Savant. I support the threshold being lowered to 4%, as the Royal Commission recommended, even though this would have led to NZ First staying in Parliament.

I don’t support eliminating the threshold entirely, which would lead to a party on 0.4% gaining representation. I think this would lead to an Israel type situation where miniscule extremist parties have massive say in who forms the Government. Israel has learnt from their mistakes and has been increasing the threshold.

So in my opinion 5% is too high a threshold and no threshold is too “low”. I could possibly be convinced of say 3%, but in the end I think one should stick with the Royal Commission’s model as closely as possible, in the absence of strong reasons not to.

Goff’s – and Labour’s – position is not founded on democratic principles. Instead, it is driven by naked self-interest – most obviously, by a desire to remove ACT from the political equation …


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