Hehir on MMP bill

Liam Hehir writes in the Manawatu Standard:

Mr Lees-Galloway says these changes would implement the recommendations of an Electoral Commission review of MMP. That is not quite correct, however. The bill does not include recommendations that Labour opposed – such as banishing the “overhang” effect that allows a party to win more seats (through winning electorates) than the party vote entitles it to.

That the bill is self-serving is underscored by its timing. Mr Lees-Galloway has announced that the “current regime has been a disaster for democracy. It has delivered us Rodney Hide, John Banks, Peter Dunne and now Colin Craig . . . People are sick of these cosy political deals designed to circumvent our democratic system.”

In other words, it is a bill designed to get rid of MPs Lees-Galloway doesn’t like.

You might ask why Mr Lees-Galloway did not make reference to Jim Anderton, the former Member of Parliament for Wigram. For many years, Mr Anderton was ostensibly the leader of the Progressive Party – despite being so integrated into the Labour Party that he was actually its agriculture spokesman at one point.

This is true!

There was no handwringing in the media about coat-tailing then. It wasn’t until Anderton retired in 2011 that Labour announced it intended to abolish the practice.

Indeed not.

In the days of the Roman Republic, a young patrician named Tiberius Gracchus became angry at the pillaging ways of his own class. He was elected a tribune of the people and sought significant economic reforms. He knew he would meet resistance from the Senate, however, so he decided to pass his legislation directly through the popular assembly.

There was nothing illegal about this. However, the procedure flew in the face of the tradition – part of the unwritten Roman constitution – that the Senate be consulted on all major items of legislation. Naturally, the Senate was not above using its own powers to retaliate against and prevent implementation of the Gracchan reform. It very quickly becomes a sad story, as those who know what became of the Roman Republic are aware.

Our constitution is similar to that of the Romans in that its body is held together by custom, convention and tradition. Central to such a system is a measure of good faith and trust between the factions.

Would the passage of Mr Lees-Galloway’s bill without consensus doom democratic politics in New Zealand? Of course not. It would, however, be an act of bad faith corrosive to the democratic spirit. It would make constitutional matters more partisan. Look to America if you want to know where that leads.

Indeed, the bill is a bad faith thing to do.

Ultimately, there is a simple test of principle. Imagine if the Government had a bare majority to raise the threshold to 15 per cent. That would signal the death knell for NZ First and probably the Greens. How likely is it that Mr Lees-Galloway would say: “There’s no need for consensus here.”

Would only take 61 votes to do so. You really do not want political parties using bare majorities to change the threshold for other parties to get into Parliament.

My rule of thumb is that any significant change should be supported by around 75% of more of parties in Parliament, and representing at least 75% of the MPs.

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