Tuesday, March 14, 2006

All down to the Maori Party

Barbara Stewart's Electoral (Reduction in Number of Members of Parliament) Amendment Bill will go before the House tomorrow for its first reading. The bill would reduce the number of MPs to 100 at the next election by amending s191 of the Electoral Act 1993. This would effectively break MMP by ensuring large, regular overhangs to the largest party, and roll-back the last ten years' progress in reducing the power of the executive. Instead, parliament would be back to it being a rubberstamp for Cabinet (or rather, Cabinet's controlling clique), just as it was during the "reforms" of the 80's and 90's.

So far National, ACT and NZFirst have all said they support the bill, with only the Progressives outright opposing it (the other parties will make their minds up today). Doing the numbers, it already has 57 votes, so it really all comes down to the Maori Party. It will be interesting to see which way they jump...


Strikes me this is effectively neutering MMP and hence reversing the effect of the 1993 Electoral Act (and indeed the binding referendum that passed that act). I can't believe that NZF don't understand that this would give the Nats a chance to govern alone.

Can Labour block a members bill by denying it time? Or instruct the governor-general not to give Royal Assent?

Posted by Rich : 3/14/2006 11:01:00 AM

I hope if the number of seats is reduced (which I oppose) the Maori Party would volunteer their seats to be included. If number of seats need reducing then they should be cut in the electorates rather than the lists.

Posted by Hans Versluys : 3/14/2006 12:52:00 PM

The non elected and undemocratic power elites of corporate New Zealand know that their agenda will never be accepted by any properly representative government in New Zealand.

Therefore they and their political lackys will never cease in their efforts to gerrymander the system to allow them to purchse control of the government and have their revolution imposed from above.

Posted by Sanctuary : 3/14/2006 01:31:00 PM

Uroskin: the number of electorates isn't defined anywhere as such; instead there's a stipulation that the South Island will be divided into 16 electorates, and that establishes a population quota and hence the total number. This section is entrenched, so changing it either requires repealing the entrenchment clause (a political no-no), a supermajority, or a referendum.

Icehawk: nothing. It will simply reduce the total number of seats, which given the rest of the act, effectively means the number of list seats.

And yes, I agree, it does seem a no-brainer for the Maori Party, and that's what I'm worried about.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/14/2006 03:03:00 PM

Rich: Either would be grossly constitutionally improper. We're not the US, and we don't play that sort of hardball.

They do have a majority (with the Greens) on the Justice and Electoral Select Committee, and could easily produce an adverse report recommending that it be buried.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/14/2006 03:07:00 PM

I think it would be "constitutionally improper" to wreck MMP (which I think most people believe was entrenched by the '93 referendum) through a shonky members bill.

If we want to go back to FPP, it should be through a proper referendum on a fully thought out constitutional revision.

If all the proponents of the bill wanted to do was to reduce the number of MPs (a bad idea anyway) then amending, by referendum, the number of South Island and Maori seats in proportion would be the best way to proceed.

And really, I think it's the job of our elected government to defend the democratic system by any legal means - even if that involves "playing hardball". The Nats certainly would if they were in the same position.

Posted by Rich : 3/14/2006 03:37:00 PM

sanctuary - Barbara Stewart is not a part of the unelected and undemocratic power elite of New Zealand.

Rich/ I/S - this is not about abandoning democracy, but about fulfilling it - at the 1999 election I voted to retain 120 MPs but I and people like me were out-voted nine-to-one.

New Zealanders clearly do not want so large a Parliament. Have your argument with them - not with the Parliamentarians who are doing their bidding.

This bill might well break MMP (which I actually do support) but I also happen to think that NZ's democracy is more important than the system by which we elect our representatives. What good is an electoral system if it's not supported by the majority? The evidence strongly suggests that NZers want another say on MMP.

If they ever get that say I'll argue that they should keep MMP, but refusing to put the question to them because some might think the result would result in less democracy is antithetical.

Back on point, however, the sending of this bill to select committee (i.e. it's passing it's first vote tomorrow) could well pave the way for changes to it to reduce the number of South Island electorates to perhaps 14 or 15 (with the consequent effect on the number NI and Maori electorate) so that the concerns raised here can be minimised.

Look at it another way - if this bill passes, Don Brash will probably never be PM.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 3/14/2006 04:14:00 PM

Rich: not as improper as advising the Governor-General to ignore Parliament. That really is attacking the foundations.

(As for the first suggestion, I think the Opposition, quite rightly, would make the House ungovernable as a result. They did it last year when Sue Bradford's flexible working hours bill was bumped by urgency, and were fully justified in doing so. A deliberate effort by the government to deny time to a bill would be even worse. Besides which, they'd have to have a majority...)

Graeme: To be blunt, I think that that referendum (and indeed, most of those that have been held under the CIR Act) was a bad joke. While I generally support participatory democracy, I don't think it should be used to ask motherhood questions. And this one asked the biggest motherhood question of them all: "do you hate politicians?"

The result isn't surprising in the least, but I hardly think it shoudl be used as a guide to our constitutional structure.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/14/2006 05:08:00 PM

> While I generally support participatory democracy, I don't think it should be used to ask motherhood questions.

The problem is this was a pretty clear referendum. It wasnt particularly unfair motherhood question like "would you prefer the money spent on politicians salaries was spent on you"
I propose that NZders genuinely think there are more politicians than are required and presumably that backbenchers dont pull their weight. And the number difference is large enough that there are likely to be more of them who are intellignet, informed and worthy of having a say in how our country is run than there are who voted the other way.

Goes to show the elite are the elite even when they are leftist.

> which I think most people believe was entrenched by the '93 referendum

No one that I know - they all expected another referendum on it (which it might loose).

Posted by Genius : 3/14/2006 06:57:00 PM

I'm with genius - the '99 MP numbers referendum was well-worded and clear (cf. the crime referendum).

We don't discount the votes of NZers at general elections who make up their minds one way or another using what we might consider fallacious reasoning, and we shouldn't do it with referenda either. We allow NZers to be capricious in electing the people who write their laws, we should allow the same of NZers voting in referenda - a lot of people who voted for MMP in '93 did so to punish MPs in the same way you say they did in '99, and I don't think we should ignore that.

I agree that refusing time to members bills would be improper, however they do have a majority - supply and confidence agreements with NZF and UF include support on procedural matters.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 3/14/2006 08:42:00 PM

Graeme Edgeler: Agreed, Barbara Stewart is not a part of the unelected and undemocratic power elite of New Zealand. Which is why I included the additional category of "lacky," into which a women of her limited capacity clearly falls.

The fact that the Maori Party is supporting this bill is merely confirmation that they are nothing more than a party of Maori privilege who think they are safe within the Maori Seats. Of course, if we can axe 20 MP's with a simple private embers bill, I am sure the even more propular amendment to get rid of the Maori seats could be drafted on the back of a beer mat.

Posted by Sanctuary : 3/15/2006 08:34:00 AM

I don't think the referendum was well worded. It should have contained the information that:
- this will save each tax payer around $2 a year.
- with 100MPs, if National or Labour get a small majority of electorates but a minority of votes, they will be able to form a "majority" government without minor party support

Incidentally, not to hold them up as a good example, but in the UK members bills have to have either implicit government support, or an overwhelming majority in the house. Otherwise, any MP can stand up and read the phone book until the bill runs out of time.

Posted by Rich : 3/15/2006 09:38:00 AM

Sanctuary: Well, we can always hope that National changes its mind after seeing the Maori Party's position - or that they then try and use the bill to reduce the number of Maori seats, which will hopefully turn the Maori Party against it.

Graeme: the crime referendum was an even bigger joke than the one on the size of the House. You don't need to be a genius to see that people will vote "yes" when asked effectively "do you hate criminals".

The difference between the 1993 and 1999 referenda was that the former was on a specific piece of legislation. And that is how I think all referenda should be handled: we should vote on an actual pieces of proposed law, rather than vague motherhood statements.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/15/2006 10:57:00 AM

I'd favour that approach to referenda (especially binding referenda) too. It's one of the reasons why I considered the Labour government's arguments against having a referendum on the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council weak.

The argument that it was better for NZers to have a considered say before the select committee where all the nuances (foreign judges, composition, leave rerquirements etc.) could be looked at collapsed when you remembered the '93 referendum.

The argument that it's simplistic to turn to turn a complex issue into a question with a yes/no answer is fallacious when you realise that this is exactly what Parliament does when debating the third reading of a Bill.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 3/15/2006 11:28:00 AM

Graeme: But there at least MPs have the bill before them, and know exactly what they are voting for. That wasn't the case in the 1999 criminal justice referendum, whose demands could be implemented in any number of ways.

The problem isn't reducing a complex issue to a yes/no question, it's turning it into a motherhood question. And that is exactly what the CIRs we have seen so far in this country have done.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/15/2006 11:50:00 AM

Face it. The CIR process was only ever intended to be indicative. That's what the Act says, and that's what Parliament agreed to, in spite of attempts by what Murray McCully (delivering the Select Committee's report) described as the efforts of "a fairly strong lobby group" to make them binding.

One of the reasons for not making them binding? According to the Select Committee report:

"many technical difficulties...
in terms of resolving disputes between conflicting
referenda that deal with matters that need to be excluded from the
scope of that sort of referendum facility."

This seems to be a classic example where the results of not one, but a series, of referenda (for electoral reform, replete with a flurry of advertising and media coverage) stand in conflict to the results of another (a more general plea to reduce the number of MPs, which was voted on in the course of a tightly fought election, along with another referenda, and consequently received very little media attention, let alone discussion of the issues and consequences).

Another, "[to] ensure that Parliament has the flexibility to safeguard our rights and freedoms against referenda that produce pernicious results."

Obviously, if there is a strong vote in favour of a proposal, that should be highly relevant to Government decision making. But it was intended to be, and remains, the prerogative of the Government to ignore it. The sanction, if any, is at the ballot box.

As Doug Graham said, moving the third reading:

" If 90 percent of voters turn out and 90 percent of them agree, it is obvious that that will be highly persuasive to the Government of the day. If the Government simply ignored the result, it would have to explain why. It may succeed, as I think Parliament did on the homosexual petition in 1986---or whenever it was---but it may not, in which case the voting patterns would become very clear very quickly."

Posted by Anonymous : 3/15/2006 11:59:00 AM

I guess my last comment should have been a little clearer - I'm was not talking about making CIR binding.

I was talking about giving NZers the chance to have the final say on bills that have passed through Parliament (adopting the procedure used in '93 with other bills, perhaps a bill such as that creating the Supreme Court).

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 3/15/2006 12:33:00 PM