Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice)
: I move,
That the Electoral Referendum Bill be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I intend to move that the bill be referred for consideration to the Electoral Legislation Committee. This bill will fulfil the Government’s pre-election commitment to hold a binding referendum on MMP. In 1993 New Zealand voted to change to the mixed-member proportional representation, or MMP, voting system. For most of the previous 140 years, as members are aware, elections were held under the first-past-the-post system. Since the change, five elections have been held under MMP, making it timely to consider how the voting system is working and whether New Zealanders wish to retain MMP. Many New Zealanders understood that they would have the opportunity to revisit their decision through a later referendum; this bill provides New Zealanders with that opportunity.
After weighing the options, the Government decided to take a two-stage approach to the referendum, similar to the process followed in 1992 and 1993. As far as practicable, the Government has been keen to replicate the processes adopted in 1992 and 1993, to give New Zealanders a genuine opportunity to have another say on the electoral system. The first referendum will be held in conjunction with the 2011 general election, and it requires legislation to be passed through the House. The bill provides that the referendum questions will first ask voters whether they wish to retain the present MMP voting system. Voters will then be asked, regardless of their answer to the first question, which alternative voting system they would prefer from a list of alternatives: first past the post, preferential voting, a single transferable vote, and the supplementary-member representation system. The bill includes a brief description of each of these alternative voting systems, but essentially the menu of options is the same as that put to voters in the 1992 referendum.
Two aspects will remain consistent across the electoral system options. First, each system is to be considered on the basis that it will be used to elect a House of 120 seats. Second, each system will retain the current provisions for the Māori seats. The alternative voting systems should be considered on their fundamental features, and not on other elements of the electoral system. In addition, the confidence and supply agreement with the Māori Party states that this referendum will not include a question about the Māori seats. The bill also includes the form of the voting paper, with the questions to be put to voters. The Chief Electoral Officer will determine the order of the voting systems on the voting paper by lot, to avoid any perception of bias in the order in which the voting systems are listed.
When we first announced the two-stage process for the referenda, the feedback we received, including that from the Hon Lianne Dalziel, was that we needed to incorporate an option for those who wanted to see modifications made to MMP rather than an entirely new electoral system adopted or the status quo retained. However, in the time available it would be difficult for the Government to put up a modified version in the 2011 referendum that meets those expectations, without being seen to have skewed the result. As was the case in 1992 and 1993, this referendum process is about allowing the public to make fundamental choices between different types of system. Having said that, the bill provides that if 50 percent or more of the participants vote to retain MMP in the first referendum, then the Electoral Commission will undertake a review of aspects of the way in which MMP works.
If a majority votes for a change from MMP, this Government is committed to holding a second, binding referendum in conjunction with the 2014 general election. This will be a run-off between MMP and the most preferred alternative voting system
from the first referendum. If voters prefer the alternative voting system, the 2017 general election will be held under that new system. I acknowledge that this process is lengthy, but the future of our voting system should not be rushed. Cabinet was faced with a range of options that would have truncated the timing, including the use of stand-alone and postal referenda. But, by holding each referendum in conjunction with a general election, we could maximise the voter turn-out on such an important constitutional matter. The process allows for a full 6 months’ consideration of the bill at the Electoral Legislation Committee, as well as ample time for a public information campaign prior to the referendum to be undertaken by the Electoral Commission.
The bill also regulates advertising in respect of the 2011 referendum. Anyone who is advertising for or against any of the referendum options will need to include his or her name and address with the advertisement. If advertisers spend over $12,000 during the regulated period, they will need to register with the Electoral Commission, which will publish a list of advertisers. Advertisers will not be required to provide returns of their expenses or funding sources to the Electoral Commission, nor will they be subject to spending limits. These rules are intended to provide transparency without restricting the advertisers’ freedom of expression, and they are consistent with the regulation of parallel campaigning in the upcoming electoral finance reform legislation. I note, though, that this bill goes further than the rules surrounding advertising for the Government referenda held in 1992, 1993, and 1997, and that no Government referendum in the post-war period has limited spending by third-party campaigners. Members will be aware that these same issues arise in the context of the Government’s proposed reform to the electoral finance rules. It is also my intention to refer the upcoming electoral finance legislation to the Electoral Legislation Committee, so that the committee’s consideration of these issues—in particular, the regulation of parliamentary spending—can be consistent.
Finally, I add that I am pleased to have had the opportunity to meet on a number of occasions with all parties in the House to discuss the Government’s proposals, and I value their willing and constructive approach to these issues. That cooperation has been in keeping with the constitutional significance of this legislation, which should not be underestimated. In New Zealand the triennial election of representatives to this House is arguably the most significant constitutional check on executive power. The decision as to how those votes are translated into seats is rightly one for the people of New Zealand to make. I commend this bill to the House.
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East)
: Labour will support the Electoral Referendum Bill being referred to the Electoral Legislation Committee. Obviously, some additional work needs to be done on the bill, but I acknowledge the Minister of Justice for having the discussions that he has had, not only with our party but with all parties in the House.
I think that the Minister’s approach has been a worthwhile one, as hehas identified one of the concerns that I originally raised.I was concerned about the unfairness of the original proposal, which did not acknowledge the many, many New Zealanders who want to stay with MMP but who do not like some of the practices that have been allowed to develop under it. The opportunity to review some aspects of MMP, should the decision be made to stick with it, will enable those issues to be addressed. I think that that is a major response. The Government has proposed what I have described as a second track post the ballot on whether we wish to stay with MMP. If MMP survives that decision—if it is the No. 1 choice on the ballot paper at the forthcoming general election—then voters will have the opportunity to look at the content of the MMP provisions themselves.
I want to comment on how good it is that that second track is in the bill. My preference was to fix the MMP system first. I have always been of the view that certain elements of the MMP system should be reviewed after a period of time, because a lot of people made the original decision to change to MMP because they were very angry with two Governments: a National Government and a Labour Government. It was a case of a plague on both your houses. Voters chose the option that neither of the leaders of the National Party and the Labour Party at the time wanted at all. Both the National leader, the then Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Jim Bolger, and the Leader of the Opposition, the Rt Hon Helen Clark, were very opposed to the MMP option, and both were strong advocates for first past the post. I think that that is what is good about the debate about issues like electoral reform: because of the checks and balances in our system, it is the people who decide the way that they vote their representatives into Parliament. I was giving a speech in Parliament yesterday on another matter that was not quite as positive as this one, but I made the point that there is not just a right to vote; there is a duty for citizens to participate in our democratic process. I believe that this referendum process is one that truly brings to the fore the fact that voters will decide, that it is their electoral system—it is our electoral system—and it is something that will be determined by way of a referendum.
I have made no secret of my position on how I will vote. I will be voting to retain MMP, just as I voted for MMP originally. Not every political party had a uniform view on this issue, and that was because it was down to the people to decide. I am a strong supporter of MMP. I am a supporter of MMP because it is the only system of proportional representation that is on the ballot paper—the only one. I think people will have to remember that, and I hope as part of the education campaign to be undertaken that people are given a very clear explanation that even if the other electoral systems look like or sound like proportional representation, in actual fact they are not. None of the other systems provide a proportional result in the way that MMP does.
I hope that the people of New Zealand will consider very carefully the scope of the matters that have been set out in the bill for review, and will make submissions to the select committee, because they are not the same. There are different issues within the scope of this review that I think people should think about very carefully.
The first one is the threshold for list seats; the requirement that in order for parties to be eligible for any list seats, they have to achieve either 5 percent of the total vote or a candidate has to be elected to an electorate seat. I know that there is a lot of disquiet about that, and I will use the example of two political parties—one that is in Parliament at the moment, and one that is not. Rodney Hide, representing the ACT Party, won the seat of Epsom and was able to bring in the balance of the 3.7 percent of the vote that his party had won, and New Zealand First with 4.2 percent of the party vote failed to win an electorate seat, and was unable to be represented in Parliament at all.
The question of the 5 percent threshold and whether a single candidate winning an electorate seat is sufficient to be a threshold in itself should be the subject of debate. I was on the select committee that considered that issue, and I know that it was a trade-off. The proposal of the Royal Commission on the Electoral System was to have a 4 percent threshold, and the select committee decided to lift it to a 5 percent threshold. The trade-off was that one electorate seat would enable a party to bring in a smaller number than the 5 percent threshold allowed; it would not have to meet that threshold. In retrospect, I personally do not think it should have been a trade-off, and I personally do not agree with the coat-tails provision, as I now describe it, because it is simply not fair on a party that is very close to reaching the threshold but is unable to get any representation in Parliament, whereas the other party is overrepresented relative to the proportion of the vote that it was able to attract.
The overhang issue does not cause me any particular bother at all. It sits at two at the moment, and it has sat at one. I am not uncomfortable with the concept of an overhang. It does not produce proportionality—I suppose it offends against the principle of proportionality—but it is quite a good way of ensuring that parties that win constituency seats are able to take up those seats in Parliament without losing that entitlement, and without over-increasing the size of Parliament.
I have a really strong view about dual candidacy, and it is not the view that is implied by this bill. I think people ought to be able to stand for an electorate seat, and stand for a list seat as well. The reason is that the list is the mechanism by which we fill the number of seats that are left over, as it were, by the proportionality that is applied to the number of party votes that parties win and the number of electorate seats that they win. To say that a person who stands in a safe National seat should not be allowed to come into Parliament because he or she was not able to win that seat as a Labour candidate is an absolute nonsense. It would deprive this House of Paul Quinn and Aaron Gilmore. It would not be fair on Parliament if we were deprived of either of those two individuals. I could go on.
I hope that during the select committee hearing we have a lot of discussion about the scope of the review, because there are other things that I think should be in the scope of the review that are not. There is another issue about the size of seats. I do not think that we need this fixation on an equal number of list seats versus constituency seats, and I think we could do something a little better there, as well.
The final thing I want to talk about is advertising. I think it is slightly rich of the Minister to pretend that New Zealand is the same environment that it was in the last decade. We did not know about the work of the Exclusive Brethren until the 2005 general election campaign. What we saw then was the effect of unparalleled spending in order to sway the vote against the Labour Party and against the Green Party in particular. Although we ended up knowing who ran that campaign, to have no campaign expenditure limits is a breach of democracy, and Labour will fight that every step of the way.
AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn)
: It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to take a call in this first reading debate on the Electoral Referendum Bill. I will take just a moment at the outset of my contribution to run through the history behind where we find ourselves with our current electoral system. No matter in our democracy can be more important than our electoral system, and I think that is fairly well accepted by all. Our current system is MMP. I am certainly old enough to remember the previous system, although it is amazing—
Hon Simon Power: Surely not!
AMY ADAMS: I know it is hard to believe, but in fact I am. It is amazing how many people I and other members speak to who have absolutely no understanding, knowledge, or even awareness of our previous electoral system, first past the post. MMP, of course, first came about through the 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System. That royal commission led to the first indicative referendum in September 1992. At that time New Zealand voted for a change to its electoral system. The significant referendum was held along with the 1993 general election, and in 1996 we had our first MMP election. As the Minister of Justice has already noted in his contribution, since that time five Governments have been elected under our MMP system.
It is worth mentioning that when MMP was first adopted, by a 54:46 split of the population, there was a common perception among many New Zealanders—not those in the beltway—that there would be a second referendum and that they would have another chance to express their view, having had the opportunity to kick the tyres for a
while. They were not right in that perception. That was never what the law said, but it was certainly a commonly held view on the streets of New Zealand. The reality, of course, is that that opportunity would only ever happen if this House had voted to make it so. Instead we had a review in 2001. In 2001 this House undertook a comprehensive review of MMP, and I acknowledge Peter Dunne, who was the deputy chair of the committee. The committee members were instructed by this House to work towards unanimous decisions, or at least towards decisions that came as close to unanimity as they could. Although the committee members agreed on a number of matters, one thing that they could not agree on was whether there should be a second referendum on MMP. At that time public opinion suggested that the majority of people who did not support having a referendum were of that view because they felt, in 2001, that we had not had enough time. We were not ready at that time to assess where MMP was at and whether it was the appropriate system. It is certainly the view of the National Party, and it was part of our election promise to New Zealand, that it was time for New Zealand to have a referendum on MMP. I am very proud to be part of a Government that will give New Zealand a chance to have that say.
As we have already heard in the contributions this afternoon, this bill is not about which system we should have in this country. It is not a bill where we argue which is the better system. I think it is important to make the point clear for anyone listening to this debate that this bill is simply about getting the process right so that we can ask New Zealanders which system we should have. That is important, because even though Parliament is ultimately sovereign and can make decisions as it thinks fit, it is my view that some issues are simply too important and too fundamental for this House to exercise its power on unless we have a very clear and specific mandate from New Zealanders. I think that there can be no better example of that than our electoral system.
In this bill there is a process by which the people of New Zealand will be given the opportunity to say whether they want to keep the system we have. That is the first question in the referenda ballot, and it is the most important question. If they vote to keep the system we have now, then the remaining issues relating to types of system, second referendums, and the like become null and void. As Ms Dalziel has pointed out, a vote to keep MMP will trigger a review of the MMP system; we have one system of MMP, but it can certainly be adjusted. However, if there is a vote for change, then the second question in this referendum will become all-important. That is the question where New Zealanders can indicate their preference with regard to an alternative system. So it is very important legislation not because of what is in it but because it sets up a process by which New Zealanders can make that very important decision.
I end by commenting on the timing. I know that there has been discussion about the fact that this could potentially be a drawn-out process if there is a vote for change, a further referendum, and then a further period for the election. I comment on one thing in closing. When we had those referendums in 1992 and 1993, the first time around—
Hon Trevor Mallard: Referenda.
AMY ADAMS: —referenda; I thank Mr Mallard. The 1992 referenda, which was not held with a general election, attracted only just over a 50 percent turnout. The 1993 referenda—
Hon Trevor Mallard: No, no—referendum.
AMY ADAMS: —referendum, which was held with a general election, attracted well over 80 percent. As Ms Dalziel commented, these are important issues that we need New Zealand to engage with. This is important and New Zealanders must engage. It must be undertaken with a good degree of understanding. That is why having it at the time of a general election is important to make sure that we really engage New Zealand in this very important process. Thank you.
Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour—Dunedin North)
: Just to reaffirm: Labour will support this legislation’s referral to a select committee. I reiterate the comments of my colleague the Hon Lianne Dalziel in respect of the Government’s approach to this legislation, and I say to the Minister of Justice that his conduct and approach to this process has, I think, been good. We thank him. We hope that it will continue, and I think the Minister ought to be commended for the way in which he has approached this. My personal view of this legislation is that it is good enough. In fact, I would go a little further and say that it is really rather good. It is less than perfect, for reasons I will come to in a minute, but it is rather good legislation. Given that it has to be legislation that is supported, I hope, by every party in the House, then getting to the state of it being rather good at the point of its introduction is probably as good as one could hope for. So that is great.
The next thing I will say, for the record, is that I will be voting for MMP, and I think MMP should win in the first of the referenda. Not only that, it is clear to me that MMP will win. That is my judgment. Of course, I could be wrong. I think it will win for the reason that it won last time, which is that it has allowed for a much more diverse Parliament than we have had. Since the advent of MMP, we have had a Rastafarian, a transsexual, and any number of people who describe themselves as being various forms of gay. To my left is the first Samoan woman, I think, in the New Zealand Parliament, and to my right is a part-Tahitian, and so on. And so it is around the Chamber. We have now a much, much more diverse and reflective Parliament. [Interruption] We even have a veterinarian!
Needless to say, a number of these people were elected from electorates, not because of the list, but none the less the advent of MMP has allowed that diversity to arise to an extent that is greater than it would have done. I look across at Sir Roger Douglas, and I would hazard the guess that Sir Roger Douglas would not have been able to make it back into this Parliament had first past the post been in place. I dare say he would agree. But the point is that that sort of diversity has been occasioned by the advent of MMP.
The second thing is that although we have had instances of tails wagging dogs, including arguably earlier this week, it has not been a dominant feature of our Parliament. This is not the Israeli Knesset. Some things have been difficult to settle because of MMP. I do not think our approach to macroeconomic policy has gone well under MMP, I do not think our approach to climate change has been brilliant under MMP, and there are one or two other examples. But for the most part, the Government of the day continues to be able to run the ship, and to run the ship more or less. Nearly always, it is a minority Government, whereas before MMP there was an assumption that there would be a coalition majority, but tradition seems to be a minority Government. And we have rewritten, a little bit, the constitutionality of the Westminster system. The previous Labour Government started it 4½ years ago; the present Government continued it 1½ years ago.
The timing is long, but I think it is tolerable. The reasons for the timing are, first of all, that we have this legislation because National made an election pledge and wants to keep to it. That is understood. The second reason is that should MMP win in the first ballot, then we have to have an opportunity to do some tweaking before the election in 2014. In the event that MMP did not win the ballot, of course, there would need to be a big build-up and a great hoo-ha-ha, not unlike the 1992-93 period.
That means some people are already thinking ahead, because they are presuming an MMP victory, to the importance of Part 4. I simply make a couple of comments about Part 4. The first is a confession: I was on the select committee that drew up MMP in the first instance, and I moved that the threshold be 5 percent. For better or worse, it was voted in, I think unanimously, I cannot remember; but we went back and forth between
4 percent and 5 percent, and between 100, 120, or 140 total members, because the royal commission had suggested 140. I suggested 120 members. We were just trying to get some momentum going. Whether it should be 4 percent or 5 percent is still moot; it always was and always will be. It is just a figure.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: German.
Hon PETE HODGSON: It is not German; it was occasioned—it does not matter why it was occasioned. It was a long-ago history. The point is that there is one thing that is missing. I am not particularly worried that it is missing, but I am not sure whether the Minister is aware of the fact that in the 1993-95 period we had a big debate about whether lists should be open or closed, and whether they should be regional or national. In other words, there was a two-by-two box. We do not have a two-by-two box in this law; we have a two-by-one box. I do not mind that, but I am letting the Minister know. I personally think that a national closed list is the way to go, for all sorts of reasons, but the public may have a different view. We would certainly want to hear from them should it come to that.
I want to take the Minister on about his comments on advertising. I agree with him: this is the most transparent referendum we have ever had. The rules on transparency in this law, as long as it passes in this form, will be better than has ever been the case before. But there was a little bit of sophistry in the Minister’s argument and I feel the need to fill him out a little bit on that. That is to say, something happened in the 2005 election that should never have happened, I hope never happens again, and arguably changes the construct of the way we approach electoral law. It is an important question, because speaker after speaker has said that electoral law really matters, that it is very central, and I will go a little further and say that it is one of the cornerstones, perhaps the cornerstone, of our unwritten constitution. But if we are going to settle for transparency in this referendum and not for transparency plus expenditure caps, whatever those caps are, we may run into that problem again somehow, sometime, even with an organisation that does not meet the support of anyone in this House. We really just do not know what extraneous force might come on in an electoral process. If an electoral process is to be free and fair, and if we are to go for a plebiscite that is as universal and as untainted as possible, then it seems to be inevitable that we will have to reconsider the role of expenditure caps, whatever they may be. It is simply too vulnerable to leave it untouched. I just say that to the Minister. He may or may not agree with me, I am not sure, but that, in any case, concludes my remarks.
METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green)
: The Green Party has long campaigned for a fair and democratic electoral process that favours all New Zealanders, not just the wealthy few. I want to pay my respects in homage to the late Rod Donald for his work on this exact issue. He long campaigned for MMP and for a fair electoral process so New Zealanders are represented in their own Parliament. After all, this is supposedly a House of Representatives, and the more representatives the better.
It is certainly true that the influence of money on politics is one of the greatest threats to freedom and democracy. We know that in Aotearoa, wealthy non - political party actors can intervene in the election process by buying advertising and distorting the process to favour their own agenda. For that reason, modern democracies all around the world have introduced rules to try to limit the influence of money on politics. The Greens believe that our democracy thrives on ideas and not on fat wallets. Our electoral process is the central mechanism by which we are able to ensure that ideas are of greater value than bank balances. Our system is not perfect, and it never will be, but democracy should never be static. It should always be an evolving process that is ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The Electoral Referendum Bill is an important step in confirming New Zealand voters’ choice of electoral system. It establishes a two-stage
referenda on our electoral system, and voters will, quite rightly, make up their own minds as to the kind of electoral system that is best for our country. It is one of the responsibilities of citizenship that in a matter like the electoral systems, citizens consider the needs of the country as a whole.
We in the Greens do not hesitate in affirming our support for MMP. MMP has meant that more New Zealanders are represented in Parliament and in Government. Under the current MMP system, everyone’s vote counts equally. MMP has enhanced the representation of women, Māori, Pasifika, and Asian people in this House and in our society, not just in population sectors. MMP enables different ideas, ideologies, values, and solutions to be represented in Parliament and in Government. The advent of new parties has gifted this House with a creativity and innovation that was absent during the long reign of the duopoly of Labour and National. It has increased the breadth of Parliament so that it better reflects the country as a whole. As I said, if we are to have a House of Representatives, then surely a system that increases the representation of New Zealanders is the goal. I know that women MPs in this House, and National Party women MPs in particular, must be very proud of the number of seats that they command in this Chamber because of MMP. MMP has delivered real gains for our community, such as Kiwibank, paid parental leave, and home insulation. It has been a success.
As to the process, given the constitutional nation of this bill, the legislative process and the substance must be objective, un-biased, even-handed, and scrupulous. We called for a process that was independent of the Government. We looked for a process of public input into the design of the questions in the process, and, looking at the substantive process that is laid out in the bill, we believe that some effort has been made to avoid bias and political interference. I commend Simon Power’s efforts in that regard. Having said that, there is a glaring omission in the legislation that has the potential to seriously undermine its objectivity, to foment bias, and to challenge the even-handedness of the process. I will turn to that gap in a moment.
The bill provides for a referendum to take place in 2011 and potentially in 2014. Both are designed to coincide with the general elections. There will a ballot paper with two questions, one asking voters whether they wish to retain MMP and another giving a choice of electoral systems. The systems are the same as those discussed in the report of the Royal Commission on the Electoral System. Following the referendum in 2011, if MMP is retained by the voters, then a review of MMP will take place. Certainly, we welcome that review. This House last considered the issue of a referendum on MMP in August 2001, which is less than 10 years ago. The majority of parties at that time were very cautious in rushing constitutional matters of this nature, which we think was wise. I will quote from the review of MMP, which stated: “The ACT party considered that, on constitutional matters, prudent societies are conservative. People can look to constitutional changes to fix perceived ills instead of searching for the true causes. Political patterns take time to adjust to changes. Constant changes make it harder to distinguish the causes of problems from the symptoms of change.” We have found that in the last 14 years, which is not very long for an electoral system to be in place, MMP provides stable Government and robust Parliaments, and there are no concerns about New Zealand functioning during a change process under MMP.
I will now return to the glaring gap of the anomalous position of parallel campaigners, especially those who, if history repeats itself, want to spend up large. The Electoral Act 1993 has provisions for the registration of political parties, and this legislation makes provision for registering promoters—non - political party actors—who wish to publish advertising during the period up to the referendum. We have no issue with the registration of promoters. We must know who is behind any campaign,
but registration alone would not have prevented the outrage that Nicky Hager exposed in his book
The Hollow Men: A study in the politics of deception when the Exclusive Brethren and the horse racing lobby provided apparently independent pro-National advertising. We remain extremely concerned that there is no spending limit on a referendum, which has the most serious implications for our representative democracy. There are very few decisions a country can make that are more significant than how the country elects its more senior political figures. It is not a process that should be trifled with and it is not a process that should be left to the market to decide.
We know that the 1986 report of the Royal Commission on the Electoral System stated that it is not “fair if some in the community use their relative wealth to exercise disproportionate influence in determining who is to govern and what policies are to be pursued.” That comment was in relation to campaigning in an election. But I argue this referendum is an even more constitutionally serious decision because not only are we deciding how we elect our Government, but also that decision is binding. It is one of the few mechanisms in New Zealand to constrain a Government. If less significant democratic decisions—for example, citizens initiated referenda—have a spending cap to protect the level playing field, why would we not have a spending cap to protect the level playing field for, arguably, the single most important constitutional decision that electors can make? Why would we not ensure that this decision is made with the utmost fairness, with the greatest protections, and with a level playing field that gives New Zealanders the same opportunities to campaign on these issues? Why should the wealthy be privileged? The Government has argued that it did not include a spending cap because it thought that the citizens initiated referenda spending limit was too low at $50,000. The answer to that is very simple: put it up and make it more. That is fine. The principle remains the same, and we make it more. It is not rocket science. It is not difficult. It should have been done before this legislation came before this House.
This is not about freedom of expression, although some will argue that. It is ironic that freedom of expression masquerades as a debate about the right of the wealthy and the privileged to spend as they choose. The fact is there is an inequality in this country that is suffered by the community across the board. That inequality makes a mockery of those who might rally behind the expression “freedom of expression” as a defence to allow the wealthy to continue to manipulate the process because they have the resources to do it. That is not a fair system for choosing an electoral system that has such constitutional significance.
The Minister of Justice, Simon Power argued for a good process for the referenda on a sound basis and on good principle, but then he dismissed out of hand the option of limiting expenditure. I accept that he is genuine in his concern, and we hope that New Zealanders are able to make substantive submissions on this issue and tell the Government that a spending cap is necessary. Our democracy should not be a battle of wallets, but a battle of ideas. Our democracy must not be sold on the market place. Thank you.
RAHUI KATENE (Māori Party—Te Tai Tonga)
: This week we have been proud to place on record the significance of sitting at the decision-making table. It has been a week to treasure the role that the Māori Party can play as the credible Māori voice in Parliament. That Māori voice is a voice that comes from a basis of strength—a voice that resonates with the words of all those who fought the good fight to enable our issues to be heard. Our current electoral system enables those voices to come in through the hallowed halls of Parliament. I think of some of those people who are now being given due honour and recognition through the Māori Party’s position of being able to advance the signing of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
I chose to begin my contribution to the Electoral Referendum Bill by acknowledging the impact of many individuals and the whānau, hapū, and iwi to which they belong. In recalling those who paved the way to the United Nations, I seek to remind the House of the role that the Māori Party holds as the natural partner of the Government—the Māori partner that provides the means by which tangata whenua may be heard in this Chamber. The issue of Māori representation is so vital to our constitution and, indeed, to our nation that we have written into the terms of the relationship and the confidence and supply agreement between National and the Māori Party that there will not be a question about the future of the Māori seats in the referendum on MMP. I stand in this debate to respond to the legislation relating to the referendum on the electoral system with my feet firmly planted in the context that is our constitutional framework, Te Tiriti o Waitangi. That is the strong legal basis and constitutional framework that the Prime Minister referred to this week in relation to the historic decision to support the declaration.
How does this new bill on electoral reform, the Electoral Referendum Bill, relate to this constitutional context? I refer the House to the Ngāi Tahu Waitangi Tribunal report of 1991, in which this statement was made, “it is clear that the exercise of tino rangatiratanga, like kawanatanga, cannot be unfettered; the one must be reconciled with the other”. The Treaty provides us with the knowledge that, as partners to the Treaty, Māori should at least be guaranteed representation in the organs of kāwanatanga. The Treaty is a document of duel accountabilities between two Treaty partners. In itself, it is about the reconciliation of kāwanatanga and rangatiratanga.
The 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System expressed this view with great clarity: “Under the terms of the Treaty the Crown formally expressed the existing rights of Maori and undertook to protect them. It is in this sense that Maori people have a special constitutional status.” That report went on to note the failure of successive Governments to recognise and give effect to the Treaty as the basis of constitutional government in New Zealand. The report went further and made the important observation: “Although they were not set up for this purpose, the Maori seats have nevertheless come to be regarded by Maori as an important concession to, and the principal expression of, their constitutional position under the Treaty of Waitangi.”
I set out this context—a Treaty context—before we embark on the process of a referendum on the electoral system because I want to explain why we do not want to have the constitutional status of the Māori seats mixed up with all the issues that will be discussed in the review of MMP. Those issues of constitutional significance are not ones that can be dealt with in a quick and slick study or two, or, indeed, in an electoral referendum.
However, there will be every opportunity to consider our constitutional framework within the context of the constitutional review that is also part of our relationship agreement with the National Government. The Māori Party brought to the negotiating table a policy goal to establish a constitutional commission in order to begin a constitutional review aimed, among other things, at the drafting arrangements that give effect to the Treaty of Waitangi. Te Tiriti o Waitangi is the foundation of our electoral system A Treaty-based constitution that recognises tangata whenua might encourage Māori to participate in elections, but let us leave that for the broader discussion, the longer conversation, that the constitutional review will enable.
I am proud to be a member of the committee that has been established to consider the legislation arising out of the referendum and the reform of the electoral finance regime. Of particular interest to the Māori Party is the citizenship right of all New Zealanders to take up their democratic rights to vote and to contribute to the shaping of a new Parliament.
I was interested in a presentation made by Colin James at the Official Statistics Forum 2010, which was held last month. He reminded participants of the need to focus on article 3 rights—the citizenship article—and, in particular, on full participation in society and the economy. It is his view that appropriate recognition of article 3 might imply State-guaranteed action to reduce inequalities of opportunity and to ensure that assistance works. In turn, this might imply sensitivity to cultural and other differences, including understanding and working with different world views. It was extremely timely to read this analysis, and to think about the opportunities for Māori citizens to be full and contributing participants in the electoral system that we have today.
As we all know, the Māori turnout in general elections is much lower than the turnout for the general population. The number of votes cast in the Māori electorates in national elections is roughly 58 percent of the number of votes cast in general electorates. A focus on citizenship rights would inevitably force the question of why the electoral system is doing so badly, and why it is failing to lift the Māori vote.
This question is not a new one. In 1994 I was the instructing solicitor for a Waitangi Tribunal claim brought by Hare Puke and supported by the National Māori Congress, the New Zealand Māori Council, and the Māori Women’s Welfare League. Within the essence of that claim was the argument that the Crown has an obligation under the Treaty of Waitangi to protect the right of Māori to be represented in Parliament, and that there are special needs in promoting Māori enrolment and education on this option. That claim is just as relevant 16 years on. How do we ensure that Māori representation is protected and that Māori citizens take up every opportunity to enrol to vote, to vote, to stand for Parliament, and to be represented?
Finally, that claim has also gained traction through the status of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The declaration states that indigenous peoples have the right to participate fully, if they so choose, at all levels of decision making in matters that may affect their rights, lives, and destinies. We want to see an increase in Māori electoral participation, and as part of that, we expect that there may need to be new legal and administrative responsibilities for Government and electoral-related agencies in order to increase that participation rate. Maybe this could be done through improving the accuracy of the Māori roll, improving measures to ensure that Māori enrol to vote, or introducing an electoral education campaign to emphasise the importance and significance of voting. It may be that what is required is a focus on cultural awareness and responsiveness in the electoral administration system.
We look forward to close analysis as the legislation relating to the referendum on the electoral system and the reform of the electoral finance regime unfolds. Certainly, we are pleased to be part of such a significant opportunity to undertake electoral reform, and to that end we support this bill.
CHRIS TREMAIN (National—Napier)
: It is indeed a privilege as a member of Parliament to be involved in setting the direction and the laws of one’s country. In that regard, it is a privilege to be a member of the newly constituted Electoral Legislation Committee, which has been appointed to deal with two bills that will go before it over the course of this year.
The first bill that will go before the committee is the bill before us this afternoon, the Electoral Referendum Bill. The purpose of this legislation is to provide for an indicative referendum to be held in conjunction with the first general election after the commencement of the Act in order to provide electors with the opportunity to express an opinion on the preferred system of voting for election to the House of Representatives in New Zealand. The second bill that will go before the select committee is yet to be given a specific name, but it will be an electoral finance bill to deal with the wider issues of electoral finance, which have been discussed by a range of
members in the House today. Both of those bills are part of a commitment by National at the election. They honour and meet a commitment given by National. I am proud to stand and say it is one of many commitments that National gave to the wider electorate. It is part of our commitment to building trust with the electorate and following through on the things we said we would do.
Speaking about this bill gives one cause to reflect on the history of MMP and on one’s own voting record. It is interesting that when we are out in the electorate and people bemoan the parts of MMP that they dislike, they often say: “Well, who actually voted for MMP?”. Obviously a majority of the electorate did vote for it, and I was one who did vote for MMP at the time. I reflected on why I voted in that way back then. I looked back at the elections that took place in 1981 and 1984. The 1981 election was an interesting election. A party by the name of Social Credit got 20.65 percent of the wider vote. The Labour Party at the time got 39.01 percent of the vote, and National got 38.78 percent. Despite those votes, National ended up being the Government of the day with 47 seats. Labour had 43 seats, and Social Credit had two. That aside, when I looked at that result, as a young 18-year-old voting at the 1984 election—
Hon Simon Power: The member doesn’t look that old!
CHRIS TREMAIN: Yes, I was an 18-year-old in 1984. The fact that Social Credit obtained only two seats at that election gave me cause to ponder whether that was fair. Twenty percent of the electorate had voted for a particular set of values and a particular set of policies, yet received only two members of Parliament out of nearly 100 members. The second point I thought I would reflect on was the 1984 election, which was the first election in which I voted, and one can look back in hindsight on one’s political values and the way in which one voted at that time. Members may remember a political party that went by the name of the New Zealand Party. The party was headed by Sir Robert Jones. At that time, voting at my first election, I had cause to give my vote to the New Zealand Party.
Hon Maurice Williamson: What?
CHRIS TREMAIN: Yes, but it is interesting that that party achieved 12 percent of the vote. As I say, one reflects on these positions in hindsight and one grows in one’s political thinking. At that 1984 election the New Zealand Party got 12 percent of the vote but did not get one member of Parliament, which gave me cause for reflection.
When we got to the two-stage referendum—in 1992 and 1993, as Simon Power has pointed out—I voted for a change to MMP. That brought us the first MMP election in 1996. MMP has been with us for five terms now, and it is fair to say that a big chunk of the electorate still does not clearly understand it. People understand the constituency vote, but if we go out into the street and ask people, we find that many members of the public do not understand MMP fully. Many people thought that there would be a referendum on it. In fact, a review of MMP was undertaken in August 2001, chaired by the Rt Hon Jonathan Hunt. That review found at the time that despite some concerns, we should stay with the MMP system largely unchanged. That aside, there are still a number of concerns for the public. Some members of the public, when we are out there talking to them, say they are concerned that sometimes the tail wags the dog—the smaller parties have a wider involvement in the political say. The other concern that we hear is that the major parties, after the election, water down the policies that they were elected on when they go into a coalition agreement. That is a concern for members of the main parties; I know that.
I know that one of the big concerns out there is the debate about whether a person who stands as a constituency MP and is elected as a constituency MP, but who subsequently loses an election as a constituency MP, should be allowed to be elected as a list MP. That is one thing that I know a large number of people in the electorate
struggle with. Despite the political fortunes and the tides going in and out, if I have stood as a constituency MP and been elected by the people, but then subsequently the people said: “Tremain, you’re on your bike.” Should I stay on the list? That is the question I ask. It happened in Napier with someone I stood against back in 2005. He had been elected as a constituency MP, the public decided that he was not going to be their MP, and I was fortunate enough to win that election. But for 3 years after that they struggled with the fact that that MP stayed in Napier, fighting the campaign. It is an interesting issue.
Those are the issues and wider changes that the committee will deal with. But for now this is a referendum whose time has come. It honours a commitment that was given by this National-led Government in association with ACT. It is something that we will be following through on. I am proud to say I will be part of that in the select committee that hears submissions on this bill.
CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour)
: The Electoral Referendum Bill enables the referendum that the Government seeks to hold on the future of the MMP system. I think it is obvious already from the speeches on this side of the House that Labour regards a referendum as premature. We have had only five MMP elections. There is significant evidence that the electorate is honing its skills to use MMP to find and achieve the sorts of outcomes it wants. The so-called wasted vote—the vote that goes to those parties that do not achieve the 5 percent threshold or otherwise do not have their votes counted under the system—got down as far as 1.3 percent in 2005. The process of starting to reduce the number of political parties represented in this House was begun in earnest by the people at the last election. Looking at the trends, Colin James has predicted that by 2014 probably four parties, or five at the most, will be represented in this House if the trends continue. So people are working out how most effectively to use MMP. Our view is that they should be allowed to continue to do that for some time before we look at potentially throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
As other speakers have said, moving to MMP was a good thing. Chris Tremain has just reflected on the anomalies that were produced by the previous electoral system. He mentioned the position of Social Credit, which on one occasion received a large chunk of the votes but had only two members. Under first past the post between 1935 and 1993 the National Party scored a higher ratio of seats to votes than Labour did, and in 1978 and 1981 it won office with fewer numbers of the popular vote than the Labour Party. That system is unfair by any measure. As Metiria Turei said in her contribution, since the introduction of MMP we have seen the House become much more diverse. Pete Hodgson made that observation as well. The entry of smaller parties has ensured that the views of the electorate are better represented in this House, and that the views expressed in speeches, questions, and otherwise are less monolithic.
I am not saying that MMP is perfect or that a small number of sensible changes should not be made so as to increase its fairness and its effectiveness. Lianne Dalziel spoke about some of the potential changes. One is to eliminate the waiver under which a party that wins one electorate seat does not need to get 5 percent of the party vote for proportionality. Without the waiver, ACT would now have one seat, not five, and Winston Peters would have been a lone MP in 1999. There are other possibly desirable changes to the system around the threshold, and around the proportionality of electorate versus list seats, although personally I am less convinced on those questions.
Although we on this side of the House take the view that I have outlined, we will support sending the legislation to a select committee. But that select committee will have to consider one important question. There is another bill that will deal with the future electoral finance rules around third-party advertising. The point at which that bill and this one coincide, and where serious questions arise, is the decision to hold an
electoral referendum at the same time as a general election. Interest groups will be able to run parallel campaigns, advertising in both the election campaign and the referendum campaign. If they intend to spend more than $12,000 they will have to register. But as far as the State is concerned, the proposed limitation of registration is where all issues would end. From that point on, people or groups can spend what they like.
The Minister of Justice has said that the registration rules that I have just described go further than the advertising restrictions placed on the 1992, 1993, and 1997 referenda, where there was no cap on spending and, at that point, not even a need to register with the Electoral Commission. All that was needed then was a promoter statement. As Lianne Dalziel pointed out, that was before the Exclusive Brethren showed what unlimited spending could deliver. It is important that all members of the House do not underestimate the enduring fear and disquiet that the conduct of the Exclusive Brethren and others caused when they sought to subvert our electoral laws.
Hon Tau Henare: What about the hundreds of thousands of dollars taken off union members to pay for a Labour campaign?
CHARLES CHAUVEL: Mr Henare might think it is not a matter for concern. He thinks we should not concern ourselves with it, but members on this side of the House are always concerned when anybody tries to buy our electoral system. We should never permit it, and any member who thinks to the contrary is not participating in this debate in good faith.
Hon Tau Henare: What about $400,000 taken from union members and given to the party?
CHARLES CHAUVEL: Mr Henare’s interjections just remind us that what the Exclusive Brethren did was done in cooperation with his political party; that is not easily forgotten on this side of the House. The conduct that I am talking about, cooperated with by the National Party, did enduring damage. If the damage is to be repaired, the need for appropriate, continuing transparency in our electoral law needs to be properly respected.
In the United States there is a constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression. It is found primarily in the First Amendment to the Constitution. But even in the United States, that temple to free expression, it is recognised that there is a public interest in limiting the amounts that wealthy individuals or groups can spend to disproportionately influence the result of elections, and that the guarantees contained in the First Amendment are not absolute. It has been interesting this year to watch, in particular, the struggles that have occurred on this question. These struggles have occurred since the 1970s, when Congress and the President first started to attempt to regulate campaign finance.
The latest developments have included the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold legislation. At the point when that legislation was signed into law by the second President Bush in 2002 it was thought that, finally, a bipartisan and satisfactory compromise had been reached on the question of campaign finance. Unfortunately, that ignores the regrettable ultimate success of attempts over many years to stack the United States Supreme Court with extreme right-wing jurists from one particular philosophical direction. Earlier this year, significant parts of the McCain-Feingold legislation were struck down. That decision,
Citizens United v Federal Electoral Commission, is widely reviled. It has been rejected by commentators and learned academics, but also by some 80 percent of Americans, who think it is wrong. They know that it will lead to an avalanche of soft money from wealthy corporate interests to skew the mid-term election results, which are due in November. People who want to see the United States make good progress on legislation—for example, to allow it to impose emissions limits on greenhouse gases—know that this decision, striking down the soft money provisions of the McCain-Feingold legislation, will make that prospect much, much more remote.
There is a clear analogy with the parallel campaigning loophole that appears in this bill. We in this House all know that big business in New Zealand does not like MMP and would like to see the back of it, because it does not allow for the imposition of its will, as the previous system did and many alternative systems would. Many have assumed that this dislike is what lies behind the National Party’s decision to promote this referendum, which is why so many of us have been impressed by the way that the Minister has none the less largely managed to come up with what looks like a fair process. But we should be concerned that the Minister appears, on this issue, to have been forced to sacrifice true and complete transparency for the participants in the referendum process by allowing for parallel campaigning and by failing to provide for spending caps.
I end by making it clear that the interests of democracy require us to remedy this defect as the bill proceeds. If it is not fixed, the bill will fail to retain the widespread support across the House that good electoral reform needs to attract.
DAVID GARRETT (ACT)
: I was not planning to speak in this debate on the Electoral Referendum Bill, but I am still green enough to be greatly gratified when I come down to the House and hear sensible speeches from all sides.
Todd McClay: Catherine Delahunty shuddered when you said you were green.
DAVID GARRETT: Oh, perhaps the Greens have not spoken yet. I came in when Mr Tremain was speaking, and he reminded me of my own experiences, politically. I think I will also promote a chortle from members opposite by confessing that my father was an ardent Social Crediter—perhaps that explains it all, some would say— and he was hugely frustrated by the fact that Social Credit got 20-odd percent of the vote on occasion, and, as Mr Tremain said, only ever got two MPs. Under no stretch of definition can that be called democracy. They were, perhaps, odd individuals. I witnessed a few at the house in Stout Street, but nevertheless, that was their view, and they were citizens of this country. Likewise I remember very well the New Zealand Party in 1981, which I think was the first symptom of disquiet among the population about the skewed results that first past the post produced, to the benefit of both of the major parties.
Of course, the MMP parties, as we have come to be called, did not exist then, because that was damned near impossible. When we think about it, we realise it was rather heroic of the Social Crediters to manage, against all odds, to get even two MPs, given that the system was against them.
The New Zealand Party was the first sign, I think, and the Muldoon domination prior to the 1984 Lange Government again promoted disquiet and upset. I personally marched in the streets against Mr Muldoon, as he was then known, bringing nuclear ships in during the winter. He always did it in the winter, because it was hard to protest then. He did it in June and July, and I recall standing in the rain down by the railway station there, in protests for a couple of years running. He delighted in replying to letters and, no matter how much thought we put into them, even if it was only a page and a half, we would get back one line from the secretary, reading: “Your concern is noted. R.D. Muldoon.” So we ended up with an MMP system, which, as Mr Chauvel has said, is not perfect. Ms Dalziel’s contribution was quite valid, as well.
Our party’s position is very simple, and it is that the people should decide. We believe in democracy. As Mr Henare said when interjecting on Mr Chauvel, we find this obsession with big business quite amusing, especially since the ACT helicopters have long since been sold, and none of us received our Mercedes, although I was hoping and asking for a powder-blue one when I was chosen for the honour of being No. 5 on the
list. The idea that big business backs us, and that our fat-cat mates are writing us out cheques for $1 million every couple of weeks—oh, that it were true!
We are very happy to let the people decide. I disagree with Mr Chauvel that it is premature; I think it is probably about the right time for the people to have a say. As he has said, the number of fringe parties or MMP parties—whatever people like to call them—is reducing. Mr Anderton is off to contest the Christchurch mayoralty, although he has not announced it, and I think the coiffed fellow who normally sits in front of me will probably go to his well-earned retirement next year. That will leave a spectrum from National on one side, to the Māoris, us, the Greens, and Labour, which probably reflects the bell curve of New Zealand opinion on many issues. Of course, there are cross-party issues as well. As the Hon Pete Hodgson also said very correctly, the spectre of the Knesset—I believe the “k” is actually pronounced—with 30 parties and elections every 3 months, has never happened here because of the MMP system.
We are happy to put the system to the vote. It is probably no great surprise to the House to hear that individual members of our party differ on what they prefer. It may surprise the House to hear, though, that a number of our party are in favour of first past the post, which would almost certainly mean our electoral oblivion. But the principle that the people should decide is more important than that, so we will certainly be supporting this bill being referred to the select committee, and almost certainly beyond that. Thank you.
PAUL QUINN (National)
: I start by saying that for me it is indeed a humbling privilege to be able to serve as a member of Parliament in this House, and it is a further privilege—and one that I treat with great honour and care—to have been appointed to the Electoral Legislation Committee. However, although I hope to contribute fully to the discussion and decision-making process on the Electoral Referendum Bill, I may not be able to say—as one speaker from the other side, Pete Hodgson, said—that I was responsible for this and that. Even if I could say that, I guarantee that I will not be able to stand here and say that when any further bill is reviewed.
I next congratulate the Minister of Justice, who I think has done an outstanding job in maintaining an even hand across Parliament and bringing this bill before us with the support of all the parties, in terms of the consultation he has undertaken and the support he has obtained thus far for the process that we have embarked upon. The commitment that he has led is to be held—I say this because Chris Finlayson would not let me get away with not saying it—in stark contrast to what happened over the previous change to the electoral finance legislation. I assure the Opposition that the Minister will ensure that the same consultation and even-handedness that we have seen so far will carry on.
Obviously I think, unlike the previous speaker from Labour, that it is timely that this review takes place. When MMP came in, many—in fact, I think, the vast majority—of the populace were of the view and understanding that a review would be held sooner rather than later. Clearly, as time passed, people agitated for that review to be held. National made a commitment to do so in its election promises; I think it might have been the last promise that we made when we went to the people at the 2008 election. So it is good that the review is to take place.
The only other comment that I really want to make is that the most important thing in a democracy is to have freedom of expression and freedom of speech. We have heard comments about a spending cap. I say what is important is that people are able to express themselves freely and frankly in any form that they choose. Whether that is a contribution by way of money or by way of labour—by putting themselves forward as volunteers to deliver pamphlets—so be it. People should not be restricted from being able to contribute in the way that they choose. We sit here and criticise people who choose to spend money as a way of contributing. For me, if we are to talk about a cap,
then it must be called a value cap, and everything must be valued—not just the dollars. Let us talk about a value cap, because everything needs to be balanced. As far as I am concerned, we should not run down people who contribute by way of donations. If that means costing volunteer hours, then so be it. If we are to put caps on, we should put caps on everything. With those few words, I say I look forward to deliberating and receiving submissions on the bill in the select committee. Thank you.
PHIL TWYFORD (Labour)
: A number of colleagues have prefaced their comments this afternoon by saying what a privilege it is to be contributing to this debate about our democracy. I want to add my name to that list; it is a privilege. It seems that we have been talking about democracy a lot in recent times. We have been discussing, for the last year, really, in a kind of running battle, the future of Auckland’s democracy. I am very, very aware of how strongly people in my city feel about the changes that are being made to their democracy.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: Is that North Shore, Waitakere, or Auckland?
PHIL TWYFORD: To Auckland City. We have also been debating the plight of Environment Canterbury, where elections have been suspended for 3½ years. Feelings are running high in Canterbury right now.
Looking further back from this debate, I think that the consideration of the Electoral Referendum Bill really comes against the backdrop of the 2005 election and the chain of events that a number of colleagues have already referred to, which saw the “hollow men”, as we have come to know them, and particularly the Exclusive Brethren, spend upwards of a million dollars trying to buy the result of an election campaign. Since then, there has been the rather unhappy progress of the Electoral Finance Act, and to my mind the really unfortunate failure of this House to build a lasting consensus about the need to limit the influence of big money in our political system.
So that is the backdrop. My colleague Charles Chauvel has already commented on Labour’s view that this review is perhaps premature, but I will nevertheless add my voice to those who recognise that the Minister of Justice has been responsible for running the process that has led to the bill this far, a process that has been fair, reasonable, inclusive, and transparent. I think that the credit that Simon Power has had in this House and from commentators outside is well deserved; the process, I think, is good.
As we know, the bill sets out a process for two referenda. The first referendum will be held in conjunction with the 2011 general election, and will offer voters the opportunity for change. It will ask them whether they want to continue with MMP or whether they would like to choose one of a number of alternative electoral systems—and those are the systems that were dealt with by the royal commission. If MMP wins the 50 percent or more that it needs, it will be retained, and that would then trigger an independent review by the Electoral Commission. If the change option wins a majority, then we will see a second referendum, to be held in conjunction with the 2014 general election. I think that that gives people plenty of time to debate the issues and to try to build a consensus. As I said, I am of the view that that is a fair process.
I particularly want to recognise that out of the debate and out of the consultation, we have a second track in this bill that will allow a review of MMP. On this side of the House, members felt that that was extremely important, and I acknowledge the fact that that review has been built into this bill. I also cut my teeth politically during the Muldoon years, as did a number of colleagues. David Garrett, Chris Tremain, and others have said they were influenced by the Muldoon years, and often felt that New Zealand was living under a kind of dictatorship during the 1980s that went on for ever and ever.
I think that in many ways, for many of our generation, it was that experience that whetted the appetite for electoral reform. There is no doubt that the actions of
Governments in the 1980s and 1990s sharpened the hunger of New Zealanders for electoral reform that would deliver a more consultative, democratic, and representative system. In the years after the MMP system was introduced, it was often difficult to find anybody in New Zealand who would actually admit to having voted for MMP. Those initial years after MMP came in were quite rocky, and we had to wonder at times whether the system would last, because the level of public disenchantment was so high. But I, as an MMP supporter, am glad that successive Governments and Parliaments have got much better at managing MMP and have learnt how to make the system work. It is gratifying to me to see that the level of public support—that which is indicated by the polling, anyway—shows that the public feel, I think, pretty good about MMP. Nevertheless, I am sure they will relish the chance to have their say in those referenda.
I think, as others have said before me, that MMP has delivered a much more representative Parliament—a Parliament that looks much more like New Zealand—and I think that that is hugely important. It is also mathematically representative, in that perhaps of all the systems on offer, MMP is truly representative when we do the numbers. That gives it a legitimacy that is important, especially if we are concerned about stemming the downward trend of voter turn-out.
So I think that for all those reasons, I am a fan of MMP. I know that some people feel that it has not delivered the kind of desired consensus politics, the kind of conflict-free cooperation, that some people had misty eyes thinking about, when they thought that that would be delivered by MMP. It has not delivered that, but in spite of some of the more frustrating aspects that we see—the tail wagging the dog, etc.—I still believe that MMP has produced a much more inclusive and negotiated politics that is good for New Zealand.
So I will be supporting MMP in this referendum. Under clause 56 of the bill, we see that when the Electoral Commission does its review, it will examine some of the more irritating aspects that the public often raise—for example, the question of the 5 percent threshold that has allowed ACT to have five MPs in this House, even though it earned 1 percent less of the popular vote than did New Zealand First at the last election; and New Zealand First, as we know, is no longer here. I think that particularly is one of the aspects of MMP that needs review.
I do not have strong views about the overhang or dual candidacy. I think it would be interesting to see a review of a party’s ability to determine the order of candidates on the party list. We do not have a fixed view on that, but perhaps it would be more democratic, in the way that a primary election is, to allow the public a say in determining party lists. I think there is quite a lot of interest and support out there for that.
I want to also comment, as Labour and Green colleagues before me have, on the question of advertising rules, and the loophole in this bill that allows third parties, parallel campaigners, to pretty much have a free hand in spending whatever they want to spend in seeking to influence the outcome of this referendum. All that they have to do is to register, if they will be spending more than $12,000. I think that that is simply not good enough. I support Paul Quinn’s idea of a value cap; that would be fine. Actually, most people who contribute voluntary labour to an election campaign like this would contribute nothing like the kind of value that big business and wealthy donors are capable of contributing. It is a nonsense to say the issue is simply about freedom of expression. There is a balance to be struck here between freedom of expression and people who will wield undue influence in our democratic process. This bill does not appear to even recognise that there is a balance to be struck. As Charles Chauvel said, even in the United States, which we always reference as the place where big money
corrupts the election process, there have been serious efforts in recent years to regulate and protect freedom of expression.
HEKIA PARATA (National)
: Tēnā koe, Mr Deputy Speaker. Tēnā tātou e te Whare. It is most appropriate that today we are discussing the first reading of the Electoral Referendum Bill. Many of us in this House today are wearing a red poppy in remembrance of the Anzac soldiers who went overseas to many wars, to fight for the very rights that underpin the notion that this referendum bill is about. It is appropriate that we recall that they made sacrifices. Many of them sacrificed their life, and their families at home anguished and waited for news of whether they would return home. The soldiers went with the notion that they were fighting for things like democracy, like constitutional integrity, and like the right to equality in their homeland. In fact, in the 1930s Sir Apirana Ngata, a former National Minister, wrote a very poignant essay called
The Price of Citizenship, in which he exhorted the establishment of the Māori Battalion and said that if we wished to have the rights of citizenship in our country, we should also participate in the obligation to fight for the integrity of our system in New Zealand. It is appropriate that we should wear the poppy today, and that we should spend Sunday commemorating not only those people, who are part of every family in New Zealand, but also the particular principle of democracy that their valour and commitment represented.
Today we are also honouring the social contract that many New Zealanders understood to have been entered into when MMP was first passed as an electoral system in the mid-1990s: that they would have the opportunity to review whether this system was serving us well and meeting our expectations. It is appropriate that we should honour, as our party does, the commitment we made at the 2008 election to conduct a referendum to see whether New Zealanders remain satisfied with this system and, if not, which other system they might wish to have in order to protect their democracy and their democratic expression in the new century. It is right that we should honour, as I said, those Anzac soldiers who all put their lives at risk, so that we might maintain a democracy here in New Zealand.
Like previous speakers, I too commend the Minister of Justice, the Hon Simon Power, for the integrity and commitment that he has shown to working across parties on an issue that should not be driven by partisanship, but should be driven by our combined and unified interest in providing for our country a system in which all New Zealanders can enjoy confidence. Therefore, I commend this bill to the House. Kia ora.
referred to the Electoral Legislation Committee.