MMP rules; the final nail in the first past the post coffin

: Justice Minister Andrew Little in Parliament last night
 

Parliament spent last night hammering in one of the last nails into the coffin of the first past the post electoral system.

Once the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill (aka the Waka Jumping Bill) is passed, political parties will reign supreme in New Zealand politics.

That was the point of MMP yet it has taken 22 years to get there.

That much has been obscured by the intense opposition to the Bill, particularly from National, whose MPs last night were describing it as a power grab by NZ First Leader, Winston Peters.

National MP Nick Smith, his party’s main spokesperson on the Bill, described it as a bullying bill.

“Here's my question for members opposite: how often do you hear people saying, ‘I just wish we gave Winston Peters more power,’” he said.

“Is that what members are hearing in their constituencies?

Smith said the legislation was a crude power grab by the Deputy Prime Minister “to wield even more power and to have the capacity to dismiss any member of Parliament that does not follow his latest wish or whim.”

Smith was referring to the main point of the Bill which provides that if two thirds of a party’s MPs agree  that one of them “has acted in a way that has distorted, and is likely to continue to distort, the proportionality of political party representation in Parliament as determined at the last general election” – then that MP will be expelled from Parliament.

The Bill goes to the heart of a fundamental clash between two political systems; one where electorate MPs are supreme; and the other, where parties are supreme.

What complicates things in New Zealand is that MMP provides for the election of both electorate MPs and party (or list) MPs.

But ultimately, it is the party vote that determines how many MPs, and therefore how much power, any party gets.

That is what MPs last night were having some difficulty getting to grips with.

But it is not just MPs who are still trying to imagine Parliament through the first past the post electorate lens.

Smith pointed out that Parliament’s Justice Committee heard 23 constitutional experts say that it breached “the most fundamental part of the bill of rights relevant for this Parliament, and that is for free speech of members here.”

The Minister in Charge of the Bill, Andrew Little, disposed of this by arguing that the Attorney General, David Parker, had certified that the Bill complied with the Bill of Rights Act.

“The Attorney-General's certificate is very clear that this does not compromise the Bill of Rights,” he said.

“ Then he asked the question: where is there a constitutional lawyer who agrees with me?

“I would turn that question on its head and say that of the 23 self-claimed constitutional experts who put their name to the matter, how many got the analysis right?

“None of them did because none of them referred to the checks and balances in the bill, but that's what happens.”

However, the problem with the legislation is just what will constitute actions that will be likely to continue to distort the proportionality of political party representation in Parliament.

National's Chris Bishop argued that it could mean an MP crossing the floor to vote against their party.

“Does distorting proportionality mean to cross the floor?” he asked.

“Does it mean repeated voting against the party in a policy sense? Is that what proportionality means?”

Little said Bishop’s question went to the heart of the whole matter.

“This is a question that has been before the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court said that if a member of Parliament indicates, because they failed to pay their membership fees, or otherwise shows that they are not a member of the party any more, then that has distorted the proportionality of Parliament—that was the Prebble v Awatere Huata decision<” he said.

“The second kind of response to that is what I said to Dr Smith before: that, in the end, political judgments will be made.

Smith: “By the leader—by the leader.”

Little:This does not stop politics happening. And Dr Smith yells out "By the leader."

“No, Dr Smith has got it wrong again.

“There is a safeguard on this.

“It requires two-thirds support of a member's caucus for this to happen.”

The Bill has been sponsored and promoted by NZ First.

Indeed, coalition negotiators from last year’s government formation talks have told POLITIK that it was at the top of the list of demands that Peters put on the table in the talks.

There are also suspicions around Parliament that it was necessary for Labour to push the Bill in return for NZ First support on the oil exploration ban.

Green MPs have also defended their support for the Bill by pointing to the gains they have made in government by getting the exploration ban.

Little, defending the Bill last night, pointed to the checks and balances that have been added to the Bill since it was introduced last year.

Addressing Smith’s claim that it gave Peters the power to remove an MP, Little said it didn’t.

“It says is that if a member who ceases to be a member of their party resigns, or is the subject of a process within their caucus which requires two-thirds of support of the caucus, and the leader notifying the Speaker, then they cease to be a member of Parliament.

“You have to get all the elements right and the suggestion that I think that member made—there are no checks and balances—is just demonstrably wrong.”

What the Bill does do is “freeze” the election result as it was on the day the writs were returned.

The former Speaker, David Carter, raised possibly the only truly valid criticism of the Bill last night when he asked how that objective could be reconciled with by-elections in electorate seats.

“I've heard Mr Peters, and I've seen him on television saying the only reason we are pushing this legislation through is that the voters of New Zealand have a right to have the result of election night preserved for that particular Parliament," he said.

“ That's the only argument Mr Peters continues to advance.

“ Well, then Mr Peters should explain to me why he contested the Northland by-election in 2015 to change the proportionality of Parliament as decided by a general election six months before.

“ Mr Peters won that by-election.”

And there is the contradiction; though we have an MMP parliament where power is defined by the size of the party vote, we still have the hangover of the individual electorate  seats where  an MPs owes their electors (according to Edmund Burke in 1774) “not his industry only, but his judgment.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parliament spent last night hammering in one of the last nails into the coffin of the first past the post electoral system.

Once the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill (aka the Waka Jumping Bill) is passed, political parties will reign supreme in New Zealand politics.

That was the point of MMP yet it has taken 22 years to get there.

That much has been obscured by the intense opposition to the Bill, particularly from National, whose MPs last night were describing it as a power grab by NZ First Leader, Winston Peters.

National MP Nick Smith, his party’s main spokesperson on the Bill, described it as a bullying bill.

“Here's my question for members opposite: how often do you hear people saying, ‘I just wish we gave Winston Peters more power,’” he said.

“Is that what members are hearing in their constituencies?

Smith said the legislation was a crude power grab by the Deputy Prime Minister “to wield even more power and to have the capacity to dismiss any member of Parliament that does not follow his latest wish or whim.”

Smith was referring to the main point of the Bill which provides that if two thirds of a party’s MPs agree  that one of them “has acted in a way that has distorted, and is likely to continue to distort, the proportionality of political party representation in Parliament as determined at the last general election” – then that MP will be expelled from Parliament.

The Bill goes to the heart of a fundamental clash between two political systems; one where electorate MPs are supreme; and the other, where parties are supreme.

What complicates things in New Zealand is that MMP provides for the election of both electorate MPs and party (or list) MPs.

But ultimately, it is the party vote that determines how many MPs, and therefore how much power, any party gets.

That is what MPs last night were having some difficulty getting to grips with.

But it is not just MPs who are still trying to imagine Parliament through the first past the post electorate lens.

Smith pointed out that Parliament’s Justice Committee heard 23 constitutional experts say that it breached “the most fundamental part of the bill of rights relevant for this Parliament, and that is for free speech of members here.”

The Minister in Charge of the Bill, Andrew Little, disposed of this by arguing that the Attorney General, David Parker, had certified that the Bill complied with the Bill of Rights Act.

“The Attorney-General's certificate is very clear that this does not compromise the Bill of Rights,” he said.

“ Then he asked the question: where is there a constitutional lawyer who agrees with me?

“I would turn that question on its head and say that of the 23 self-claimed constitutional experts who put their name to the matter, how many got the analysis right?

“None of them did because none of them referred to the checks and balances in the bill, but that's what happens.”

However, the problem with the legislation is just what will constitute actions that will be likely to continue to distort the proportionality of political party representation in Parliament.

National's Chris Bishop argued that it could mean an MP crossing the floor to vote against their party.

“Does distorting proportionality mean to cross the floor?” he asked.

“Does it mean repeated voting against the party in a policy sense? Is that what proportionality means?”

Little said Bishop’s question went to the heart of the whole matter.

“This is a question that has been before the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court said that if a member of Parliament indicates, because they failed to pay their membership fees, or otherwise shows that they are not a member of the party any more, then that has distorted the proportionality of Parliament—that was the Prebble v Awatere Huata decision<” he said.

“The second kind of response to that is what I said to Dr Smith before: that, in the end, political judgments will be made.

Smith: “By the leader—by the leader.”

Little:This does not stop politics happening. And Dr Smith yells out "By the leader."

“No, Dr Smith has got it wrong again.

“There is a safeguard on this.

“It requires two-thirds support of a member's caucus for this to happen.”

The Bill has been sponsored and promoted by NZ First.

Indeed, coalition negotiators from last year’s government formation talks have told POLITIK that it was at the top of the list of demands that Peters put on the table in the talks.

There are also suspicions around Parliament that it was necessary for Labour to push the Bill in return for NZ First support on the oil exploration ban.

Green MPs have also defended their support for the Bill by pointing to the gains they have made in government by getting the exploration ban.

Little, defending the Bill last night, pointed to the checks and balances that have been added to the Bill since it was introduced last year.

Addressing Smith’s claim that it gave Peters the power to remove an MP, Little said it didn’t.

“It says is that if a member who ceases to be a member of their party resigns, or is the subject of a process within their caucus which requires two-thirds of support of the caucus, and the leader notifying the Speaker, then they cease to be a member of Parliament.

“You have to get all the elements right and the suggestion that I think that member made—there are no checks and balances—is just demonstrably wrong.”

What the Bill does do is “freeze” the election result as it was on the day the writs were returned.

The former Speaker, David Carter, raised possibly the only truly valid criticism of the Bill last night when he asked how that objective could be reconciled with by-elections in electorate seats.

“I've heard Mr Peters, and I've seen him on television saying the only reason we are pushing this legislation through is that the voters of New Zealand have a right to have the result of election night preserved for that particular Parliament," he said.

“ That's the only argument Mr Peters continues to advance.

“ Well, then Mr Peters should explain to me why he contested the Northland by-election in 2015 to change the proportionality of Parliament as decided by a general election six months before.

“ Mr Peters won that by-election.”

And there is the contradiction; though we have an MMP parliament where power is defined by the size of the party vote, we still have the hangover of the individual electorate  seats where  an MP owes their electors (according to Edmund Burke in 1774) “not his industry only, but his judgment.”

 

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