Cracker by Damian Christie


Mix Your Members

I’m a bit late on this one – it’s been up since Monday – but Episode 2 of ‘This Week in TV History’ is up. Recommended for fans of ‘This Week in TV History: Episode 1’. Good Springbok Tour stuff, a great clip from Miss Universe ’92, a fantastic Avis ad from 1981… what more could you want? And yes, I’ve been listening to your feedback; next week will feature one of those great Country Calendar spoofs, other requests are in the pipeline, so keep ‘em coming. New episode up on Monday.

The MMP referendum worries me. Not in the sense that I don’t think we the people should have an opportunity to vote on such things, but more in the sense that I have some issues with the motives of the big parties – National in particular – for pushing for change, and the ability of them, their donors and interested affiliates, to sway the outcome.

“We promised a referendum on this at the last election, and we’re sticking to our word” is the Government line. It all sounds very worthy, doing the right thing, power to the people, and all that, but you have to ask ‘why?’ Not Why are they sticking to their word, that’s a good thing, generally, from politicians, but why did they promise a referendum in the first place? It was never promised when MMP was voted in all those years ago, that we’d have a rethink a decade or so down the track, and there doesn’t seem to be any great outcry, rioting in the streets or what have you. It’s no smacking referendum.

The bottom line is that under any of the alternatives that are less truly proportional than MMP, such as Supplementary Member, or FPP, the big parties win. So for National to promise a referendum, and then make good on its promise, it’s a bit like saying “We promised to give ourselves pay rises, and by Christ, we’re sticking to that.”

I’m telling you now, and I’ve seen a few backroom letters confirming this, National will push for Supplementary Member (if they’re not already, I haven’t really looked). It has the advantages of being kinda proportional representation, so it’s not as baldly opportunistic as pushing a return to FPP, but it’s the least proportional of all the options. It returns power to the big parties. As David Farrar told me the other night, and I trust him on this sort of thing, all but one of the elections run under MMP would have delivered a single party majority Government if they had been run under the Supplementary Member system.

Let’s suppose there are other reasons to push for change – what are they? You could argue the tail has wagged the dog somewhat – maybe our big parties need to become better negotiators. Maybe with Winston gone (and hopefully forgotten) things have settled down a bit. I don’t think any of the Government’s support parties received extortionate benefits for their confidence and supply – in the case of the Maori party, any benefits were given voluntarily by National, as the numbers weren’t needed.

It won’t surprise you if I say that I think MMP has worked extraordinarily well. Okay, I too hate the fact that Winston Peters managed to strut around like a prize rooster after various elections, but that’s the price of a democracy where septuagenarians get the vote. All Governments under MMP have gone to term, and both the major parties have shown an increasing adeptness in stitching together coalitions. Most importantly, Parliament is now if not totally, then certainly more representative, both politically and socially/culturally.

The idea of MMP being some great experiment that we now get to vote on – or vote out – belies the fact that there are almost one million voters who have never voted under anything but. There is no unchanging cohort of voters who 13 years later get to decide whether their first vote was right – almost a third of voters weren’t around for FPP, and have no frame of reference. Does this mean they shouldn’t get to vote on electoral change? No, but as I said to one young man at the Backbencher on Wednesday, nor is occasionally voting to change or retain electoral law a right, or even a good thing.

I remember a political leader recently saying that his decision on altering or repealing a certain high-profile piece of legislation, would be based not on what the people said, but whether or not the law was working, and he thought it was. What’s the difference here?


Big plug here: the lovely members of Minuit are in the process of putting together a video for their single ‘Aotearoa’, off the newish album Find Me Before I Die a Lonely They want hundreds of pictures of New Zealanders in classic settings (the beach, skiing, on the deck, whatever) to flash on the screen, I think each person gets about half a second of screen time. I think it’s a great idea – send your pics to findmemusicvideo at gmail, you’ve got until September 18, and listen to my interview on PublicAddress Radio with Minuit here.

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