While we are stuck with MMP…

Submission in relation to the retention of MMP.

Amy Brooke – Convener – 100 Days – Claiming Back New Zealand

www.100days.co.nz

a-m@amybrooke.co.nz

In essence, MMP has proved itself to be so profoundly undemocratic that there is no compelling argument for retaining it. Nevertheless, as it was endorsed by the electorate at large as the recent elections, any review is required to consider optimising its practice.

However , it is not irrelevant  to remind ourselves that a minority party, The Greens, led by Rod Donald, was the main reason why it ever got adopted.

We would not be remiss in appreciating that the fairly transparent reason why this party pushed so hard to have MMP introduced was for the advantage it would itself gain.

This reason alone, the impetus to give a party that had very little democratic backing far more political weight than it would otherwise achieve can be appreciated to be a basically one. Its basic purpose was self-interest.

The claim was that MMP was fairer because it gave more weight to minority voices.

This is exactly why, far from being fairer, the whole process of MMP voting is deeply flawed.

Not only have minority parties achieved a greater hearing – which few New Zealanders with their sense of fair play would object to – but they have in fact achieved far more influence than deserved, proportionately speaking, in relation to the percentage of New Zealanders who vote for them.

This has been categorised by the public at large as the tail wagging the dog, when it comes to the issues of the day.

In other words, we have now reached the stage where, where, as US Black writer and political analyst Thomas Sowell has warned us, minorities are bullying majorities – ethnic minorities in particular.

This has come about by minority parties in Parliament, parties like the Maori Party for example, which cannot even achieve 3% of the vote. The Maori Party is in fact not even backed by a majority of Maori voters, if it is acknowledged that the proportion of those claiming Maori ancestry in New Zealand is approximately 12% to 15%). Yet this unrepresentative, ethnically divisive party has very successfully manipulated both Labour and National governments to have their wish List of policies implemented. The results have been very costly not to any economic but in social terms.

When a major party can no longer depend upon implementing its policies, knowing that the majority of New Zealanders have voted for it (as in FPP) but must indulge in deal-making with a minor party, making concessions to this minor party in return for support for its own legislation, then we have entered murky waters.

The result is that some at least of the wish-List of the party that fewer than even 3% voted for is inflicted upon the country at large. Outcomes in the form of legislation passed for which the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders did not vote, is the result.

In no way can this claimed to be a democratic outcome.

Even granted its flaws, democracy – i.e. Government by the majority of the people – has historically been judged to be the most stable and desirable system of government for a country.

Where the wishes of the majority are being overruled by a determined minority engaged in deal-making to obtain greater influence than warranted, in that a very small proportion of New Zealanders have even voted for them, then the whole democratic system is skewed.

This is very much what we have seen in this country in recent years, particularly with the Maori Party representing by far not the majority of those who are now part-Maori only (after nearly two centuries of intermarriage) but radicalised Maori iwi, very often predominately of European genetic inheritance, striving for special financial and political advantage for themselves, and largely for their so-called neo-tribal and extended family members only.

Both National and Labour governments have endorsed legislation such as the Ngai Tahu Settlement Act 1998 which should never have been ratified by Parliament. Some of its claims were not only contestable, but patiently spurious. That it was ever passed was very largely the result of Ngai Tahu engaging a highly experienced combative lawyer, Chris Finlayson,  who outmanoeuvred shockingly inept, inexperienced  and historically ignorant Crown lawyers, who subsequently admitted they did not have staff sufficiently knowledgeable to provide a robust analysis of the issues.

The result was that the then National government, led by Prime Minister Jim Bolger and Doug Graham signed this Bill into existence at Kaikoura before the Maori Affairs Select Committee had a chance to hear the hundreds of submissions from highly knowledgeable historians and other individuals who opposed it. Shockingly, Minister Doug Graham basically instructed the select committee to ignore the submissions, as the Bill had already been signed.

This stands as one particularly egregious example of the perversion  of democracy in which our two major parties, National and Labour, have been indulging in recent years, in order to gain the votes of well organised, part-Maori activists  – without which they might not have found it possible to retain their parliamentary majority.

When this sort of thing has become not even an exception – but very close to being the rule – the constant wheeler-dealing behind closed doors, whereby minority parties – in Parliament only because of the MMP system – they would otherwise not have achieved enough votes to have got there through their own policies achieving majority support – in the end have the power, through their bargaining capacity, to basically determine crucial issues of the day.

There can be no arguing with the fact that in this respect, far from MMP being a more democratic system it is far less democratic – with powerful and manipulative minorities essentially able to hijack the democratic process of decision-making based on the wishes of the majority.

MMP is also profoundly undemocratic in that List members are not answerable to the public at large. They are not even any longer answerable to grassroots members of the party which they join.

When the Prime Minister John Key ignored National’s own democratic procedures for choosing List members before the 2008 elections, he dealt a further blow to the democratic process in this country. Theoretically National Party’s List members were supposed to have been chosen by representatives from each electorate, meeting nationally to rank applicants according to criteria decided upon.

However, when the delegates arrived to follow up this process in 2008, dismayed representatives were virtually told to forget it… that John Key himself had chosen the first 50 members. Though taken aback, so successful has been the gradual undermining of the democratic process in this country that  none except two electorates vocally objected to the hijacking of their rights by the present Prime Minister.

It is quite obvious what the result is likely to be when, rather than the party at large, it is the leader himself who decides who are going to get favoured List seats. Those chosen, well aware of to whom they owe this patronage, undoubtedly regard the party leader as commanding their allegiance – a result which well suits a determined and ambitious leader.

And indeed, on several occasions to date, Prime Minister John Key has ignored the wishes of a very strong majority of New Zealanders (for example 85% in relation to  the infamous  anti-smacking legislation) and indeed of troubled members of his own Cabinet, while  intent on getting his own way.

For example, it is obvious at present that by far the majority of the country is opposed to the selling of our state assets, but John Key has already made it plain that he has no intention of taking any notice of them.  New Zealanders are equally perturbed about the selling of our farmland to Communist Chinese-backed, supposedly independent Chinese companies. Once again their concerns are simply being sidelined by a Prime Minister who dominates his Cabinet and whose decisions are in the end the ones that count.

If we agree that it is important to preserve a genuine democracy, it can be very persuasively argued that nobody should be in Cabinet without first presenting themselves for scrutiny by the voting public.  Not only is this example of the Prime Minister choosing his own yes-men and -women ominous – let alone profoundly undemocratic – but priority should be given to ensuring that this can never happen again.

Moreover, in the present Prime Minister’s close circle of advisers and ministers there are several controversial figures wielding a great deal of authority and making decisions that have dismayed the whole country – such as Chris Finlayson,  Minister of Treaty Negotiations – for whom nobody voted – he is a List member only, and Steven Joyce , who was not only merely  a List member, but apparently headed the committee facilitating the Prime Minister’s personal choosing of the first 50 List candidates.

What we see is undeniable, that there have been (and are)  a number of List candidates in Parliament over the years who would not have made it past first base if they had stood for election – like those who are regarded as “real” MPs – our supposedly “representative” members.

Given the undoubted skewing of the system away from democratic outcomes in this country, as far as decision-making is concerned, there is no doubt that MMP has served to weaken, not strengthen what should be our democracy. Preference would be for it to be abolished. However, as this proposal is outside the scope of this review, our reform proposal examines the most promising way ahead, regardless of the retention of MMP.

Nevertheless, it can well be regarded as a grave offence against democratic principles for List MPs to hold ministerial warrants and to inflict on the country their own personal decisions – although they were never even voted into office.

However, the reason that the electorate at large did not vote for MMP to be done away with is that New Zealanders are so disillusioned and cynical  about what they now see as the corruption of the political scene, and what they also suspected was too often highly convenient deal-making between the two major parties  (a perception somewhat strengthened by John Key’s  immediate  eulogising of former Prime Minister Helen Clark and his wide promotion of her internationally as an excellent manager – together with  his also  immediately offering her former Finance Minister,  Michael Cullen, a lucrative position on the board of New Zealand Post. His personal, non-mandated promotion of these two individuals was viewed as extraordinary. The preceding election rejected the failing Clark-Cullen dominated government which had managed to turn a reputed $6 billion asset into a multi-billion liability by the time New Zealanders voted it out of power.

Which way forward then, when the electorate largely voted to retain MMP because New Zealanders, with good reason, do not trust either of the two major parties, but have also become well aware that MMP skews democratic outcomes?

Equally as unsatisfactory is the fact that electorate MPs themselves no longer represent their electorates. The practice which we are now faced with is what should be our representatives now simply endorsing the wishes of their party leader – rather than the wishes of their electorate – when it comes to voting on important issues.

This was very evident, not only with regard to the socially damaging anti-smacking legislation, where some elected MPs in the National Party for example, unhappy as they were with this legislation, simply did what John Key told them … but as also subsequently happened with the Emissions Trading Scheme and the Marine and Coastal Area Bill. In all these issues a number of National Party MPs did not want to support the legislation but did as they were told – no doubt from the point of view of their future careers, promotions, privileges, etc. within the party.

Given then that we no longer appear to be anything like a genuine democracy , certainly no longer what is called a representative democracy where members of Parliament do represent their electorates, it is time to consider a system which would deliver far more genuine democratic outcomes for New Zealanders – rather than the present in-group, follow-the-leader practice we are engaged in,  which also involves minor parties achieving proportionately far more influence than they would be entitled to in anything like a fair system of government – or one as close to this as might be contrived.

It must be acknowledged of course, that there are occasions when a minor party can in effect put a useful break on legislation which the majority party wishes to pass, but which the country at large regards as damaging. However, these are the exceptions rather than the rule  – when the general practice  is that  minor parties can exert more influence than is their due, in democratic terms, and can essentially manipulate the majority party, through deal-making, to have their own political programmes carried out  – although they would be opposed by the majority of New Zealanders.

Given that the manipulation of majority parties by minor parties ensures undemocratic outcomes; that the List system catapults into Parliament and into positions of dominating the electorate List MPs who have never stood up to public scrutiny by standing in electorates, it is obvious that we should be looking towards a far fairer and more democratic system which is far more accurately represents the public’s views.

The ultimately very obvious answer is, of course, working towards implementing the very measure which Switzerland, the most successful and prosperous democracy in the world contrived for itself when its people acknowledged the fact that, although they had one of the oldest so-called democracies in the world, any system in which powerful politicised cliques ruling in government can inflict their wishes on the country at large cannot possibly be considered to be a genuine democracy.

The extremely successful provision which the Swiss finally contrived for themselves is one which the group of which I am Convenor is working towards making known throughout the country.

It is called the 100 Days – and its essential simplicity is such that –  regardless of whether or not political pressures ensure that MMP is retained; or whether the profoundly undemocratic List system is, or is not, abolished – as it should be –  the provision for  a 100 Days scrutiny period to be passed into law will achieve in practical terms what all the theorising will not and cannot -no more than all the other flawed suggestions such as the call for an Upper House – which of course is just as capable of becoming a political tool in the hands of the influential – as all the other insufficiently-thought systems to date.

What our 100 Days – Claiming Back New Zealand movement is proposing – (see www.100days.co.nz ) is that when Parliament passes any legislation, it should in future be unable to be implemented until a period of 100 days has passed.

This 100 days provides a scrutiny period for the public at large to examine legislation which is too often rushed through late at night, on the eve of Christmas, or before other public holidays when the country is busy and has little time to oppose it if necessary, or even to examine its implications and consider its consequences – which of course often very well suits the political party pushing through such legislation.

The Swiss people do not allow their democracy to be hijacked in this way. Nor should we.

When any legislation is passed in Switzerland (and we can disregard the fact that The Swiss have a quite different, centuries-established system of government far different from ours – because we can achieve the same result with the same provision of our 100 days scrutiny period) this waiting period of 100 days enables a challenge to any legislation which members of the public may regard as potentially damaging in its outcome.

They then have a genuinely democratic right, which New Zealanders do not have, to mount a challenge within this 100 day period – i.e. to hold what is called a Facultative Referendum (not to be confused with a BCIR – Binding Citizens Initiated Referendum).

A Facultative Referendum is called if 50,000 Swiss citizens endorse the need for it to be held. They are not the ones who decide on its outcome – they simply alert the country at large to the implications of the legislation and the need for greater debate.

This Facultative or 100 Days referendum must in law be held, if 50,000 citizens call for it.  It is then the country at large which decides. If the majority of the country votes against the proposed legislation or legislative change, then their vote is binding on Parliament.

Nothing could be more democratic than the majority of the people in the country deciding on their direction ahead.

It suits minority parties to manipulatively invoke “the tyranny of the majority” – what in fact has been traditionally regarded as democracy. No fairer system has ever been devised. The very real danger in this country is the tyranny of the minority.

Although 50,000 Swiss citizens are needed before a Facultative Referendum can be called, in New Zealand proportionately 26,000 would be sufficient to call for such a referendum and the results would be binding.

The obvious objection – that the people of the country can get things wrong – is easily answered. Firstly, if they do so, they can subsequently reverse their decision.

Secondly, as historian Barbara Tuchman points out in The March of Folly, governments themselves get most things wrong. It took Sweden 20 years to reverse its ultraliberal stand on the liberalisation of cannabis.

Our 100 Days website – www.100days.co.nz analyses this proposal in more detail.

It also points out that two provisions would be needed.

  • The government must have power to act in time of emergency
  • State-owned and -financed media would be required to prove that they are fairly providing information and debate on both sides of an issue.

The latter certainly doesn’t occur at the moment.

This committee may like to bear in mind that a well-respected Australian organisation, ACM (Australians for Constitutional Monarchy) headed by Emeritus Professor David Flint   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Flint – whom I initially consulted when researching the Swiss system and finally convening our own organisation, subsequently wrote to say that he has come to the conclusion that this 100 days provision is the only effective way to control politicians. He has since overseen its launching in Australia, giving us credit for our first initiative.

Conclusion:

Most New Zealanders do not think that either the FFP or MMP systems have served the country well.

 

The provision to mount Binding Citizens Initiated Referenda – BCIR (a different kind of referendum entirely) has been basically insulting to New Zealanders. Its results are not binding on the government of the day – which so far has ignored in every case the very substantial numbers who have opposed legislation.

Moreover, the numbers are stacked against the prospect of change, when over 300,000 votes are needed to launch a BCIR (the number in Switzerland, with almost double the population is 100,000 – only 50,000 for a Facultative Referendum).

These requirements give the people of a country an obviously far fairer chance to have a genuine and substantial say with regard to the issues of the day, and the directions they wish the country to take.

The move towards providing for the implementation of our 100 Days initiative is obviously by far the only genuine prospect for restoring democracy in this country.

Neither FPP nor MMP is trusted by the public at large.

Only a system which offers a very realistic prospect of the most equitable outcome of all – “allowing” the citizens of a country the choices which should be theirs as of right – that of making the decisions that affect them – should be acceptable.

The 100 Days is quite simply and essentially by far the most desirable of all the possibilities that this committee will be called upon to consider.

*****

© Amy Brooke – a-m@amybrooke.co.nz