These days no western democratic systems seem to be capable of taking the wise and courageous steps needed to produce social equality and to save the planet.
How does our parliamentary system work?
By Russell Marshall
As the 2014 General Election approaches it is worth thinking about our present parliamentary system and how it currently works. Non binding referenda in 1992 produced an 85% preference for change from our inherited first past the post British system. On the question of which of the other systems people wanted, 65% voted for the Mixed Member Proportional system (MMP), with preferences for the Single Transferable Vote trailing well behind at 16%.
Pros and cons of MMP
MMP duly became the new parliamentary election system, beginning with the 1996 General Election. As a member of a New Zealand parliamentary delegation in 1974, I looked at the German MMP system and how it worked. MMP had certainly brought about a more genuinely representative membership in the Bundestag.
Less impressive was the fact that the regularly third placed Liberal Democratic Party seemed to wield a disproportionate amount of power, holding major portfolios for Finance and Foreign Affairs.
In this country and six parliaments on, the same scepticism about the influence of smaller parties prevails, though the influence is often idiosyncratic if not bizarre. Charter Schools anyone?
Small parties in our system
- The Maori Party has clearly exerted some influence on its National Party senior partner, though now struggling to survive.
- The Green Party is part of a worldwide move to greater environmental awareness and is here to stay.
With the possible exception of Hone Harawira, the remaining parties have ended up as one man bands, though ACT once had some coherent views and support for them.
Recommended changes to MMP not heeded
A couple of years ago a review of the way MMP has worked out made some sensible, if modest recommendations, for change. Had those recommendations been heeded, there would have been a proportional increase in the ratio of elected members, and some reduction in the space for the idiosyncrasies which diminish parliament’s effectiveness.
The commission received a surprisingly large number of submissions, many of them the product of serious thought. Sadly and foolishly, the recommendations were summarily dismissed by the current government.
New Zealand needs checks and balances in the system
These days no western democratic systems seem to be capable of taking the wise and courageous steps needed to produce social equality and to save the planet. Our Upper House was disestablished in 1950, with the undertaking that something would be developed in its place.
We must be one of the few of the western democracies was has no such check or balance on what their Houses of Representatives do. While it is clear elsewhere that it is difficult to produce a system which earns widespread support and respect, the absence of such a monitoring body in this country continues to undermine any pretence that we are a real democracy.
The proportion of eligible voters choosing not to cast a vote will continue to decline this year.