PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION SOCIETY OF AUSTRALIA

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28th November 2004

 

ADDRESS BY THE HON. WINSTON PETERS, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND TREASURER OF NEW ZEALAND, TO THE PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION SOCIETY OF AUSTRALIA

25th July 1997, in the Council Chamber, University of Melbourne

MADE AVAILABLE BY THE UNIVERSITY'S CENTRE FOR COMPARATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL STUDIES

 

Professor Cheryl Saunders, Director, Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies,

University of Melbourne:

 

Minister, and Mr Yan Flint, Consul-General of New Zealand; Mr Geoffrey Goode, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to welcome you here this evening on the part of the University of Melbourne and the Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies, and in particular a pleasure to welcome our guest of honour, the Honourable Winston Peters, Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer of New Zealand, and some of his colleagues who are able to be with him tonight. My function is simply to welcome you and to say how much I am looking forward to the speech we are about to hear.

As you are all aware, New Zealand adopted a very new system of representation for elections to the last Parliament, and both the process by which New Zealanders made that decision, to adopt a new system of representation, and the consequences of that decision, are something of great interest to constitutional lawyers not only in New Zealand, but certainly in Australia and elsewhere in the common law/Westminster world. These are matters that are being discussed elsewhere in the common law world, and in a rather desultory fashion I suspect in the United Kingdom at present. It is a major constitutional step, and of great interest to us.

I suspect that it is not a step that Australia is likely to take for its Lower Houses on the mainland in the near future - I think we are too wedded to our system of preferential voting. But nevertheless we also are interested in ways of improving the effectiveness of Australian parliaments, and the more we can find out about the way in which other people go about doing that, the better. I suspect that the Minister's presence in Australia at present is a little bit more due to the Bledisloe Cup than the pleasures of talking to us tonight, but nevertheless I - no, not true, Yan Flint is shaking his head, sorry. I was very pleased when the Proportional Representation Society worked out that he was likely to be in Australia at some stage, and took the opportunity of inviting him here this evening. I will now hand over to the National Vice-President of the Society, Mr Geoffrey Goode, to introduce the speaker.

Mr Geoffrey Goode,

National Vice-President, Proportional Representation Society of Australia:

 

Thank you Professor. Minister, I first wish to mention some apologies. I have an apology from the National President of the Society, who resides in Canberra, Mr Bogey Musidlak - he is unable to come down. We have apologies from the State Minister for Planning and Local Government, the Honourable Robert Maclellan, and an apology from one of his parliamentary colleagues, the Honourable Rosemary Varty MLC. I want to mention that we do have some guests that we are appreciative of receiving tonight. I understand that in the audience is the Honourable Sir John White, a former Justice of the High Court of New Zealand. I haven't met Sir John, but I am pleased to hear that. We also have former Australian Democrat Senator Sid Spindler with us, and I also understand there are other parliamentary representatives present from Victoria.

I want to remind the meeting - I don't need to remind Professor Saunders or Mr Peters - but I will remind the meeting, how successfully New Zealand adopted the proportional system it is using, and it has disposed of its very longstanding single member electorate first-past-the-post system, which our Society, the Proportional Society, and anybody favouring that approach, regards as probably the antithesis of the way to go - the democratic approach. That was done by referendum. We, our Society, was obviously opposed to the system.

Because it was a two-stage process, we did not actually support MMP; we supported the Single Transferable Vote (STV), which was an option being voted on by the New Zealand people. Our support for that was based on our consideration of it for Australia. We believe that this is the natural system for Australia. It is the system that is used in our Upper Houses mostly, and has been used in the Lower House of Tasmania for nearly a hundred years, and has worked very well - without fault. We recently campaigned in the A.C.T., when it was introduced by referendum, and shortly after that, some years after that, it was entrenched by referendum in the A.C.T. So we are very strongly committed as you would understand, Sir, to that particular form of PR. But PR is in the name of our Society and we are very pleased that a proportional system has replaced the single-member inadequate system that New Zealand had.

Before I ask you to speak, Sir, I would just mention that we prefer our system because it involves a completely direct election system. Every single member is directly elected by the people. You may wish to comment on this. We would hope that questions would be asked, and that there may be a rejoinder to this. That is one of the concerns we had.

The other thing was the 5% threshold, which doesn't exist in our type of STV or Quota Preferential system. There is an arbitrary threshold below which votes are just wasted - thrown away - not transferred. And that flows from the fact that it is a non-preferential system. New Zealand has never had a preferential system. It would have been hard to introduce it there. Australia has had one since the 1920s. Therefore in the 1940s it was easy to introduce it for the Senate on a preferential basis. But I believe that some work needs to be done, particularly in New Zealand - you may differ - to interest people in the virtues of preferential systems, and that is one of our Society's strong points. We believe it is very important. Having said that, I would now ask you, Sir, if you would address us.

Hon. Winston Peters, Deputy Prime Minister & Treasurer of New Zealand:

Professor, Mr Goode, ladies and gentlemen, thanks for your invitation to be here this evening; but if you had listened of late to some misled ditherings of some dingoistic bureaucrat, then I shouldn't be! I wouldn't be giving my time to three speeches here in two days in Melbourne on a subject as important as proportional representation. I would be preparing myself for a night out clubbing on the town! And in a town such as Melbourne, as attractive as Melbourne, it is really an appealing idea, especially as your city sets a very festive mood, to mark the encounter at the MCG tomorrow night.

Speaking of which though, I could have saved us all a lot of trouble if I had left the speech out in the foyer, and we could have all repaired to the nearest hostelry and read about it with the certain assurance that it would be there tomorrow in the newspapers. But I've got to give you the credit - that Australians do know how to play rugby, and on the basis of that misplaced briefing paper I would say that some of your departmental officials have a thing or two to learn about their neighbours in the region. Now we are not in New Zealand ones to be small-minded. If the nameless authors are prepared to identify themselves during my time in Australia, then I will gladly take them off to the nearest club so that I might debate with them the merits of their claims and their advice to certain Ministers in Australia.

But we are here tonight on a much weightier note. Australians, I would say - have a thing or two to learn, and understandably so, about proportional representation, which is why we are here, and I thank you again for your interest. Now at the outset let us admit that Australians don't suffer from that alone. New Zealanders also have a lot to learn about proportional representation and electoral reform, and the first few months of New Zealand's experience with the new electoral system have not been the most eloquent of introductions. But it is not our mixed-member proportional system, or MMP, that's failed us.

It is the politicians who have been unable to adapt to it. You see, some New Zealand politicians have failed to understand the system and, more importantly, their responsibilities within it. Others who should know better, without me naming who they might be, have wilfully misled the public and pretended there are problems where, in this case of electoral reform in action, none really exist. I said before, that New Zealand adopted MMP, but a new electoral system would not by itself give us a ready-made guaranteed perfect way of conducting politics - no such system could. But as a strong supporter of MMP, I believed it would merely give us the potential to lift our game in a political sense.

It was always going to be up to us, the politicians, whether we would realize that potential or not. And given the gap between potential and reality, some dashed expectations were inevitable. You all, I believe, should understand that. But when I see a wilful refusal to adapt to the new rules, that's when one's patience runs out. And I suspect that an Australian audience needs some background on why, and how it was that, New Zealand, a country I think which is only one of nine that can claim an unbroken line of democracy for over 130 years, went down the path and changed from first-past-the-post to MMP.

A reminder will not be lost on some New Zealanders, who seem to have remarkably short memories as well. For starters, New Zealand politicians didn't choose MMP. Few of them wanted it. The great majority were against it. Proportional representation wasn't, you see, in the interests of the large established parties in New Zealand, because it would inevitably share more power with smaller parties and give a greater voice to those who, in past times, were left out or marginalized. MMP was chosen by the people of New Zealand. They demanded it, because they believed the old first-past-the-post system was not reflecting their views.

Now David Lange, of whom you have no doubt heard - some - or a lot, the former Labour Prime Minister, likes to tell the story that New Zealand set out on its way to MMP because of a mistake in a television debate during the 1987 election campaign. And the way he tells it, that his notes on the debate prompted him to say ... that it was Labour Party policy, if re-elected, to hold a referendum on proportional representation. As you know, Labour was re-elected in 1987, and welshed on that promise. The truth is, as most things are in this business, something else. In fact it hadn't been a Labour Party policy at all, it had never been in their manifesto at all, but nor was the first step to MMP just a glitch in the heat of the political debate.

Labour in its first term had abandoned, and this is the reality, the heartland of its policies. It had turned its back on its supporters. It had delved into the hard-line monetarists' text books, and came up with an agenda that was nothing like the programme that its voters had expected, or they had campaigned on. It began a rot at the core of the old electoral system in New Zealand. It confirmed the view that many, I might add, have always had, that politicians could not be trusted.

Now New Zealanders came to believe, that once elected, politicians could do what they liked, and the first-past-the-post system encouraged them to believe that they could get away with it. And the old system of winners-take-all - that mechanism inevitably swelled the majority for the winning party. The figures tell a very compelling story of the old system's lack of fairness. For example, in 1984, the year of Labour's landslide victory, it scored just 43% of the vote, but it took 56 of the 95 seats in Parliament. So that with well under half of the vote, it got about 60% of the seats in the House. Minor parties won 2l% of the vote that year, but got just two seats between them.

In 1986 the Royal Commission on the Electoral System had made a compelling argument for a fairer, proportional system. But Labour hoped that its Report, as so is the wont of parliamentarians to do, would gather dust in a parliamentary backroom until the issue went away. If the large parties, though, hadn't abused their windfalls from the throw of the electoral dice, then maybe New Zealand would never have lost its patience - or lost its patience in sufficient numbers - with the old system. But abuse it they did. When the National Government at last honoured the promise to hold a referendum in 1992, only 15% of voters wanted to stay with the old system. A full 85% of voters wanted change. And MMP, I am sorry to tell you Mr Chairman, was the option they preferred.

They had a run-off in September of 1982 to see which system would run-off against first-past-the-post, and it was a very interesting referendum process. The idea was that you have four versus each other, and then the winner would face the first-past-the-post option. It was a strategy where the fundamentalists of the old established parties had clearly set out to pervert even the referendum itself, but they failed. There would have been no difficulty in putting the four up against first-past-the-post in a clear run-off. Do you want STV or first-past-the-post; MMP or first-past-the-post or some other system versus first-past-the-post? You would have still got the same referendum result. But in the end the MMP train was on track and gathering steam between September of 1982 and 1983. Most politicians who opposed MMP knew that in the interests of survival, and their own political longevity, they should keep their heads down, and let the people get on with their decision. Now a business-backed campaign - heavily backed by business - funnily enough in a circumstance which you would never tolerate in most other countries, backed by a national campaign, argued the danger and the instability of proportional representation. This, in a country that had, from 1972, routinely swapped governments with 'land-slide' swings from one party to the other. But it didn't wash, and a second referendum in 1993 delivered a clear 'yes' to MMP.

As you know, our election last year was the first under the new system. New Zealanders entered the election, profoundly uncertain about its likely outcome. The matter hadn't been helped by the very transient nature of the political climate in the lead-up to the election in 1993. Thirty-four constituency seats were to be lost under MMP. Any former politician here in this room would know just what anxiety and paranoia was being peddled in the corridors of Parliament. From 99 constituency seats, down now to 65. I suppose that a few MPs were entitled to feel with some justification for their actions, for having begun a new career, the vehicle to continue doing so was soon to be made, without reference to them, obsolete.

Some 13 MPs left the two main parties in 1993-96. Most of them imagined that if they, without any political precedent, created new instant overnight political parties, they would increase their chances of survival. Of course they were wrong. Just one of those politicians who opted for the life-boat of a new party survives in Parliament today and his, understandably so, is a voice that is in the wilderness. Two others followed the 1911 precedent of joining an existing elected party, and happily were returned to Parliament. In 1911 four Liberal MPs deserted the Liberal Party, crossed the House and joined the Reform Party and turned over the Government. So there was a precedent for people to actually leave a party, provided they were joining an existing elected one. There was no precedent for someone walking off and starting his or her own. Now that was Lesson No.1 under MMP.

People weren't fooled by the old guard's attempts to reposition themselves under new labels invented purely for the sake of MMP, or more particularly and personally, for their own survival. Now it's always easy to be wise after the event. It is true that I had predicted before the election that the new parties represented in the MMP Parliament would be largely those that had successfully faced an election under the old system. They were parties such as New Zealand First, which had come into being under the old system, and for urgent and valid reasons of their own. Another source of confusion in the lead up to MMP was the attitude of some politicians to coalition building. I know that here in Australia you are familiar with coalitions. For when the Liberals have been in power, or for most of the time that I have studied it anyway, it has always been in coalition with others. It is different when Labor is in power, but that could be perceived as a coalition of even more disparate groups successfully kept together. And MMP will inevitably produce coalitions and coalition governments because of the extreme unlikelihood of any party winning an election outright. That is the essence of why people chose MMP in New Zealand. They wanted more co-operation - more sharing of power.

Now some politicians believe the lines of shared responsibility had to be pre-set before the election. In short, they said, 'We will not go into a coalition that is not organized before election day', and the left-wing Alliance, particularly, wanted any possible coalitions to be declared before the election. Now the problem with that is, that it is an attempt to pre-empt or deny the voice of the voters. There was an attempt to subvert the change that MMP entailed, whether New Zealanders understood that, or not. The reality is, they certainly demanded to preserve the authority of an election and its outcome for themselves. In short it had to be voters, not politicians, who decided the strength of any party's power in the new Parliament. Only then would potential partners know the strength of their hand and begin to negotiate. Now that might seem obvious, but it wasn't obvious in New Zealand at the last election. That we politicians had to wait until the voice of the people was heard, before we attempted to reflect that voice, in Parliament and Parliament's organizations. And the posturing of the Alliance meant it was consigning itself really, to opposition. Now since then it has changed its view, but at enormous cost I think, to the Alliance itself. It intends, this time, to leave the question open as to whom they will go with.

In the meantime, parties such as New Zealand First were accused of playing both sides of the field when we refused to rule in or out any future coalition arrangements. Now it was extraordinarily costly for us. We had begun in the mid year, with about 29% of the popular vote, according to the polls, but at every meeting we were asked, and on every occasion we were asked 'Who are you going to go with?' Whilst we would talk about the necessity of the public firstly, and secondly, the composition of the Parliament, so we would know who to talk to, it didn't wash with the media, and we must have lost about 15 or 20 Members of Parliament as a consequence. For, as I say, we were accused of playing both sides of the field when frankly it would have been an exercise in anti-intellectualism to even contemplate naming who you were going to go with until you could actually to talk to someone who was prepared go with you, and on what terms you would go with them. In the meantime as I say, we were accused of playing both sides of the field and that was lesson No. 2. of MMP. But the parties can't call the tune. They must let the voters do that on election day.

Now the third lesson of MMP came immediately after the election When the votes were in, New Zealand First had 13% of the vote, which mightn't sound much to you, but for a party that was three years old, less than three years old, it wasn't a bad effort. National got 34%, Labour got 28%, Alliance 10% and the party called ACT, Association of Consumers and Taxpayers I think it is, got 6%, and for the first time in New Zealand's history those proportions were closely reflected in the number of seats in Parliament. Seventeen for New Zealand First, forty-four for Nationals, thirty-seven for Labour, thirteen Alliance, eight for ACT and one for United.

Now it was immediately clear to me that the voters of New Zealand had given us, New Zealand First, a very awesome responsibility. Or how shall I put it? It became very clear within twenty-four hours after the election, because election campaigns are exhausting for all the party members and candidates, on election night, even the thing that you have worked for, for a long, long time, does not have that immediate apparency to you that you would expect. You might not understand it, but if you have been in politics, and been in a long campaign you see how, on election night, so many people behave in a most stupid fashion. You might criticize them, but when you are on your feet and exhausted, and your advisors can't get near you because the media are in front of you with their notebooks you are liable to say something stupid, and I have seen people all round the world say something awful on election night.

Well, we set about negotiating in good faith with both the National and Labour Parties to determine which combination would be durable and in the best interests of New Zealand and whatever party we formed a coalition with, we knew there would have to be compromise on both sides. And that is the essence of MMP. All parties must strenuously advocate their own policies in the campaign, and then afterwards, sit down and work with each other to sort out which combination is going to secure the most workable long-term arrangement. Then our policies must stand or fall in the Parliament, and any coalition agreement is nothing more or less than a statement of which policies the coalition can jointly promote as a programme of government. In fact, your coalition agreement becomes your agreed manifesto for the duration of that term, or for the duration you keep those parties together.

When after arduous weeks of negotiation we reached an agreement with the National Party, naturally we were accused then, by the losers, of selling out our policies. Now sure, not every New Zealand First platform made it to the coalition agreement, just as not every National platform made it to the coalition agreement. But we secured much more than we gave away, and critics have failed to understand a further great lesson of MMP. It means compromise for the sake of larger interests. That's why the people of New Zealand chose MMP, and the budget presented last month showed a coalition agreement at work, delivering on its programme that reflects the aims and agendas of two political parties. Neither gets entirely what it wants, but both can honourably say that they are pursuing a broad shared platform. That lesson has taken a while to settle in, and so has a further lesson of MMP - that it means a significant rethinking of our approach to Parliament itself.

Under MMP, Parliament is paramount. The driving impetus behind the groundswell for MMP was the wish that Parliament should be a genuine arena for the nation's decisions. New Zealanders were tired of dictatorship by the Executive, which they had had for far too long, of ruling parties that believed that governance resided in Cabinet alone. They believed, in New Zealand, that Cabinet could rule and Parliament would merely rubber stamp its decisions. I don't know whether that's apparent in Australia or whether that's a fact in Australia, but it certainly was a fact in our political history, and the swollen majorities of the first-past-the-post encouraged that attitude.

Instead, under MMP all parties with a sizeable vote of more than 5% are represented, with the expectation that all would play their part in Parliament's decision-making. And I would defend the threshold of 5%, which is a more difficult threshold than the German system, which most approximates ours, which has also a threshold of 5%, but it is regionalized, and therefore much more easy to traverse. I defend it for the same reason that one would be concerned about the number of parties that are in Parliament in Israel, or were in the old Italian Parliament - where I think they have had more governments since the last war than there have been years since the last war. A 1% threshold enables any loony tune group, or bunch of misfits or extremists, to gain access to Parliament and I think that is the reason why New Zealand has settled for that 5% threshold. Maybe we could have settled for 4%, given that our systems across the nation are not regionalized. Either way, it would eliminate certain extremists in society.

Our system is not a complicated system. Just over half of the Parliament, 65 of the 120 seats, is made up of members directly elected from electorates. The remaining 55 seats are allocated among candidates on each party's list, but the proportions in Parliament aggregately reflect each party's share of the overall vote. Now as you may have heard, New Zealand has just witnessed an incident that shows that some still do not understand that principle. One of the Alliance's list MPs, a lady called Alamein Korpu, decided that she didn't feel comfortable within the Alliance, and she's resigned from the Alliance, to become an Independent MP. Her defection from the Alliance has upset the proportionality of New Zealand's Parliament. She has ignored the fact that MMP put her there in Parliament to maintain the proper share of the public vote. The Parliament is still undecided today about what can be done about that situation. In fact the case has been referred to the Privileges Committee, although what we are going to do from the Privileges Committee is not clear. But in essence, it is very simple.

For one, my stance has always been that when members resign from a party that put them in the Parliament in the first place they should, under normal circumstances, resign from Parliament and let the voters have their say. Either that or join an already elected political party, for which there is a constitutional precedent in New Zealand. Resigning from Parliament is not something that I would lightly advocate, but it something that I did, personally, back in 1993 when I was refused candidature, or vetoed as a candidate for the National Party and the result was the formation of the party I lead, New Zealand First.

Under MMP, the resignation of a list MP from the House would mean the seat is reallocated to the next person on that party's list. Now, there's the rub! In the current case that formula is upset by the fact that the Alliance is an uneasy cobble of diverse parties; five in fact! The next person on its list would not be from Mrs Korpu's party, and it merely underlines the instability of the Alliance in my view, which will not survive under MMP, because it was designed for first-past-the-post. But the principle remains clear, the paramountcy of Parliament has been abused by this move, and I say that, whether or not the coalition stands to gain from Mrs Korpu's vote, that is a fact.

The honourable thing for Mrs Korpu to do, as a list MP, would be to resign from Parliament. That would show respect for the system that put her there, and for the institution of Parliament itself. But the honourable thing for Mr Anderton, who leads the Alliance of course, is to have the next candidate on the Alliance list, now chomping at the bit to get into Parliament, to tender to the Speaker, a Letter of Waiver, in favour of Mrs Korpu's party, or former party, Mana Motuhake, in favour of their candidate, who is below the new Labour member, who is next on the list after Mrs Korpu. In short, you have Mrs Korpu here at No. 12. Alliance got 13 members in Parliament. The 14th one, who would replace Mrs Korpu, not from Ms Korpu's party, but rather from the new Labour Party. The next one, No. 15, is from Mana Motuhake, Mrs Korpu's former party. I say if Mr Anderton is to maintain the principle of honour, then the number 14 candidate should send a Letter of Waiver to the Speaker, and then it can be demanded, as a matter of honour, that Mrs Korpu go. You see, the Alliance promised its constituent parties internal proportionality when compiling its list. Now, let me make it very clear, and I'm certain any politician here would respect that, that honour isn't a quality that can be legislated for. In fact, I'm sure we'd all appreciate that, not just the politicians, perhaps you would appreciate it a darn sight better than the politicians, but it is not a quality that can be legislated for. Some MPs are suggesting legislation, in New Zealand, to bar an MP or to expel an MP from leaving their party and remaining in Parliament. Now that's a draconian response to a new situation. Once again it is a failure to understand and respect the rule of Parliament under MMP.

It must become a matter of parliamentary convention and personal honour. No legal change, in my view, is required, and as long as Parliament continues to squabble and score points, such honour will be a long time coming. You see every MP in the new system carries the responsibility of lifting the tenor of Parliament to honour the expectations of the voters who chose MMP in the first place. That will come, if we are committed to that - but not on current form. I think you shouldn't hold your breath, and it might take a while.

The disputes and the disarray that we are now witnessing have a very simple point of origin. Many politicians in New Zealand haven't adapted to the new order. They are working by the old rules, and every one of us has a responsibility to change that. In time, the layout of the House itself must change to accommodate MMP itself in New Zealand. You see, we have a system in New Zealand, a parliamentary seating system, which is designed for first-past-the-post best epitomized by the braying raucous behaviour of the old House of Commons in England - them over there and us over here! If you travel throughout Europe and see proportionality and other systems of government, there is a deltaic presentation there, the parties are set out very much like this room is set out, and there is no them and us, by way of internal construction or design. One party to the right would be there, then slightly to the left would be there, and then the centre party would be there, and then you have the parties of the left, but they would be all looking in the same direction - and hopefully, when they look at that simple order, they are all looking in the same direction when they deliberate on policy and programs of economic and social change. It might seem to you to be a small thing, but I think under the new order of things in New Zealand, it is very important. They came very close to actually taking that suggestion on board but, as with a lot of things in politics, they decided that the construction of the building was more important than any electoral reform that we might have had in mind. You see that in European parliaments, and I think we need to make that change ourselves. But that maturity will eventually come.

I believe that the coalition government is proving that MMP can work, and that PR, in large measure, both National and New Zealand First are committed to that. We've got to be committed to it, because it is the only system we have, and it will not be changed. I say that because, if it were put to referendum tomorrow, every timorous National, Labour, Alliance, ACT, New Zealand First or other voter will go with the status quo they have, for fear that their opponents might get power.

It's the same reason why, in New Zealand, we cannot extend to a four-year Parliament simply because every different voter from the parties who are not in power, votes to constrain the length of time of the party in power, and the party in power has a lot of diffident voters who are fearful that they might lose, and don't want four years for the new incoming government. By such fears are a nation's parliamentary terms ordered. What I am really saying though, is the arrangements that we are speaking about - the reform and the parliamentary shape of its debating chamber - will encourage politicians to rethink our knee-jerk reactions - our passions for conflict -without a similar commitment to necessary compromise. But that maturity will eventually come, and I believe that the coalition government is proving therefore that it can work.

Ladies and Gentlemen, no new organization is overwhelmingly successful in its early days. I have never seen any sporting team that was the best in its early days. Now we're down here in Melbourne. I know it took the Swans in Sydney about - am I right? - seven years to get to the top, but get to the top they have, or near enough to it. It just takes time to make things work, and seven months is far too early to be making judgements on how successful things are in New Zealand with respect to electoral reform or MMP in action, but already there are the signs of long-term success.

First of all, in Government today, we have a far greater range of voices and representation and people. More women, more Maori, even some who have views that are strongly environmentalist, and they are engaged at the highest level of Cabinet. That could not have been conceived in the old system. So here we are, in July of 1997, seven months in operation since the coalition was formed, and New Zealand has not fallen apart. Thank you very much. (APPLAUSE FOLLOWED)

Professor Cheryl Saunders:

The Minister is happy to take questions I understand, so who would like to start? Sid.

 

Question from Mr Sid Spindler, Former Australian Democrats Senator for Victoria:

 

Thank you Chairman. Minister, my name is Sid Spindler, formerly of the Australian Democrats in the Senate. ... If the major traditional parties opposed MMP, and business opposed it, I wonder what the role of the media was, and I wonder whether the opposition of the major parties was indeed monolithic, or whether there were some cracks in that edifice. In other words, I'd welcome, if you could expand it a little more, on how it was actually possible, and how the campaign developed, and how it was possible to get it through when there were some fairly formidable forces arraigned against it. It is an experience that I suspect we might be able to learn from.

Response by Hon. Winston Peters:

Well, you know the saying that success has as many fathers - failure is an orphan. When the electoral reform referendum was won on election night 1983, it had all sorts of people claiming to have been the cause of its success. I personally found that astonishing, given that I hadn't heard of most of them, or seen any of them doing any work at all, and I do know how it arose in New Zealand. It arose out of the circumstance of political betrayal, initially by Labour - I think it is well understood here, the economic revolution that Labour entered into after the 1984 election. The people who were most disturbed of course were Labour's own supporters. National supporters couldn't believe their luck. They had voted against Labour, and here they were doing, far more courageously, the things that National would talk about but never do! And of course, they were the darling of big business. Well, that was at enormous political cost to Labour, and by 1990, National for the first time ever had, because some of us had promoted it, an electoral reform plank to its manifesto. That's the first thing.

The second thing is that the heat was on Labour in the closing months of the campaign, and commitments were being made by National which went even further than its manifesto commitments. Then, in power, National - having promised to slow down change - and to give better balance and a human face to the new economic order, were similarly being accused of political betrayal. I don't want to - because I'm a coalition partner these days - relitigate that. It would be most unwise to in fact, but if you want an honest answer, it was a trend that kept going in terms of public animosity of the Government, and of the system itself.

National was then forced into a referendum which it had committed itself to. It took the options against each other hoping that - I can't tell you what they hoped to do - because there was a strategy to pervert. It didn't. People went for one of the options, and one of the reasons why we got MMP was that a number of people who wanted electoral reform decided to stop fighting each other and go for one - and the great majority went for MMP, because there could not be an assembly of people, of any numbers, behind any other option.

Now, when big business came in, and backed heavily the status quo in 1983, I think initially it turned the vote toward the status quo, but then people began to see that they were interfering, and I think it was counterproductive in the end. They threw millions at it - we didn't have anything like that sort of money, and I think in the end the public just got a bit sick of this unfair, non-evenhanded treatment. Now, you will say, 'What did the major parties do?' Well, National had more reformers in its ranks than did Labour. Labour tends to have collective views on even matters of social conscience, and although electoral reform was regarded as a conscience issue by National, Labour had a view that was so rigid it debarred probably all but about two people from a magnet that wasn't clear except for the difference in the parties.

The referendum was never meant to win, but it did. How did that happen? I think it was because National made the mistake of promising it, and then in the enormous heat that was building up in the period from 1988 to 1993 when they were under political threat - the polls were all lousy - that they thought they'd better go with it, just to get it off their backs, and the rest is history.

Question from Unidentified Member of the Audience:

Minister, I am a private citizen who is interested in political reform. The question of interest to me is as regards to directly elected Members of Parliament versus Members elected as List MPs. Is there any difference between the two in the operation of Parliament?

Response by Hon. Winston Peters:

Between the two? Yes, there is a possible difficulty, which I don't think you will find abroad, for they are, with the experience of practicality I suppose, much more mature though. It is true that we had to decide in New Zealand to ensure there was not an A team and a B team, but right across the party divide you have members calling list members of their own party the B team - not realizing that Helmut Kohl has never won a constituency, but he is probably Europe's longest serving democratic leader. Yet there is a divide there that all parties have to strive against to ensure that it does not become permanent. It's only seven months - but you know what people are like.

Question from Mr Tim Glenville, Australian Electoral Commission:

Two things. Can you tell us firstly what those four options were, and secondly, could you tell us what happens when a constituency MP resigns?

Response by Hon. Winston Peters:

(Mr Peters began with a laugh). I was going to remember those four now. You might think this is ridiculous - you should be able to remember those four, but frankly I was always for MMP - because I thought it was a winner, and I never paid the rest any mind at all, not because of their substance or quality, but because they simply - politics is the art of the possible - and some reform was better than no reform. But one was STV, then you had ... (Mr Peters gave an aside, 'Come on you guys.', and Professor Saunders said, 'Geoffrey can probably tell you.'

MR GEOFFREY GOODE (responding to assist): Yes I can help, Mr Peters. MMP won 70% of the 100% for the four, next was the single transferable vote, or quota-preferential as we call it in Australia, with 17%, and then, I am not quite sure of the exact figures for the last two, but they were the Australian single-member preferential system (Mr Peters said, 'That's right.') we use in our House of Representatives - it won just a piddling amount. And then there was (INTERRUPTED BY LAUGHTER) Well, it is a single-member system.

HON. WINSTON PETERS: Are you surprised?

MR GEOFFREY GOODE: It was a single-member system - you wouldn't expect much there! And the other one was a system that has recently been adopted for the Lower House in Japan, and that's a supplementary system.

HON. WINSTON PETERS: Ah, yes, yes, yes.

MR GEOFFREY GOODE: Single member plus a top-up proportionally (Mr Peters, 'Yes, that's right) and that was fortunately voted down too.

HON. WINSTON PETERS: (To questioner) It might interest you to know. I suppose it's very unkind. I won't say. Your second question was what happens when a constituency member resigns from Parliament? If it is within six months of the time that an election must be called, if it is within that time, Parliament can meet and decide not to hold a by-election in the interest of costs, or the proximity of an election but, if it's outside the six months, then there must be a by-election as you would have in the case of death. Now that rule applies on the occasion of death or resignation.

QUESTIONER (Addressed by Professor Saunders as 'Adam')

I just wanted to ask the question - which is probably more relevant to your coalition partners. Let's assume that at the next election the National Party polls better than it did last time, and particularly in the constituencies. This would mean its constituency representation would be much greater, and its list would come down. How would they sort of organize it so that they are going to get the people they want in Parliament in, rather than have someone who is perhaps just a little bit too far down the list and misses out altogether?

Response by Hon. Winston Peters:

It is obviously an internal problem that would exercise the minds of all political parties, and hence the reason why there is such competition for the top of the list. It's just so difficult, if you've got people of considerable quality that you want who are down the list a long way, you may well be hoping that you don't win constituencies, but you get the party vote up.

SAME QUESTIONER:

Can you run both for a constituency, and be on the list at the same time?

Response by Hon. Winston Peters:

Well most parties have a range of choices such as that. You've got the extreme, which is New Zealand First, which says, 'You cannot make the list unless you are on a constituency nomination'. Other parties have a more liberal policy than that. You can be both, or you can be just one.

Questioner (Mr Neville Ford):

I was once a municipal councillor in Victoria. I would like to ask you about the quality of the politicians rather than the number of them. We've had a television program here called 'The Last Governor', on Hong Kong and its transfer of power. It's been very intimate, and quite revealing. The Governor would go when the vote had been taken and say, 'Good God, how come he got elected?' because in their Parliament some are functional constituencies, and some are elected from the broad mass of people. I have lived in Hong Kong for a bit, and it has always amazed me, the quality of those from the functional constituencies vis-a-vis the elected members, and that clearly came through in the last Governor's comments - off-the-cuff personal comments.

Response by Hon. Winston Peters:

Do you mean that the functional constituencies attracted a higher quality?

SAME QUESTIONER: The functional constituencies attracted a higher quality of person than the democratically elected people.

HON. WINSTON PETERS: Let me put it this way. Observing that of the 156 years that they were in Hong Kong it took them a perishingly long time to decide that they should get democracy! And I do think that the event of the handover of Hong Kong had a lot to do with a contract that was coming to its end, and not a great deal to do with someone seeking to become the next leader of the Tory Party in England, if you know what I mean.

That said, when you talk about quality, I hope that you measure it by all factors, a sense of humanity, a sense of justice, a sense of fairness, a sense of decency. I mean, do these functional politicians have all those qualities as well? You might well find Members of Parliament that may not. I'm not pushing our collective occupational barrow here. They may not be of business excellence, or even professional excellence, but when you're measuring people's abilities I hope you include those factors as well, for there would be many functional politicians who would - yes - be very good at business, but what do they care about the rest of humanity? Parliament should be about representation. That's why they call it the House of Representatives, and elitist selection would not make it representative, and with all its failings, that's what democracy should be about!

Unidentified Questioner Asking about Maori Seats:

Response by Hon. Winston Peters:

You've got five seats, constituency seats, set aside for Maori, for Maori voters. It is a fact it is seen by many observers as an anachronism. The reality is that in 1867, the Colonial Office, seeing that the indigenous people had no representation at all, and were not getting a great audience with the then Government of New Zealand, demanded that they be given four seats; East, West, West South, North Maori or Northern Maori, and hence they gained them in 1867 and were seen in time by Maori to be their stake in democracy. There will be a time in New Zealand where the Maori do not think they are any longer necessary; but the only vehicle for delivery now, I believe, will be MMP.

With MMP they end up with fifteen people of Maori extraction in Parliament. Five in the constituency direct selection and ten from list seats; from Alliance, Labour, ACT, even the National Party got one in, and two list from New Zealand First to complement the five, who won the five Maori seats, and they are still there because although many of us argue that it was not required if MMP was coming, there was an attempt to deter the Maori people off MMP at the referendum time, at the referendum date, by saying, 'If you vote MMP then you will lose the Maori seats'. The Maori people were not fooled by that; they were the heaviest supporters of MMP, as they saw it in a positive way as being able to keep our five constituencies and they would get many more, which they did.

QUESTIONER: I seem to remember one criticism of MMP a result where one candidate was soundly defeated in the constitutional election then was appointed under the list so it was felt that this person got into Parliament against the wishes of the electors. How would you answer that criticism?

Response by Hon. Winston Peters:

That is correct with respect to the wishes of that electorate, and only for that electorate. For there are many seats, where for example, just to use any old figures just to make the case out where the electorate would have voted say one third for a Labour candidate but on their party vote, 50% voted for Labour, knowing that this person who was getting one-third of their vote, nevertheless was on the list. So what do you read from that ? And don't forget, MMP affords you that luxury. You might be Labour and prefer the National man or woman, or you might be National, but prefer the Labour woman, which is more frequently what happens, and more frequently to women, and that happened in a number of seats, that a Labour woman won in circumstances where the Party vote was clearly against Labour, and for National.

 

Question by Mr Norman Ellis

(A former President, Victorian Branch, Proportional Representation Society of Australia):

 

I heard with interest your historical perspective on how MMP came about. It seems it may have been a situation where even a drover's dog - to use an Australianism - could have beaten first-past-the-post. ... I believe that a preferential vote wedded to the New Zealand system would better serve your country's system, and specifically would address the current problems you're alluding to with the Alliance, where one member has resigned. As I understand your system, if the constituencies still had first-past-the-post, and you had for the list system - precisely that, a list - single vote filled from the top down. If a preferential system had been married to that, then surely the Alliance or Alliance supporters would have had a better chance of ensuring the complexion of the Alliance representation in Parliament, and you may not have had the need for this 'A' team, 'B' team, if STV had been used across the board rather than MMP.

Response by Hon. Winston Peters:

Yes, I know what you mean. That is a factor, but I don't think that in the long term in MMP the 'A' team, 'B' team scenario is going to develop any currency. It is something that was new, because the system was new. The second thing is, what you say, it doesn't obviate the problem we've got, which is someone has resigned, and you still have that in the system you are advocating. I do note that when I was in Ireland studying the electoral system there, which is STV, I couldn't find a politician who was for it. What they said was, 'Whilst I'm busting my gut down here in Dublin trying to represent my people, somebody is cutting my throat back in the electorate.' They said that its greatest defect was that it encouraged disloyalty. Now disloyalty being such a present element in politics at any level, at any time, no more encouragement in my view, should be given to it. That's just my personal view.

QUESTION: I have a practical question following on from that, 'What does a list MP do?' (LAUGHTER FROM AUDIENCE). If you're a Minister, or a constituency MP you go and see your groups and that sort of thing, but what does a list MP actually do?

Response by Hon. Winston Peters:

Well there's an ideal job description for them, that is to go out and sell your party as hard as you can from one end of the country to the other end of the country so that even in the little hamlets or places which aren't traditionally seen to be your supporters, you nevertheless are extracting the maximum vote for your party. But unfortunately, this 'A' team, 'B' team scenario has tended to see list MPs putting up electorate offices all round the country, sort of like 'I am the 'ACT man' for Wellington, or I am the 'ACT man' for Dunedin. And so you have the constituency MP in one office in one street, and the list MP's office on the next comer, and what they are not allowed to do, of course, is to put up 'Constituency MP', and some have tried 'MP for the town in question', and they've been told to pull those signs down as well, and they only write MP.

Now it's true that if you want a presence in the constituency of your people that you can provide in a seat where you haven't got the constituency member, nevertheless a presence for those who refuse to go to the constituency MP. It's all rather uncertain at this point in time, if I could put it that way, and it's all working itself out. A good list MP though has got his or her head screwed on properly, and would be out stumping the country as hard as they can go and make themselves as valuable to the party as possible, thereby ensuring a high place on the list as well as being capable in their parliamentary duties.

Question by Mrs Alison Harcourt:

Yes my question is related.

Response by Hon. Winston Peters:

I think that is what's happening, and you wouldn't expect them to uproot their house and shift to some end of the country. Who do they represent in terms of a comparison with a constituency MP who says, 'These are my constituents'? In many ways a list MP has to believe that as well, for they are on the list that the public has voted for. Now they might find it difficult to give geographic parameters to that statement, but they should be out there to represent anyone who comes to see them, regardless of what their political preferences when they come as voters, and in other countries they have taken that view. A person is in a region, working as hard as they can for their party.

You see all comers in terms of their electorate constituency work, but they don't have the added bonus of being able to say, 'This is my constituency'. But I've got to tell you, that having a constituency is tough. Probably more so than most of you think here, other than the politicians. Having a constituency is a tough responsibility when you are involved at the national level heavily. On Fridays you have got to be back there, and on Saturdays, then out of there, and on the road again. It is becoming a seven days a week job for anybody who is serious about it. It's no cake-walk, and no beer and skittles, and you say, 'Well no, particularly when you come from a small party.' So ... it would be less onerous to be on the list. One question.

MR GEOFFREY GOODE: Professor Saunders is suggesting, Mr Peters, that perhaps one more question might be appropriate.

HON. WINSTON PETERS: Yes. I'll take two, then I'll finish.

Unidentified Questioner,

Suggesting that Proportional Representation might Lead to Weak Government:

Response by Hon. Winston Peters:

I see what you're saying. The people who say that proportional representation represents, or these sorts of governments represent weak governments are really traditionalists. They are arguing without any substance whatsoever. I've seen first-past-the-post, and by gee, I've seen some political weakness, spinelessness and gutlessness with anything else you'd like to see all wrapped up in one.

If you are seeking to lobby from outside a country, it is much more difficult to lobby when you have got more than one party to lobby - far more difficult to put pressure on when you have more than one party to put pressure on. So I think that the very converse is the case. One question over there, and that's the last one. Yes.

Questioner:

What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of budgetary policy, and the long time it might take to develop budgets with a number of parties involved?

Response by Hon. Winston Peters:

I think it depends what structures you have in place to ensure that there is transparency, information to the market, and to all your voters, clarity of intent so that your people know what you are going to do, whether it be national or local government. People are entitled to know. If I make important business decisions, what climate am I going to be living in? The more clearly that that is made to them, the better people can make business decisions with certainty. So those structures need to be put in place regardless of what system you have. But it works very well under MMP as well.

I lost the last part of your question. (Questioner repeats) Under first-past-the-post, New Zealand was becoming famous for policy revolutions done with breath-taking speed - a bit like taking a dog out of the central suburbs of Melbourne, out to some outback place where there are rabbits, let the dog go, it sees the first rabbit and it starts running after it. Next thing it sees one out here, then out here, then it sees about fifty and it's running around in circles, and all of a sudden it's dizzy. That's what happened in New Zealand, they had hardly got to fixing one reform, then came another one, and then another one, and the MPs didn't know whether they were Arthur or Martha, and were thoroughly confused.

It was breathtaking speed and it happened, in a way it could never have happened under MMP, because under MMP you have to convince more than one party. You have to take more than one caucus. In fact it's beginning to be the case where the substance and quality of a debate is likely to win arguments, rather than political might. And I think it's not a bad thing that you are forced to slow down the process of change, for you are forced to win debates on the substance and merits of them rather than on whether you have got the numbers behind you or not, and I think incremental change is more lasting in society in the long run. (APPLAUSE FOLLOWED)

MR GEOFFREY GOODE: Thank you Mr Peters for those answers. Before I ask Professor Saunders to conclude the session tonight, we had asked Mrs Nancye Yeates, the Secretary of our Victorian Branch, who actually met Mr Peters in New Zealand and invited him here, if she would kindly say a couple of words.

Remarks by Mrs Nancye Yeates,

Secretary, Victorian Branch, Proportional Representation Society of Australia:

 

Buried away down here I have something that I am now going to bury behind my back. Mr Peters, because you have come here as a result of my opportunistic approach to you, when you were in New Zealand, on behalf of embarrassed Australians such as myself I would like to offer an apology to you for the rude things that have been said (via the media).

Having said that, I will move on. I totally believe that our democracy stands on two strong legs - two fundamentals - a very fair voting system, and Parliamentarians who are fair, and who are honest and have integrity. Without that, we have no democracy at all. You have demonstrated by taking up my impertinent request to you to come, that you are a man of honour, and that you have kept your word, for which I am duly grateful. Thank you. We are delighted to have you and, Mr Peters, might I say to you from this opportunist to another opportunist, (LAUGHTER HERE) 'Carpe Diem, Seize the day!' (Mrs Yeates handed Mr Peters a gift from the Proportional Representation Society of Australia) (APPLAUSE FOLLOWED)

Response by Hon. Winston Peters:

Are there any media here at the moment? (MR GEOFFREY GOODE: There is a television camera.) Oh! It is clear to me that some people have been taking those notes from Cairns far too seriously since I've been here and it's getting better and better, but thank you very, very much for that, and on your gracious comments with respect to those notes from Cairns. The reality is, you know, that New Zealand and Australia are two countries that have worked alongside each other, they have fought alongside each other, they have died alongside each other.

That is a relationship that should not be imperilled by some, as I said, dingoistic bureaucrat, looking around for a job description, or how we feel about what might be perceived to be an insult. We are bigger people than that in New Zealand, and I am certain, as someone who came here when very young, to work in the Snowy Mountains, as a second-class miner, eleven miles underground, in the Eucumbene-Island Bend tunnel for those of you who are interested, and also as a blast furnace worker on the fourth pot at BHP in Newcastle, we've got a lot of reasons to be grateful to Australia and - vice versa. Thank you very much. (APPLAUSE FOLLOWED)

Professor Cheryl Saunders:

I opened the proceedings, and I will close them, after Geoffrey has said something else.

Mr Geoffrey Goode:

I'm just representing the PR Society, and I think Mr Peters is very much to be congratulated for tonight, and I want to echo some of the strong points he made in favour of proportional representation. Just before I do that - I just mention that the Irish electoral system might not suit the Irish MPs. Irish governments have twice tried to have it removed from the Constitution, but twice the Irish people, in a simple majority vote said 'No'. So the people of Ireland like their electoral system I suggest.

The other point I make, and this is a live issue in Australia at the moment, certain Federal Government MPs and party people have been suggesting for our Senate's proportional representation, that it would be highly convenient and desirable, and good for the country, if there was a threshold as well as a quota. In our system of quotas, in the Senate, you have to get 14% of the vote - but you can make it up from primary votes (first preference votes), or votes transferred from other Parties - and it irritates the Government very much that the Western Australian Greens, for instance, have a very small primary vote - well below 14%.

In fact they would be wiped out under a threshold system, but because the supporters of the big parties don't accumulate votes to enough extent to add another senator to the big parties, those votes are transferred, through the workings of the system, quite fairly - because there are more of them that actually go to the Greens - to build up the Greens to the 14% required to win a Senate place.

So that's the difference between a quota and a threshold. Those votes, they're actually the people's votes, are not put in the dustbin, but are used in accordance with their wishes, and that's the very big difference that we feel strongly about in the PR Society.

Finally, I said I'd echo those strong points you made, Sir. You said the distrust produced by the single-member system, by abuse of the single-member system, paved the way for the acceptance of PR, and we are very pleased to hear that. We understand that, we echo that. You referred in your address to coalition building, and the way you have built a coalition strikes us as extremely democratic. You have weighed the options, you have considered it, you had not, as you say, done it beforehand. You had observed the situation, the characteristics of who was actually elected. We believe that coalition building, with its purpose being building a majority, not setting it up beforehand and offering it as a fait accompli, but building it though compromise for a wider solution, is the way to go.

And your final comment, which I have noted down here, and this is a splendid comment, the wording is excellent. Our book, which we are going to offer you later - one of our little publications called 'Mirror of the Nation's Mind' - that's a sort of slogan for PR; but your slogan, 'A genuine arena for the Nation's decisions', is probably a better one. Thank you. (APPLAUSE FOLLOWED)

Professor Cheryl Saunders:

Well I really will bring proceedings to a close on behalf of ourselves and the Society. Minister, it has been a very great honour to have you with us this evening, not only for the reason that a number of embarrassed Australians have already mentioned, but also because you have given us such an entertaining and thoroughly informative speech. I, and I think many people around the room, did know a little bit about the MMP system, at least in theory in New Zealand.

In fact we have had a number of New Zealanders here explaining it to us as we approached the last election, but what I didn't know, and I suspect that nobody else did either, is how it is actually working in practice, and what reaction it is producing on the floor of the Parliament, and what are the parties doing, even your point about the layout of the Parliament was very informative. So I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I'm sure everybody else has, and I very much hope you will come back here to Melbourne University on another occasion when you are in Australia. Thank you. (APPLAUSE FOLLOWED)