Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Kicking the tyres of NZ's voting vehicle

By Duncan Graham - posted Friday, 26 August 2011

Back in 1993 New Zealand changed its electoral system from First Past the Post to Mixed Member Proportional Representation.

After test-driving the process through five governments, on 26 November (along with a general election) voters will get the chance to maintain, modify or scrap a German import and used in only a few countries.

For anyone reared on Australia's federal bicameral system with its messy division of responsibilities between Canberra and the States, the Kiwi process looks refreshingly clean and green. One national one-house parliament, three-year terms, no state governments and no compulsion to vote.


But the impression is superficial. MMP, with its weird jargon of 'overhang seats' and the 'Sainte-Lague allocation formula', is not for ballot-box babes. Grossly over-simplified it gives every elector two votes – one for a candidate, the other for a party.

But a party that doesn't get a national five per cent vote doesn't get a seat, unless it can get a candidate elected. This has led to the bizarre situation where the right wing ACT scored five seats with only 3.65 per cent of the party vote in the last election, while anti-immigrant One Nation got no seats despite 4.07 per cent.

According to the NZ Electoral Commission the 'origins of electoral reform lay in the gradual breakdown of public trust and confidence in politicians, Parliament, and the simple certainties of the old two-party system.'

Other factors included 'decades marked by economic uncertainty and the emergence of new social and political movements' and that although Labour won most votes, National (the equivalent of Australia's Liberals) got most seats.

The other serious criticism was that FPP voting created a system that didn't reflect the reality of the world outside Parliament.

Here MMP has been a success. Almost 34 per cent of the 120 seats are held by women (the Australian figure is 25 per cent). Maori, Asian, Pacific Islanders and gays now feel comfortable in a debating chamber that once caged alpha males.


(There are seven dedicated Maori seats in Parliament, five held by the Maori Party. Altogether 23 MPs are of Maori descent.)

However minority interests can wield real power, leading to the criticism that one or two unlicensed passengers can steer the bus. The previous Labour minority government led by Helen Clark (NZ's first elected female PM) appointed NZ First leader Winston Peters as Foreign Minister to keep the government going.

In the 2008 election campaign John Key, the present PM, promised a referendum in his successful bid to get National into power so voters could, as he said, 'kick the tyres on MMP'.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

6 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Duncan Graham

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 6 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy