Large party self interest taints MMP threshold debate

Both Labour and National are playing a self interested political game with the democratic principles with their manouvering on the MMP threshold.

This probably ensures it wlil become too political to change the threshold before next year’s election – and that’s probably the intent of National in particular.

Greens want Government to adopt electoral reform bill

Greens are pushing for electoral reform. Golriz Ghahraman is introducing a member’s bill, and her party wants the Government to adopt it. That would require NZ First or National support to get it over the line.

Proposed changes:

  • Ban foreign donations to political parties to “stop unfair influence and potential corruption in politics”
  • Overturn a ban on prisoner voting
  • Enable Māori to change roll types at any time
  • Lower the MMP threshold to 4%

If foreign donations can be effectively banned it should be a worthwhile change.  They coukld be suported by National. In January (NZH): National floats ban on foreign donations

Calls to ban foreign donations to political parties received a shot in the arm yesterday after National Party MP Nick Smith signalled reforms were needed to ensure the integrity of the New Zealand electoral system.

… in a speech last night to Nelson Rotary, Smith went public with his call for electoral finance reform, saying he wished to promote “a ban on foreign donations.”

“The existing electoral law does put limits on foreign donors, but needs strengthening. Only Kiwi citizens and residents should be able to donate to political parties or to campaigns that seek to influence an election outcome,” Smith said.

Prisoner voting is a human rights issue. Excluding people from voting on things that directly affect them is undemocratic.

Andrew Geddis:  Taylor strikes again (but still has no right to take his place in the human race)

The Court of Appeal has upheld Arthur Taylor’s challenge to the ban on prisoner voting under the NZ Bill of Rights Act … except that he personally shouldn’t have been able to bring the case in the first place, and he still won’t be able to vote. But still – exciting!

I’ve been writing on the issue of prisoner voting generally, and jailhouse lawyer Arthur Taylor’s various challenges to the 2010 law preventing it in particular, for quite some time now.

Māori roll changes is not a big deal, but the current system seems odd, where voters can only switch rolls during a designated Māori Electoral Option period.

One could be cynical about the proposed threshold drop to 4% given the closeness to this of both Greens and NZ First. I ask why 4%? Why not 3%? But 4% may be a pragmatic increment – I would strongly support any lowering of the threshold, which currently favours larger parties, hence their reluctance to make it more democratic.

Source NZH: The Green Party will introduce a members’ bill which would ban all offshore political donations

75% of Parliament means Labour plus National. They should support it. In the past they have been too self interested to implement lower threshold recommendations, but the new reality means it may be in their interests to lower it. It’ is also in the interests oif democracy.

United Future disbanding

There are a number of news reports that the United Future Party has agreed to disband. They were already in terminal decline, and Peter Dunne’s retirement effectively delivered the party’s last rites.

Damian Light made a decent attempt to take over the leadership but with little support and no money it was a hopeless task.

A letter announcing the disbanding is being reported on and linked to despite being clearly headed ‘Press embargo until 10:00am Tuesday 14 November 2017‘.

Can the media be trusted on anything these days?

United Future has been one of the most successful small parties, having been a part of several Labour and National governments but has been in what turned out to be irreversible decline for a decade.

The prohibitively high MMP threshold will make it very difficult for any new small parties to find a way in to Parliament.

Millions of dollars of funding didn’t help the Conservatives, the Internet Party (and Mana), and Garteh Morgan’s TOP, although people were also a problem for al of those parties.

Unless the threshold problem is addressed the only possibility of seeing any new parties in Parliament is if they are led by existing MPs who split of larger parties.

Ditch the MMP threshold

One pundit wants to throw out our entire MMP system because he doesn’t like waiting for the election result – see Is MMP too badly flawed? – but a tweak may be all we need to improve it.

Michael Wright at Stuff: It’s time to ditch the MMP threshold

MMP hasn’t had a great 2017. It hammered the minor parties on election night then got hammered itself for presiding over such a hammering. If voting systems had feelings, New Zealand’s would be doing it tough right now.

One change can fix this. It’s time to dispense with the 5 per cent threshold. Not just lower it, ditch it altogether. The rule that under MMP political parties must win at least 5 per cent of the party vote to enter Parliament is holding us back.

The threshold exists to ensure the right mix of stability and proportionality in government. Right now it is providing neither of those things.

There is no obvious sign that stability is a problem – yet at least – but proportionality is hampered by the high threshold.

Ditching the threshold would have three big advantages. First, it would greatly diminish the spectre of the wasted vote.

If we had no threshold TOP would have probably a few seats, proportional to their real support rather than support levels distorted by the threshold – if a party looks short of the threshold it tends to deter people from ‘wasting’ their vote.

More smaller parties in Parliament means less chance of one of them holding all the cards after election day, which is exactly what has just happened to New Zealand First.

If TOP had a few seats that would have provided National and possibly Labour+Greens other options, so Peters wouldn’t hold the key cards.

It would be an opportunity to simultaneously ditch the unpopular “coat-tails” clause, whereby below-threshold parties that win an electorate seat are entitled to cash in their meagre party vote share for a handful of list MPs.

I don’t think that’s a real problem, it only appears to be a problem due to the high threshold.

Since MMP was introduced, the only new parties to enter Parliament have been splinters from existing ones, led by sitting MPs. Breaking that trend, as TOP leader Gareth Morgan said, is a very tall order.

He failed, as has the Conservative party and the Internet Party despite being backed by big spenders.

The downside is that Parliament ends up a rogues gallery, with extremist or special interest parties disrupting everything and making coalition-building a nightmare. This is possible, but far-fetched.

Across eight MMP elections, the only real outliers that would have entered Parliament under a natural threshold were the Outdoor Recreation New Zealand party in 2002 and the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party in 1996 and 1999. Even if a tiny hard-line party gained a foothold, our democracy is surely robust enough to handle it.

There is more chance of a small party MP contributing positively to Parliament than of being a ‘rogue’. We have had rogue MPs from larger parties.

That said, almost none of this is likely to happen. Voting systems are not lightly toyed with. When the Electoral Commission reviewed MMP in 2012, it recommended lowering the threshold to 4 per cent. It flirted with 3 per cent but baulked at such a “massive” reduction: “[It] would be a step too far at this stage … This is an area in which New Zealand should move cautiously and incrementally.”

That is unjustified conservatism. And it’s a nonsense that we haven’t even moved conservatively towards a fairer threshold.

Opponents of lowering the threshold promote a fear of being held to ransom by individuals or very small parties, but instead we remain held to ransom by large parties with large amounts of power, protecting their power by excluding fair representation.

Greens dirty on dealing with the devil

Green MPs and Green party members have made it clear they are dirty on any deal with National. They would rather spend another three years in opposition than do any sort of deal with National. They would rather risk an NZ First dominated agenda than offer an alternative.

Greens are not just dirty on any National deal. Some of them are filthy at the suggestion. They threaten to destroy their party if it attempts to deal with the devil, and they attack and abuse people if they suggest a National-Green government could be worth trying. Some Green activists are amongst the most abusive and least tolerant social media warriors around.

Green supporters are now even claiming that any suggestion of a deal with national is a National plot, some have even claimed finance by National.

Sure there may be some mischief making and stirring things up.

But I think there are many people who genuinely think that it would be at least worth trying a National-Green coalition.

I did a small Twitter poll on 25 September (107 responses):

  • National+NZ First 50%
  • Labour+NZ First+Greens 20%
  • National+Greens 25%
  • National+Labour 5%

In early September Colmar Brunton did a similar poll – “given the choice, would you prefer to see New Zealand First support a Labour or National-led government?”

  • 46% said they would prefer to see New Zealand First support a Labour-led government
  • 33% said they would prefer New Zealand First supported a National-led government
  • 7% spontaneously said they do not want to see New Zealand First in government, or do not wish to see it support either party
  • 14% don’t know which party New Zealand First should support

A representative sample of 1007 eligible voters were surveyed, with interviewing taking place from Saturday 2 September – Wednesday 6 September 2017. The maximum sampling error for the main question is approximately ±3.1%-points at the 95% confidence level.

That was before we knew that it was a choice between National+NZ First or Labour+NZ First+Greens (or potentially but impossibly National+Greens).

There are far more people than a few National activists saying they would be happy with a National+Green alliance.

I think many of those in support are likely to be floating centre-ish voters who would genuinely like Greens to push National into dealing better with environmental issues in particular, but also social issues.

But this is all moot. I don’t think there is any way Green MPs or activists would accept even talking to National over a potential deal.

This leaves the Greens with some risky possible outcomes.

  • If a Labour+NZ First+Green government the Greens are in a weak negotiating position and may end up with little more than whatever policy crumbs they are offered.
  • If a National+NZ First government the Greens are left right out.

Some think that if the Greens worked with National it would suck the life out of the party, if there was any life remaining after mass desertion, but for some reasons they don’t have the same fears of working with Labour-NZ First. A poor deal there may also damage their future prospects.

And it could be near future prospects. If both Labour and National decide that a NZ First coalition is untenable, and Greens continue to refuse to support a National government in any way, then we will have to have another election.

Greens were close to being dumped in the election that we have just had. They may be at even greater risk of missing the threshold cut if we have to go to the polls again.

Sticking to their principles (such as they are) is a high risk strategy for the Greens.

And the displays of abusiveness and lack of tolerance of different political policies and views are not helping save Greens’ support either.

I think that Greens have been flattered by support levels in the 2011 and 2014 elections. This was as much to do with Labour’s unpopularity as it was Green popularity.

In July polls went as high as 14% for the Greens, and dropped as low as 4.3% in August, before recovering to about 6% in the election last week.

This suggests that the core support for the Greens is less than the 5% threshold.

If NZ First and Greens are unable to enable the formation of a government and we have to have another election then they are both at risk of being dumped on by voters.

I was rubbished for pointing this out on Twitter, I was accused of putting blame on the Greens if a government proves impossible to put together. They would be just one of the parties responsible – but the point is that they are the party at greatest risk of missing the threshold.

Green activists seem to hate it even when the unpalatable obvious is pointed out to them.

The Green Party is looking shaky and their core supporters are dirty under pressure. rather than discuss possibilities some of them go as far as resorting to filthy behaviour.

See Time for a Green alternative Eco-Eco party?

Would a lower threshold have made much difference?

The large parties have kept ensuring it remains very difficult for small parties to succeed or survive by keeping a ridiculously high threshold of 5%. A slightly more reasonable 4% was recommended, and many people have said it should be much lower.

No new parties that didn’t have MPs who had jumped ship have succeeded in getting into Parliament in 21 years of MMP.

What would the election result have looked like with no threshold? From Rediit What Parliament could have been if there was no 5% minimum

Actual seats (provisional):


Seats with no 5% threshold (provisional)



That would have brought 5 MPs from 3 parties into Parliament that didn’t make it.

This wouldn’t have changed the National+NZ First majority much (58 to 54, still a clear majority) but it would have left Labour+NZ First+Green short on 59 (they have a bare majority 61 seats now).

However also noted at Reddit:

Of course, if there was no 5% minimum, peoples voting behavior would have changed.

I suspect greens would have gotten less, with TOP and maybe United Future getting more.

And if we had also had no threshold last election the Conservatives and Internet-Mana may have been in Parliament and in the mix this election. Even a slightly lower 4% could have made a significant difference.

Keeping the 5% threshold in place is keeping new parties out of Parliament and gradually squeezing small parties out too. At one stage polls suggested that both NZ First and Greens were at risk of missing the cut.

Thresholds in other countries:

  • Germany 5%
  • Poland 5%
  • Israel 3.25% (it has gradually been increased)
  • Turkey 10%
  • Netherlands effectively 0.67%
  • Slovenia effectively 4%
  • Sweden 4%

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recommends for parliamentary elections a threshold not higher than 3%.

There are some variations. In New Zealand if a party wins an electorate seat the threshold doesn’t apply to them, in Germany they have a 3 seat exemption.

But this is probably all futile pondering, National and Labour seem intent on excluding fair representation by maintaining a high 5% barrier to protect their own interests at the expense of  fair democracy.

TOPping 5% a long shot

Gareth Morgan is getting good crowds around the country, but his The Opportunities Party has a huge challenge first to look like it could get anywhere near the 5% threshold, and if it manages that to actually top the threshold.

If he fails it seems likely to impact more on the left vote and especially the Greens, but is attracting voters across the political spectrum.

Stuff:  Gareth Morgan’s new breed of evidence-based populism

ANALYSIS: Gareth Morgan is not a politician.

So can a non-populist non-politician actually get the five per cent of votes for his fledgling The Opportunities Party (TOP) – what he would need to win seats and so make any difference in Parliament? Or will he just do what some in the Greens and Labour are privately worried about: take one or two percentage points of the Left vote and completely waste it.

It is not a waste, it is people expressing their preferences via their vote. If TOP miss the cut it is the fault of an MMP system gerrymandered by the incumbent parties to make it near impossible for new parties to stand a chance.

At a packed 350-seat roadshow in Wellington on Monday night that 5 per cent certainly seemed possible, even if the millionaire Morgan hadn’t stumped up to cover the bar.

There were former National voters, former Labour voters, former Green voters, former Mana voters, former Maori Party voters, and even a former Conservative voter all interested in switching their party votes to TOP.

The demographics were broadly representative of Wellington – lots of beards, mostly Left-leaning – but young and old turned up, and while many of them trickled out during Morgan’s extensive and complicated answers to simple questions, most stayed the whole 90 minutes.

Kerri Taingahue, 55, told me she was planning on switching her vote to TOP from the Maori Party.

Rowan voted for the Mana Party in the last election, and other Left-leaning parties before that, but is strongly considering TOP this time.

His father, Michael, 61, voted for the Greens last time and is considering switching too.

A pair of middle-aged women who didn’t wish to be named said the night was fantastic and empowering. Both had voted for the Greens in the past.

Keith Morris, 42, voted for the Conservative Party in 2014. “I’m very interested in the policies they’ve (TOP) got. They sound well-researched, well thought out, and I think that’s a bonus.”

Graeme Haxton, 56, who usually votes for National, said he signed up for TOP to challenge his own thinking and values. “The more I’ve dug into it the more I’ve found his thinking parallels my own thoughts, particularly within my social conscience.”

Smatterings of support, but can it build into enough votes?

On my way out of the roadshow I caught up with Geoff Simmons, deputy leader and candidate for Wellington Central.

He admitted that Wellington was probably their strongest city, but said crowds all over the South Island and in provincial cities had been bigger than expected.

Big enough? TOP hit 0.8 per cent of the vote in a recent Newshub poll, above the Maori Party, ACT, and UnitedFuture, all  of whom are in Parliament.

But all of those parties have serious chances of winning an electorate seat, something that TOP doesn’t have. And picking up the remaining 4.2 per cent – more than 100,000 voters – in just three months would be no mean feat.

No new party with no current MP has succeeded in making it into Parliament under MMP. That record will be broken some time, but it will be difficult. Very difficult.

And if they don’t? Nothing. That’s the worry of the other left-of-centre parties, particularly the Green Party, who are the most likely to lose votes to them. Party votes for the Greens will definitely result in more seats in Parliament. Party votes for TOP might easily not.

It would serve them right for not allowing or fighting for a reasonable threshold. If more smaller parties made it it would not just make Parliament more representative, it would usually make Government more representative as well.

I have mixed feelings about Morgan, and also about TOP policies (but well researched policies inserted into the mix is a good thing).

But I think breaking the 5% hoodoo would be a good thing and TOP is the best bet this election to manage that. And having TOP on the cross benches should also be a good thing for our democracy too.

The MMP threshold

The Spinoff marked twenty years of MMP with an evaluation by various people – ‘It was New Zealand’s Brexit’ – weighing up MMP on its 20th birthday.

No system of democracy will be perfect, but our system of MMP is probably amongst the best, providing a more representative Parliament.

Systems of democracy aren’t usually a problem, it is the way in which they are misused and abused by political parties that is a concern.

The biggest flaw with our MMP is a ridiculously high threshold of 5%, something decided on by the large parties it benefits and left unchanged despite reviews criticising it by the parties who want to minimise competition.

Metiria Turei supports a lower threshold but she also illustrated the self interest of established parties:

We can tidy it up, lower the 5% Party vote threshold to 4% increase representation. We can get rid of the coat tailing rule so that all parties have to meet the same threshold of voter support to be in parliament.

A 4% threshold and no coat tailing will suit the Greens, but if we get rid of coat tailing then the threshold needs to be much lower to be fair to smaller and new parties.

Andrew Little:

We’re reviewing policy in this area but our position at the last election was to adopt the Electoral Commission’s recommendations: get rid of coat-tailing, which causes so much game-playing, and lower the threshold to 4%, to make parliament more representative.

All political campaigning is game playing. Labour also favoured maintaining an uneven playing field that favours the larger parties, and would unfairly treat small parties that get an electorate MP or two or three.

Judith Collins has a more extreme large party view:

I did not support lowering the threshold of votes required to get parliamentary representation. That threshold is either winning an electorate seat or winning 5% of the party vote. We already have eight parties represented in parliament. My view is that if we can’t get 5% of the country to support us or at least an electorate seat, then as a party, we probably don’t have a lot to offer. That 5 % threshold tends to keep out the truly fringe element and standing and winning an electorate seat, means quite a lot of voters in an area have confidence in you.

Fringe elements have never got 1% so that’s just scaremongering in trying to justify a 5% threshold.

Incumbent large parties have a huge advantage over small and start-up parties. Wasn’t Collins involved as Minister of something when the recent recommendations to reduce the threshold were ignored?

Richard Prebble lays the blame where it should be.

The Commission advocated a 4% threshold and no threshold for minority parities. The two old parties combined to reject these features for party political reasons.

Laila Harre

Eliminating the threshold or lowering it to 2% (the latest review cowered around 3-4% but couldn’t explain why even those heights were needed) and at the same time abolishing the coat-tails rule might help.

If the threshold is lower enough the coat tail rule becomes irrelevant.

Ben Thomas:

The 5% threshold is generally agreed to be undemocratic and arbitrary. We’ve consistently seen, for example, that there is a constituency of about 4% who would support a conservative Christian based party in NZ. So, careful what you wish for and all that, but that seems a fairer threshold in terms of achieving what was intended for MMP.

But why set the threshold to suit just once constituency? That’s also arbitrary, albeit a slight improvement. Surely it’s fairer to remove rather than tweak an undemocratic feature of our system.

Politically independent Andrew Geddis:

We know what needs changed about MMP, because the Electoral Commission undertook extensive public engagement and produced a very good report on this issue back in 2012. Get rid of the “electorate lifeboat” rule. Cut the party vote threshold to at least 4% (and I’d go lower to 2.5%).

And Graeme Edgeler:

The 5% threshold is far too high. 120,000 voters could vote for a party, and get no representation at all, yet, if they’d voted for a different party, it would get six more seats. If we think a party’s policies, or candidates are wrong for the country, we should try to persuade other voters why that is so, not rely on a law which tells them that all voters are equal, but some are more equal than others.

I’d probably just get rid of the threshold altogether, but even if I can’t convince enough of you of that, it doesn’t need to be nearly as high as it is. Many arguments are advanced in favour of having a threshold, which could be met with a threshold no higher than 2.5%. Even then, a party would need to convince more than 60,000 people to vote for them to get into Parliament.

If we are to have a threshold, we should decide what we want it to achieve, and set it as low as possible consistent with that aim. And one of the things we should aim for is a voting system where one of the things that can happen is that new political forces can emerge. Even staunch partisans should support this, as the threat of it, should keep the parties they support true to their beliefs.

Lastly Annette King demonstrates the political self interest of the larger parties:

I’d like to see changed the loophole that lets parties like ACT win a seat and bring in extra MPs.

Would she prefer that loopholes allowing NZ First, Greens and National to get in closed as well?

MMP has given us a more representative Parliament, but by rigging things in favour of stale old parties and making it practically impossible for fresh new parties with fresh ideas to join the mix it still has a serious flaw that is becoming more flawed as time goes on.

We now have a Parliament dominated by one party, and that party has entrenched a rigged system of MMP. It’s not MP that’s the problem, it’s the abuse of power of large parties that needs to be addressed.

Substantially reducing the threshold is one of the best ways of doing this.

Tax cuts or not?

Tax cuts have been ruled out from this year’s budget (due later this month).

But there are mixed messages being given on whether their might be election bribe tax cuts in next year’s budget.

A pre-budget speech by Finance Minister Bill English last week was interpreted as ruling out tax cuts in the 2016 and 2017 budgets.

Spending pressures have also changed as a result of higher-than-expected population growth, and further opportunities to invest in better public services

As a result, the new spending allowances for Budget 2016 and Budget 2017 have been rearranged.

With the revised allowances, a portion of spending previously earmarked for Budget 2017 has been brought forward into Budget 2016 in recognition of the additional spending pressures.

Another portion of spending previously earmarked for Budget 2017 has been used to reduce government debt, to help reach the 2020 debt target.

This was seen as putting a priority on reducing debt.

Lowering income taxes remains a Government priority.  In particular we want to address the higher marginal tax rates faced by low and middle income earners as their incomes continue to rise.

However, as we’ve always said, tax reductions remain dependent on fiscal and economic conditions.

With continuing tight fiscal conditions, we don’t currently have an explicit provision for tax reduction in the fiscal forecasts

At this point, we’ve prioritised additional debt repayment over setting aside money in Budget 2017 for tax cuts.

And this was seen as a fairly clear signal that debt reduction was on the table for the next two budgets and tax cuts were out of the equation. However…

… we are still committed to cutting personal taxes over time, and will consider these – either in Budget 2017 or after – as and when the fiscal situation improves.

But yesterday John Key had a quite different message in his post-cabinet media conference.

Key looks to 2017 and beyond for tax cuts

Prime Minister John Key used his post-cabinet media conference to indicate he was looking at reducing personal tax levels in next year’s budget or he would campaign for a fourth term on a platform of tax cuts.

Key said that record low-interest rates and wages rising faster than inflation had limited demand for tax cuts, but that pressure from the public would grow.

“New Zealanders will say as the average wage rises to nearer the top personal rate, that it’s unacceptable that you’re on the average wage and paying the top personal rate. So there’s going to have to be movement”.

But it seems to be uncertain. Earlier in the day…

…Key indicated that $3 billion would be needed for a significant cut in personal taxes.

But at today’s media conference, he clarified that, saying a $3 billion Budget surplus would not be needed in order for the government to act.

I think it’s very unlikely there will be tax cuts in this month’s budget, but it’s impossible to tell from these mixed messages what will happen next year, when fiscal conditions and no doubt election prospects will be taken into account.

In the meantime effective personal tax rates continue to creep upwards as wage inflation puts new earnings into higher tax brackets.

It was annoyance at this bracket creep that put pressure on  Michael Cullen to give a bit back, and probably played a part in Labour losing the 2008 election, when Cullen finally tweaked the brackets  it was seen as too little  too late.

Inflation adjustment of the thresholds would technically not be a tax cut, it would be prevention of an increase.

I think tax thresholds should be inflation adjusted every budget, or else inaction should be seen as an effective (and deliberate) tax increase.

Key and English will have made up their mind about this year’s budget, it will be signed off and may have been printed.

But they should at least address bracket creep next year. They could start by not being vague and indecisive about whathe 2017 budget.

Tax threshold indexation

ACT MP David Seymour is promoting the indexation of tax thresholds to prevent bracket creep – where tax levels effectively slowly increase as earnings push people into a higher proportion of higher tax rates.

Michael Cullen and Helen Clark were rejected by voters  in 2008 and tax bracket creep became a significant factor. Times were good but the Government allowed tax to increase as a proportion of wages earned.

Indexation is already used with the threshold where the ACC earner premium stops being incurred. This creeps up every year, slightly increasing the amount higher earners pay (it went up to 120,070 this month).

Politicians seem less inclined towards adjusting against a raising of tax.

Seymour will be hoping to have success with this during this term, because if National lose so does any chance of indexation happening.

Vernon Small writes about ACT’s campaign in Tax threshold indexation sounds like a good idea – but beware the chewing gum tax.