Daniela Maoate-Cox and Phil Smith
Wellington, November 19, 2018
It’s 25 years this month since New Zealand chose to switch from First Past the Post (FPP) to Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) to elect its House of Representatives.
Victoria University senior lecturer in comparative politics, Fiona Barker and Professor of Comparative Politics Jack Vowles say that MMP has changed both what Parliament looks like and what it does.
What is MMP?
In a nutshell, MMP is the system we use to elect a Parliament. Feel free to skip this bit if you’ve got MMP nailed.
In 1986 a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the country’s electoral system recommended we adopt a proportional system. A referendum was held in 1993 and voters chose to change to MMP.
MMP gives each eligible voter two votes. One vote for a local representative (Electorate MP) and one vote for a Political Party.
The share of seats each Party gets in Parliament roughly mirrors its share of the nationwide Party vote. The MPs that fill those seats will include the MPs who won electorate seats and be topped up with MPs from a list each Party makes.
Here’s an example from the Electoral Commission’s website:
“If a Party gets 30% of the Party vote it will get about 36 MPs in Parliament (being 30% of 120 seats). So if that Party wins 20 electorate seats it will have 16 List MPs in addition to its 20 Electorate MPs.”
What has MMP done…?
It’s made the House of Representatives a more diverse place.
Jack says: “We have a Parliament that is much more diverse than was the case before, of course, our society has also become more diverse but Parliament is a far better representation of that diversity than it was prior to MMP.”
Fiona says: “the Parties have an incentive to start building up the representation of different ethnic groups but that’s also in parallel to about the time when the big immigration policies happened or shortly thereafter so you’ve got society diversifying rapidly as well.”
For Asian Representation
Before MM, there had never been an Asian MP in New Zealand but since the first MMP election in 1996 there have been 12.
Melissa Lee is the first Korea-born MP in New Zealand Parliament
Fiona says: “The really particular thing about Asian representation in Parliament is that it’s been, apart from Pansy Wong briefly, it’s been entirely List MPs.”
Jack says: “Although it still lags behind the share of the Population, you have to remember that a lot of our Asian population are recent immigrants and there’s bound to be a kind of lag effect for a population to get established before it can necessarily get the representation that arguably it should have in a Parliament.”
Fiona adds: “A large proportion of the population is recent, but there’s a very historic Asian community in New Zealand as well, …we’ve had no MPs of Asian ethnicity in Parliament that are not first generation migrants so we don’t have that representation of what we call second generation…we see it at city council levels, at the local level but at Parliament all of the Asian representatives have been migrants themselves.”
Before MMP, there were just four seats in Parliament set aside for Maori MPs regardless of the number of Maori voting for them. At the first MMP election in 1996 that increased to five and now there are seven seats out of 120, as well as many Maori MPs from general seats and the list. In the final pre MMP election (1993) eight MPs identifying as Maori were elected. In 2017 there were 29.
Jack says: “When MMP came in the number of Maori seats could vary according to the number of Maori who wanted to sign up to them…so there’re more Maori MPs from electorates but Maori have also been coming through in the lists very significantly so in terms of their share of the population we have Maori over-representation in Parliament which arguably compensates for the under-representation we used to have.”
Across the 84 years before MMP but when women were able to become MPs there were just 44 women MPs. IN the 22 years since the first MMP election there have been 105.
Fiona: “Representation has increased considerably – I think we’re up to 38% now – of course that actually began before MMP. The rise is starting from at least 1993 but a little bit before as well, there’s again a societal effect and an electoral effect that we can see. There’s still quite a discrepancy in the number of women coming in off the list than electorates, we still see some gender differences there.”
We have more women MPs than before
Jack said: “While it’s easier to put women and minority groups on Party lists it also does depend on the willingness of parties to do that. So where you have parties that don’t regard having a better proportion of women in their Parliamentary representation, …it’s not really going to work.”
Electorates v Lists
Fiona says: “The safest way to get people on an enduring basis is by electorates…In 2014 Labour did really badly in terms of its Party list vote and its Asian candidates were not sufficiently high on the lists so, therefore, they didn’t get the representation.
“For any types of underrepresented groups, it’s via electorates where you could get the safest or surest way of getting people in if they’re being nominated in safe electorates.”
Other changes over time?
More languages in the House.
Fiona says: “The use of multiple languages being normalised, so if you think about the many different languages we heard when people were being sworn in at the start of the Parliamentary term. The languages people were using in their maiden speeches, much-increased use of Te Reo in Parliament, so a lot of that is normalising difference.
“Back in 2002 we had the first MP swearing-in on the Quran, there are those things, not the policy substance but it matters as well to how people think about the representativeness of Parliament.”
More Maori-related issues
Jack says: “There’s been a big shift towards issues relevant to Maori which of course is driven by other factors outside of Parliament but the fact that Maori have now entered Parliament in such numbers obviously gives much greater weight to the Treaty (of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi) claim process and questions dealing with the Treaty and so on.
A more family-friendly Parliament.
Fiona says: “It’s reflecting, with some time-lag, societal changes. They made shifts to sitting periods reflective to school terms, trying to limit the evenings they’re spending in the House but obviously, it’s still not an easy place for people with family.”
Speaker Trevor Mallard holds Labour MP Willow-Jean Prime’s three-month old baby Heeni while MPs debate a bill to extend paid parental leave. Photo: Parliament TV
Is it meeting expectations?
Fiona says: “A lot of the hopes for MMP and what it would do have come to fruition in terms of things like the diversification of Parliament in many respects.
“I guess we need to think about what the limitations of an electoral system are because that’s how we elect a Parliament and of course that’s not the same as getting the government so I think there’s still perhaps some misunderstanding in the public from time to time about whether they’re electing a Parliament or a government.”
Another referendum on MMP was held in 2011 with voters choosing to keep the system.
More information on MMP can be found here on the Electoral Commission’s website.
Daniela Maoate-Cox and Phil Smith are Parliamentary Correspondents of Radio New Zealand. Indian Newslink has published the above Report and Picture under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz