One of the most heavily-promoted arguments in favour of MMP, at the time of the 1993 referendum, was that its introduction would transform (for the better) the way in which Parliament worked. We were promised much better behaviour in the House, but more importantly, greater sensitivity to the wishes of the Electorate.
While a case could probably be made that there has in fact been a deterioration in the quality of these issues, the promised improvements are nowhere in sight. After all these years, nothing has changed, and it is plain that unless the Electorate at large takes charge of the matter, nothing will.
The current fracas surrounding the Anti-Smacking Bill amply demonstrates the point. There can be no doubt that the community is opposed to this Bill, but as part of its determination to stay in power the government has thrown principle out the window, cozied up to the Bill’s promoters, and applied the Whip to its own members. (You might think this is contrary to the Bill’s intentions.)
Without going into all the arguments for and against MMP here, it is instructive to look at one aspect of it highlighted by the Anti-Smacking Bill. The Bill is promoted and driven by a List MP, whose party has no Electorate credibility, who owes no allegiance to an Electorate herself, is fixated on her agenda, and will use whatever political machinations are available to achieve her social end. Given the mockery she and her colleagues are making of the community, one would hope that it will also lead to her political end. More importantly, perhaps the whole episode will focus peoples’ minds on the crazy situation where nearly half the Parliament are sent there by Party bosses, a system which automatically reduces the improved sensitivity to the community we were led to expect.
Make no mistake – this thing is going to get worse. In the overall scheme of things, the Anti-Smacking Bill is relatively minor. But wait till these people get hold of our lives under the guise of protecting us from the effects of Global Warming. Of course this is an issue we have to grapple with, but the signs of politically-driven control agendas are now starting to show, and objective common-sense solutions will not readily emerge from arrogant unelected, unresponsive MPs who are at the same time seeking ways to use more taxpayers (your) money to fund their own organizations. Of course, these matters are all linked, and the potential corruption is enhanced by the weighting of List MPs who, provided they “toe the party line” are pretty much assured of re-election to a lifestyle they would not, in many cases, be able to sustain in any other way.
What to do. Certainly, we now have the evidence that the politicians won’t address these issues. Indeed, in a submission to the latest review of Electoral matters following the last General Election, in which I made the case for another binding referendum on the voting system, there was absolutely no willingness to even discuss the matter. The Justice and Electoral Committee’s distaste for my submission was palpable. In the submission, I was not seeking to debate the merits or otherwise of MMP – I was asking for an opportunity for the voters to have the further referendum they (erroneously) have long believed was promised to them. It is obviously as silly to expect a List-heavy Parliament to give us another referendum as it would be to ask a panel-beater to design an intersection. The Committee found the submission threatening, and gave it a quick and silent burial.
Resurrection will only take place if there is a powerful and effective grass-roots demand for another vote. Parliament does not have logic on its side – after all, in 1993, they virtually stood aside from the debate, on the grounds that it was a “people” not a politician matter, thus implicitly endorsing my proposal. There are credible statistics available which indicate that in the 1993 referendum , only 15% of the electorate voted for MMP on its merits – the balance were protesting against politicians and broken promises. Demonstrably, they protested in vain, and I’ve lost count of the number who have told me so.
Where is the honest, articulate and committed citizen who will take on this challenge?