MMP under scrutiny again

New Zealand's electoral system is again coming under examination, this time for all the reasons a lobby group promoting a return to the ''first past the post'' voting system said were an abomination.

Earlier this year, Epsom MP and Act New Zealand leader John Banks found himself embroiled in controversy about alleged donations he received from Mega- upload tycoon Kim Dotcom.

But Prime Minister John Key, himself involved in the ''cup of tea'' saga with Mr Banks, stood by the beleaguered MP.

It is commonly believed he did so mainly because National needs Mr Banks' support to pass some of the more controversial legislation.

And it must be remembered that Mr Banks is an MP only because National campaigned for the party vote in the Epsom electorate, instead of its candidate campaigning to win the seat in his own right (an action that itself angered MMP critics).

This week, fresh controversy has erupted with the expulsion of New Zealand First MP Brendan Horan from his party's caucus, a decision which was immediately followed by the announcement that he intended to return to Parliament and to face his accusers.

Mr Horan was expelled from the New Zealand First caucus on Tuesday after party leader Winston Peters said he had seen information which left him with no confidence in Mr Horan's ability to continue as a member of Parliament.

The information was linked to allegations by Mr Horan's half-brother, Mana Ormsby, that Mr Horan misappropriated money from his mother before her death in August last year.

In this case, Mr Horan was accused, judged and convicted by Mr Peters in the House, where Mr Peters has privilege preventing any lawsuits coming his way.

He has not repeated any of the allegations outside the debating chamber.

Forensic accountants have been investigating Olwen Horan's estate since the allegations were first raised.

Mr Horan had until this week been on gardening leave, having been told by Mr Peters to go home and sort out his troubles.

As of Tuesday, police had received no complaint about the matter.

Nevertheless Mr Peters, himself no stranger to controversy, decided he had seen enough evidence to convict Mr Horan.

And that is where the story starts getting complicated.

Mr Horan said he did not know what information Mr Peters had seen, and had not had a single allegation put to him to defend.

He felt he had not been fairly treated - and on evidence seen so far in public, Mr Horan has a case.
Mr Horan returned to Parliament to attend the Maori select committee meeting yesterday.

He attended briefly because he needed to meet parliamentary staff to find a new office.

It appears Mr Horan is digging in for the long term.

Questions remain around his membership of New Zealand First and whether he has been expelled from the party, along with caucus.

In the past, National and Labour MPs have been expelled from caucus but have remained in Parliament and as members of their respective parties.

One of the more serious issues to consider, apart from the sentence arbitrarily handed out by Mr Peters, is whether any parliamentary leader has the right to sack an MP from Parliament.

There have been suggestions that the exit of Mr Horan completely from Parliament is behind the latest furore.

If that were to be the case, it would be a dangerous precedent to set.

Opponents of MMP say the controversy surrounding Mr Horan is why the system should have been voted out last year.

Mr Horan only got into Parliament because of the popularity of Mr Peters, of that there is no doubt.
And the expiry of waka-jumping legislation means Mr Horan could remain in Parliament - and even support National, if the mood took him.

In the meantime, he can sit in the House and collect his salary and associated allowances.
The prospect of a judicial review looms if the forensic examination of the accounts of Mr.
Horan fail to find any wrongdoing.

What is certain is that New Zealand First has never been far from controversy - and that looks set to continue for the rest of the parliamentary term.