Paddock talk: Electoral imbalance can be addressed by referendum

In less than two weeks our votes will determine who governs us for the next three years. They could also determine the electoral system we'll have for several decades.

I am the National Party's Southern Region's chair.

National is not taking a stand on the referendum, it will work with whatever system the voters deliver. What follows is my view as an individual it is not the party's.

I voted against MMP in both previous referendums and will vote for change for the same reasons. The system gives too much power to parties at the cost of poorer representation for people. This is of particular concern for those in the provinces and rural areas, especially farmers.

MMP gives the nation more MPs and the country much bigger electorates. The largest general electorate, Clutha Southland is 38,247sq km in area; West Coast Tasman is just 200sq km smaller, Waitaki covers an area of 34,888sq km and Kaikoura is 23,706sq km. The biggest North Island electorate, East Coast is 13,649sq km.

Invercargill is 5,617sq km in area, Dunedin South is 2,702sq km and Dunedin North covers 642sq km. To put those numbers into perspective, the smallest electorate, Epsom, is just 23sq km in area.

Clutha Southland and Waitaki together cover the same area as 33 electorates from Northland down to Otaki plus part of Rangitikei. No matter how good MPs are or which party they represent, it is physically impossible for them to give the level of service to their constituents over such large areas as city MPs can. If it's bad in general electorates, it's much worse in some Maori ones: Te Tai Tonga is 161,443sq km - covering Stewart Island, all the South Island and part of greater Wellington.

Technology can help bridge the distances. Free phone numbers, video or computer conferencing enable people to talk to their MPs at no cost. But good local MPs don't just need to listen to their constituents, they must know and understand their many different communities and concerns and they can't do that through a phone or computer.

MMP enables small parties to get into parliament and gives bigger parties extra MPs through their lists. The lists have brought more diversity to parliament in terms of ethnicity and gender but that diversity is city based and city focused too.

It is much harder for people in the provinces to interact with their MP and it is much harder for them to get their voices heard. This is of particular concern for farmers when policy which affects what we do and how we do it is being made by people pandering to the urban majority without understanding the issues.

I will be voting to change our electoral system and voting for Supplementary Member. That will give us more, and therefore smaller, electorates.

It will still allow small parties a presence in parliament but not at the cost of representation for people.

- Ele Ludemann



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