Consensus on law reform unlikely

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi Photo: RNZ
Justice Minister Kris Faafoi. Photo: RNZ
There is already considerable scepticism about what might be achieved by the independent review of our electoral laws announced last week, even though the review panel and its terms of reference are some way off.

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi, announcing the review, signalled Labour’s intention to work with all parliamentary parties hoping for broad, non-partisan support for any changes.

As the old Tui beer billboards would say (and every politician loves a good billboard), yeah, right.

The review will be revisiting some hoary chestnuts considered by the Electoral Commission in its 2012 review. Its recommendation for removing the 5% threshold of the party vote to be allocated list seats, lowering it to 4% and possibly three over time, was ignored. The recommendation for removing what is called the coat-tailing rule whereby a single electorate member of Parliament can bring in other party list members just by winning their seat, when their party has not reached the party vote threshold, suffered the same fate.

Parties which have benefitted from that rule seem unlikely to change their minds about that.

Funding of political parties is also on the agenda and Mr Faafoi wants to see the transparency of political donations improved before the next general election in 2023 so it is easier to see where the money comes from.

Some commentators have argued the fact that most of the parliamentary political parties have been subjected to fraud investigations over party donations shows the existing system works, but not all would agree with that view.

It is hard to see the existing parliamentary parties reaching a consensus on the issue of whether there is a better way to fund parties, say through some sort of public contribution, and there is also the question of how that might affect fledgling parties without seats.

Already, some parties have said they are not keen on lowering the voting age, another question to be considered by the review panel.

The original voting age in New Zealand was 21, reduced to 20 under a National government in 1969 but Labour’s position was for it to be lowered further. Eventually, it moved to reduce the age to 18 in 1974, with the support of National.

Protests around New Zealand’s involvement in the Vietnam War played a part in that push for change with young people pointing out the incongruity of being able to serve in the military and risk death in that service but be denied the right to vote. Today’s 16-year-olds concerned with the voting age issue might see climate change as their generation’s Vietnam War moment, given that inaction on global warming will affect them significantly.

There are at least 11 countries where 16-year-olds can vote, including Scotland.

Another question likely to be contentious is whether the length of the parliamentary term should change from three years.

One issue which will hopefully be addressed by the next election is the movement of voters between the Maori Electoral Roll and the General Roll. At the moment this is only permitted every five or six years to coincide with the census which seems unnecessarily cumbersome and unfair to those wishing to make a change.

The Government is also likely to look at changes to rules for overseas voting so those residents stuck overseas because of Covid-19 will not be disenfranchised.

It is not surprising some parties have already made known their stances on several of the issues to be considered by the review. How well informed any of their views are on any of these is questionable. All will be tempted to take the line they believe suits them best and stick to it.

Whether the review panels work will persuade them to change tack on any of the issues remains to be seen, but we are not holding our breath.



An interesting take on democracy that opposition views on electoral reform are questionable and by implication the Government's views should not be questioned.


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