Cunliffe thumbs his nose at electoral law consensus

This morning, David Cunliffe announced that Labour will introduce legislation to remove the “coat-tailing” rule from the Electoral Act within its first 100 days of office.

Good luck with that. The way the polls are looking, Labour will be nowhere near having a majority of their own, and if they make it into government, it will be thanks to a strong Green Party vote, and probably supported by one or all of NZ First, the Internet Party and Mana. I can’t see the Greens supporting the ramming through of significant electoral law change, and the Internet and Mana parties would undoubtedly also be strongly opposed (given their current actions).

On the Right, National has already declined to take action on the “coat-tailing” rule, while the future of both ACT and United Future depend on the rule’s existence. Likewise, if the Conservative Party make it in, it will also be in Parliament thanks only to a “coat-tailing” deal, as there’s no chance of them making 5%.

I’d therefore have to declare Cunliffe’s plan dead in the water before it even begins, but the issue I have is that Cunliffe seems perfectly happy to proceed with major electoral law changes without broad cross-party consensus. He’s announcing a fait accompli – Labour will push this change through, with a bare majority if need be, and damn the torpedoes.

Frankly, I’m disgusted. The Electoral Act is fundamental to our democracy. It provides the rules as to how we, the people, are represented; how the politicians who make the rules on our behalf are selected. And it is far too important to be allowed to be the plaything of whichever voting bloc gets over 50% of our parliament’s seats.

When National set up its consultation process that recommended changes to the 5% threshold and the removal of the “coat-tailing” rule, Judith Collins then announced that no changes would be made, as no consensus could be reached. Of course, she made only a bare minimum effort to achieve consensus, and quickly jettisoned the prospect of change as being not in the governing party’s best interests (a decision she may well be ruing now, following the Internet Mana Party collusion). Nonetheless, simply because National believed that the status quo was in National’s best electoral interests, that does not give Labour an excuse to make hugely important changes when it reaches government.

For the record, I support the scrapping of the threshold altogether. If a party has enough support to gain one seat in Parliament, they should receive that seat. You get 1/120th of the vote, you get one seat. No overhangs, no rorts, minimal wasted vote.

However, regardless of my personal views on how our Electoral Act should be amended, I cannot support electoral law reform without consensus. In my opinion, Labour and the Greens’ passing of the Electoral Finance Act was the worst attack on democracy this country had seen. Despite the underlying good intentions those party’s had in trying to improve transparency, their ramming through of the Act without cross-party support was a blatant attempt to screw the system in their favour. National, to their credit, engaged in extensive consultation when they came into office and amended the Act, which is how it should be when our electoral system is at issue.

I would have no problem if Cunliffe simply confirmed his party’s opposition to the “coat-tailing” rule (they’ve already drafted a Private Members Bill to eradicate “coat-tailing”, so it’s not exactly a state secret) and confirmed that they would immediately resurrect a consultation process to discuss the existing recommendations; for substantive cross-party consultation to take place, rather than the empty shell that was Judith Collins’ version. Unfortunately, Cunliffe’s approach this morning simply shows his contempt for the integrity of our country’s electoral law.

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