A little bit more on Winston's proposed referendums

Winston Peters says his price for government is two binding referendums. If we believe him, which we probably shouldn't, then let's note some more problems with his proposal. 

I've already penned something for RNZ's website (which I then fleshed out a bit more over on The Spinoff) as to why Winston Peters' demand for binding referendums on the number of MPs and the Māori seats is both dumb and dangerous. I'll assume you've read what I said there - because, really, why wouldn't you follow my breadcrumb trail of genius all around the interwebz?

But if you haven't done so, it doesn't really matter. Here I want to pick up on a few stand-alone problems with Peters' referendum call that I didn't get to address in those earlier pieces.

First, I'm simply not convinced this announcement is all Peters says it is. He was quoted in this article as saying:

My strategy is to tell everybody out there that you won't be talking to NZ First unless you want a referendum on both those issues at the mid-term mark of this election.

Oh, really? So we're expected to believe that Labour will fight tooth-and-nail to win the Māori seats this election, then meekly capitulate to allowing a binding vote on their future straight afterwards? And we're expected to believe that the Greens will totally capitulate on their stong Treaty of Waitangi principles and go along with this because they have no other options? Yeah ... but, nah.

And even if we think that National might backtrack on 9 years of solid co-operation with the Māori Party and agree to Peters' demand for a vote on the Māori seats, do we really think it's going to allow a catastrophically bad idea like cutting the number of MPs to 100 to go before the public? Is another three years in power really worth gutting the legislative branch as an institution?

So I'm filing Peters "you won't talk to us unless you want this" claim alongside the recent "Winston might become PM!" hooplah  ... nice for generating headlines and clicks (witness this post!), but almost certain to wither away in the cold hard light of political reality.

Second, Peters is flat out lying about the Māori seats. Today he told RNZ's Morning Report that:

The vast majority of Māori, entitled to be on the Māori roll, are on the general roll.

As the kids probably never said, "nuh-uh ... not even". Here's the actual statistics from the Electoral Commission at the end of the 2013 Maori Electoral Option period (the last time that voters of Māori descent got to choose which electoral roll to be on).

At that time, there were 228,718 voters on the Māori roll, or 55% of all voters of Māori descent. On the general roll there were 184,630 voters of Māori descent, or 45% of that cohort. So far from the "vast majority" not being on the Māori roll, a small but significant majority of Māori voters positively have chosen to do so. And by making that choice, they thereby indicate their support for the Māori seats continuing in the future ... because the more Māori on the Māori roll, the more such Māori seats there are.

"Ah-ha", you may say, "these figures are from 2013 ... so maybe they have changed since then!" Well, maybe ... but likely not in a way that helps Peters out. 

Because once a voter of Māori descent has decided which roll to be on, they can only switch during the Māori Electoral Option period. The next one of these is not until 2018.

So, the only changes to the Māori or general roll since 2013 will be from newly enrolling Māori voters - people who have just turned 18, or are going onto the roll after having been removed from it for some reason. If you then look at the statistics from the 2013 Māori Electoral Option period, such newly enrolling Māori voters overwhelmingly chose the Māori roll over the general.

During that option period, some 2,721 newly enrolled voters of Māori descent went on the general roll, while 6,454 such voters went on the Māori roll. Assuming that pattern has continued since 2013 - and why shouldn't we do so? - an even greater majority of Māori voters will be on the Māori roll today than was the case in 2013.

You understand why Peters is telling this lie, of course. He wants to make out that the Māori seats are an anachronism that Māori themselves do not want, so removing them is just doing them a favour. But if those seats actually are valued and preferred by Māori, then the picture changes markedly. Now it becomes a non-Māori majority making a decision for the majority of Māori that runs counter to what they want for themselves. And that's a much uglier and harder to sell narrative. 

While we're on the subject of selling a false narrative, I also wonder how Wayne "Buck" Shelford feels about being Peters' poster-boy for abolishing the Māori seats? Peters said this in his speech:

When did you ever hear Buck Shelford say don't tackle me too hard I'm a Māori, or all those women playing in our netball team or any other team, when have you ever heard them say don't hit me too hard I'm a Māori?

Māori don't need the Māori seats - they don't need any more tokenism.

While Shelford certainly never called for easier treatment because of his Māori heritage, he is a staunch supporter of retaining particularly Māori institutions within a predominently Pakeha framework. For here he is in 2008, arguing in favour of the Māori All Blacks and criticising the Rugby Union's decision to cut its funding. And here he is in 2010, explaining why dedicated Māori teams are so valuable:

The kaumatua teaches them tikanga – the protocols they would have never have learnt otherwise, as many of our Maori are now growing up in the cities and don’t get that.

The learning curve and growth they get out of that, the researching of their whakapapa and getting to know where they came from is instrumental in growing good people.

That's hardly "one team for all!" rhetoric, is it?

Turning to the proposal to let voters decide whether to cut the number of MPs to 100 (from its current 120), there's a couple of additional reasons why this is bad that I didn't have time to cover in my earlier posts.

First of all, even if the number of parliamentary seats were cut to 100, the number of electorates would remain at 71. This is because the statutory formula that provides that number is entrenched - you can't change it except by a 75% vote of MPs or a seperate, stand alone referendum.

That means there would only be 29 list seats to apportion in order to create overall proportionality in an MMP Parliament. And this simply isn't be enough to do so - we will frequently see Parliaments that are distorted by "parliamentary overhangs" where parties win more electorate seats than their share of the party vote actually entitles them to. 

Furthermore, at present there are 27 Ministers in the executive branch, or 22.5% of the total number of MPs. Cut the size of Parliament to 100, and that executive branch becomes some 27% of total MPs - tightening the stranglehold that it already applies to the legislative branch.

So cutting the number of MPs to 100 will not only damage how MMP functions, but it will lead to even greater executive dominance of Parliament as an institution. And we should all vote on whether to do so ... why, precisely?