Joe Hendren

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Big Business wants First Past the Post to Privatise

Last Saturday the NZ Herald published a column by deputy editor Fran O'Sullivan which revealed that Cabinet was to begin discussions on a public referendum on Mixed Member Proportional(MMP) this week. O'Sullivan makes it clear she supports First Past the Post as an electoral system, if in a runoff against MMP.

O'Sullivan also stated a referendum on MMP is "clearly unfinished business for many Kiwis". Its interesting she used Roger Douglas' turn of phase here, as when she mentions Kiwis she means the section of the business community who genuinely believe the country should be run for their benefit foremost, and ask the rest of us to believe in the trickle down theory. O'Sullivan concludes:
"Fighting the next election on an electoral system - even First Past the Post - which gave more power to the major party to implement sensible policies would do more to even the gap with Australia than endless horsetrading."

Horsetrading, in this context means that annoying thing called democracy - ie the thing we did not have when the Labour Government of 1984-1990 and National Government of 1990-96 used cabinet majorities to push through far right neo-liberal 'reforms'. Funnily enough the gap with Australia became significantly wider in these twelve years. Not that the new right would ever be intellectually honest enough to admit it might have been a combination of their chosen polices and the method of their execution.

In a later interview with Larry Williams on NewsTalk ZB (hat tip Frog), O'Sullivan described what she meant by 'sensible policies', explaining what MMP had stopped for the last decade or so.
"…various single issue or smaller parties will be able to point to wins they have had through [their] influence on the major parties that happens to be in power. But there are also some big things that aren’t happening – there are things from a business perspective. No-one can talk about privatisation… "

So there you have it - the sponger side of business community wants a return to First Past the Post in order to restart the privatisation agenda. The business community do not believe they can convince over 50% of New Zealanders to adopt their chosen policies based on a system where votes are of equal value.

In 1993 the Anti-MMP campaign was headed by Telecom Chairman Peter Shirtcliffe who bankrolled the misnamed Campaign for Better Government (CBG) along with other big business backers. I really hope some of the 1993 advertising is replayed and replayed - as it will completely do in Shirtcliffe's crediability. In 1993 CBG warned MMP would put our future at risk alongside the chorus of crying babies - yes really - see here. Now it can be seen for the scaremongering nonsense it is, as well as a dummy run for the National party's Hollow Men campaign of 2005.

Fran O'Sullivan quickly responded to Frog's post. She clarified that she only became aware of the forthcoming cabinet discussions following a question raised by a participant at business breakfast meet in Auckland. In second comment O'Sullivan said:
"To clarify – Personally I favour either FPP or STV – I do not like a system where the party vote delivers half the MPs. Would prefer to tick a candidate."

Yet there is only one system that will deliver the 'unfinished business' of privatisation that Fran champions above - a rotten borough system* known as First Past the Post. This impression is also reinforced by Fran's endorsement of Shirtcliffe's timetable for a referendum - a single referendum held in 2010, and applied at the 2011 election. O'Sullivan says "Frankly, Key should adopt Shirtcliffe's timetable. If past polling is anything to go by, many Kiwis would vote MMP down if given the chance". Clearly Shirtcliffe can't wait, and sees an opportunity to remove MMP by doing it quickly - this was also the strategy of Roger Douglas to avoid the interference of democracy.

That said, on this occasion I am prepared to give Fran the benefit of the doubt. I note she sometimes uses her columns to channel the views of others, and sometimes this can give the strong impression these are the views she also supports. Yet if Fran was being a complete partisan hack it is likely she would have downplayed the reemergence of Peter Shirtcliffe and not raised the "fundamental issue of fairness" raised by the differing treatment of Act and NZFirst at the last election, where Act remained in parliament despite receiving around 10,000 less votes than NZ First.

I would suggest people look at the campaign to keep meaningful proportional representation in New Zealand as a long game. Having journalists write stories about 'the other side' can at times be useful, as well as adding to the debate in a useful way. If Fran found out more about who was funding the anti-MMP campaign - this would be worth a few hail Mary's would it not?

* I am defining rotten borough in this context to mean any system where a vote is not necessarily of near equal worth. John Key's preferred option of Supplementary member is just a rotten borough with a thin layer of icing designed to cover up the rottenness.

PS: Fran in case I have your attention I would appreciate it if the next time you wrote one of your fawning columns about the 'benefits' of free trade with the USA you would also mention the potential costs. This comes from a solid source, the US Trade Representative's publication 'Foreign Trade Barriers', but the majority of pro-free trade business journalists either don't know, or perhaps more likely don't want to know such a document exists - if the risk is Kiwis paying more for their medications surely the public deserve better than journalists who stick their fingers in their ears and chant 'see no evil'.

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At 3:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was very well put. MMP is a brilliant system, especially compared with the alternatives. America has utilised FPP much to the chagrin of its citizens. They're now locked in a perpetual "left vs right" struggle, of which the only winners can ever be the politicians and lobbyists. Smaller parties [and hence views and opinions] are quashed with prejudice. Democracy requires all to be heard; and, ultimately, the clear majority to rule.


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