Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

Newspaper Columns


19/12/06 Problems of Opposition since 2001
13/12/06 TIM PANKHURST Dominion Post
05/12/06 Nicky Hager and the Hollow Book
21/11/06 Greeks Bearing Gifts
07/11/06 Poor Policing in Auckland
24/10/06 Careless decisions on Auckland's Waterfront
10/10/06 The PC Clobbering Machine
26/09/06 Toxic Politics
12/09/06 Auckland's Robbers' Convention (NZ Herald)
12/09/06 Labour's Political Scandals
29/08/06 Corruption and Party Funding
14/08/06 War in the Middle East
01/08/06 New Zealand's Future?
20/06/06 Our Infrastructural Needs
20/06/06 Leave
06/06/06 Diverting the Public's Attention
23/05/06 New Zealand and Australia
09/05/06 The Maori Seats
11/04/06 Dogs and Priorities
28/03/06 Parliament's Size
14/03/06 Crime and Police priorities
28/02/06 Family Planning and Poverty
14/02/06 The Cartoon Furore
31/01/06 Greater Financial Understanding
03/01/06 Encouraging Economic Literacy
20/12/05 Immigration and Adaptation
06/12/05 Problems with Psychiatric Care
22/11/05 Maternity Services Gone Wrong
08/11/05 Political Correctness
25/10/05 MMP and the 2005 Outcome
11/10/05 A New Cabinet?
27/09/05 Social Divisions
19/09/05 Election Aftermath
13/09/05 Election Dirty Tricks
30/08/05 Election bribery
16/08/05 Reflections on New Zealand
15/08/05 David Lange: An Assessment by a Colleague
07/06/05 Facing the Electricity Future
07/06/05 ON LEAVE
24/05/05 David Benson-Pope
10/05/05 Three in a row for Blair
26/04/05 Press Accuracy
12/04/05 Hawkins and the Police
29/03/05 Lunacy Sightings
15/03/05 National's Predicament
01/03/05 Making Quality Decisions
15/02/05 Aid to Africa
01/02/05 Orewa Mark II
18/01/05 Asian Tsunami
04/01/05 Sir Apirana Ngata

MMP and the 2005 Outcome


I wonder how many of those denouncing Winston Peters's appointment as Minister of Foreign Affairs voted for MMP? There isn't any point blaming Helen Clark, Peter Dunne, or even Winston himself for the new ministry; those who supported MMP inflicted him upon us. With all its imperfections, the new ministry is probably the best that could have been assembled from the slim election-day pickings. MMP made Peters the queenmaker. Each side needed him to form a government. He could demand what he liked. He did. And he got it. Since Don Brash was faced with even tighter numbers there would probably have been an equally crass outcome. Silly systems produce silly outcomes. It's elementary.

Since the introduction of MMP we've had four elections. Two of them, 1996 and 2005, gave no clear result on election night and eventually produced Mickey Mouse ministries. The Jim Bolger/Jenny Shipley government between 1996 and 1999 fell apart after 20 months, then struggled over the finishing line with just enough ex-New Zealand First MPs supporting National on confidence and supply. This ministry could splinter New Zealand First too. It was divided 4-3 in favour of Winston accepting the baubles of office at the expense of his pre-election promises. Re-introducing the party-hopping legislation is his way of binding colleagues to him long enough to let him prop up the bar as Minister of Racing until he retires. Don't count on it working, however. There are ways around it. In effect, the very instability that critics of MMP always predicted, seems likely to occur at two elections out of every four. The latest outcome looks even shonkier than the first example.

What made 2005 different from earlier elections was that voters showed so little enthusiasm for minor parties. Securing more than 80% of the total votes between them, National and Labour got a bigger slice than at any election since 1990. The minor parties were starved into anorexia on 17 September and have grizzled for sustenance ever since. The Greens with their tired (and tiresome) two, never able to improve their position, or to work out why; Jim Anderton's Progressives: a one-man band named after himself; New Zealand First, fluctuating wildly according to the whims of the politically homeless and those with rattling false teeth; ACT, the victims of National producing its first ever economically literate leader; and United Future, starved of oxygen because its foot soldiers, on balance, also preferred Don Brash, but who retained enough seats to save us from the Greens. The trouble is that MMP leaves the most important decisions to the political flotsam who the overwhelming majority have already discarded. Post-election manoeuvring is now more important than voting itself. We get no say. Can we be surprised that papers like the Australian, and Canada's national paper the Globe and Mail, scratch their heads in bewilderment, concluding New Zealand can't be taken seriously? When a small majority voted for MMP in 1993, they inflicted the likes of Winston Peters on us. If it wasn't him there'd be another phony to take his place.

Although MMP's track record suggests regular chaos, the system can't excuse Helen Clark's candidate selection failures or her over-large executive. Nor her slow change of portfolios. Since she never had any intention of surrendering a cabinet seat to others, key ministers could have been empanelled weeks ago and been learning about their new responsibilities. Instead, they drifted aimlessly for a month. Ministers need all the advice they can get. Especially in big areas like Agriculture, Education, Health and what is called "Social Development and Employment" - or in non-PC terms, Social Welfare. When asked his goals in Education, a startled Steve Maharey could say only that he wanted to encourage everyone to "have expectations" and "to get some results in the system". Oh deary me. What would Labour's Peter Fraser have said about such mush? A capacity to read, write, count and compete in life would have brought whoops of delight from parents nationwide.

Roger Kerr who nicknamed MMP "Much More Paralysis" hit the mark. It's not only the voting system, but the time wasted making it work that retards our economic progress. Having to massage weak brothers and sisters' egos eats into thinking time about long-term national strategy. What is it about New Zealanders that makes us so obsessed with the demands of misfits in minor parties, most with nothing positive to contribute? Is there a rational explanation?