ACT’S power of 1pc
Don’t blame MMP
Though this year’s election outcome was widely seen as a foregone conclusion, some surprising policies – that had played no part in the election campaign – suddenly popped up in the platform signed off between ACT and the National Party. The surprise package included a pilot programme for setting up charter schools in three of the poorest parts of the country, a cap on government expenditure beyond that required by the rate of inflation, population growth and natural disasters, and a couple of other minor conditions.
These were policies for which ACT had received no democratic mandate.
National, too, had given no inkling it would consider such drastic innovations. Quite the contrary. Finance Minister Bill English was on the record as opposing a spending cap on government.
This year, only 23,889 people voted for ACT, a paltry 1.07 per cent of the turnout.
Regardless, ACT has now won the ability to stop any fresh spending on public services for the other 2,233,447 New Zealanders who voted in the election, via special legislation that is due to be passed sometime during the next two years.
Those people might be forgiven for thinking that they pay taxes so the Government can provide services for them to use.
At the very least, they might have expected to be allowed a vote on whether they wanted a spending freeze on the provision of public services. Apparently not, however. So far, when questioned on the lack of a democratic mandate for such policies, Prime Minister John Key has blamed MMP.
In fact, there is nothing about MMP that stops political parties from revealing their policies and general intentions before the election.
In the name of transparency, some parties even signal which major party they can be expected to support, given the policies that have been announced.
Nor is there anything peculiar about MMP that enables secret agendas to be sprung on the public.
Very few people, for example, who voted for Labour in 1984 under the FPP system would have anticipated the secret agenda that was subsequently pursued by the fourth Labour Government.
No voting system can eliminate deception entirely. In this case, nothing about MMP would have prevented the National Party negotiators from rejecting those elements of the ACT Party wish list for which there was no voter mandate.
National could have easily said ‘‘Sorry, but there’s been no public discussion of spending caps or charter schools during the campaign, so you can’t use us to sneak them in through the side door.’’
The fact that negotiations were wrapped up so quickly indicates that National was a very willing participant.
Those Epsom people who voted tactically to help National form a government were, it seems, also unwittingly voting to enable ACT’S more extreme policies to be visited upon the entire country, without National being held responsible for them.
If Key wants to blame MMP for this sort of ruse, he should be willing to make this lack of transparency part of the independent review of the voting system next year.
It should be possible to outlaw policies that played no part of the election campaign from forming part of the next Government’s agenda.
MMP, after all, does not stand for Matters Manufactured in Private.