A House Divided: Does MMP Make an Upper House Unnecessary for New Zealand?
(2012) 3 New Zealand Law Review 403
University of Queensland TC Beirne School of Law Research Paper No. 13-09
38 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2013
Date Written: 2012
The Mixed Member Proportional voting system (MMP) was introduced in New Zealand as a remedy for four particular problems that characterised New Zealand's unicameral Parliament. These problems were (1) lack of effective representation, (2) inadequate public deliberation, (3) lack of executive government accountability and (4) rushed legislation. Prior to the introduction of MMP, New Zealand’s unicameral Westminster system meant that between 1951 and 1993 a single party was usually able to dominate control of the government benches, often with about –– or less than –– 40 per cent of the popular vote. As a result governments were able to conduct their business and enact their legislative agendas without substantial parliamentary scrutiny.
This paper evaluates the capacity of MMP to remedy these problems. The paper concludes that while MMP has substantially improved the descriptive representativeness of Parliament, and has helped to improve the quality of public debate and legislative deliberation, it has led to little –– if any –– significant improvement in the level of government accountability to Parliament. While MMP creates strong incentives for minor parties to maintain their distinctiveness from the two major parties in matters of policy, when minor parties cooperate with one of the major parties to form a government, those minor parties have no real incentive to scrutinise the exercise of executive power by the government, as they themselves share in its spoils. Only if executive and legislative power are more effectively separated can the Parliament function as an effective check on executive power. This separation can only be achieved effectively in Westminster systems through a second house of Parliament over which the governing party (or coalition of parties) does not have majority control.
JEL Classification: K1
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation