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The bipartisan independent electoral review panel seems quite partisan

In brief
  • The Labour government’s “Independent Electoral Review Panel” has submitted draft recommendations on changing how general elections are run. 
  • But weren’t the predispositions of the panellists known prior to their appointments? 
  • Why was a panel even appointed for this since it is opinion and not expertise?  
  • It all depends on who is in power after the next election, but some things are entrenched and so can’t be changed by a simple majority.

Independent Electoral Review submits interim report

The He Arotake Pōtitanga Motuhake – Independent Electoral Review Panel convened by former Justice Minister Kris Faafoi in May of 2022 has released a raft of interim recommendations on changing how elections are conducted. 

Final recommendations will be returned to the government in November 2023 after the next general election. 

Amongst the recommendations are:

  • lower the voting age for general elections to 16,
  • voting rights for all prisoners,
  • a referendum on extending Parliamentary terms to 4 years,
  • lowering the party vote threshold to 3.5% and abolish the one-seat threshold,
  • restrict political donations to registered voters; cap them at $30,000 per electoral cycle and reduce anonymous donations to $500,
  • require the Electoral Commission to “give effect” to the Treaty of Waitangi.

Politicians split on the panel’s recommendations

Support for these recommendations is split. Left-leaning politicians support the recommendations and right-leaning politicians oppose.

David Seymour of ACT rejects the recommendations outright. “Who on earth are the people on this panel? No one voted for them. Why should they get to decide what our political system is?”, says Seymour. The ACT leader also called the recommendations a “grab bag” of Green Party policies.

Left leaning political commentator Bryce Edwards concurs. He calls the report a wasted opportunity and concedes “Most of the recommendations will appeal more to the Green and Labour politicians’ interests. And already there have been criticisms that the reforms appear designed for the interests of those parties currently in power.” 

Unsurprisingly the Green Party’s electoral reform spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman doesn’t see it that way. She supports the panel as independent and warns against politicisation of the recommendations. 

Many of the provisions, including changing the voting age, are subject to entrenchment.  This requires a Parliamentary supermajority to pass or more than 50% of voters at a referendum. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins says it’s something he won’t be pursuing. Hipkins says he’s comfortable with how MMP works currently and wants to see more discussion regarding political donations.

The bipartisan independent electoral review panel seems quite partisan - Centrist
Deborah Hart is the panel’s chair.

Are panel members biassed? 

The six member panel is billed as bi-partisan and independent. But a little homework suggests otherwise. 

Panel chair Deborah Hart, in an interview with Sean Plunkett of the Platform, said Māori suffered a “legacy of unfairness” at the hands of the electoral system, but couldn’t give an example of what she meant.

Panellist Dr Lara Greaves is an apologist for co-governance and left-wing identity politics. 

Dr Maria Bargh is a well-known academic who’s work on Matike Mai Aotearoa (Independent Working Group on Constitutional Transformation) in 2016 helped form the foundation of the controversial He Puapua report.  

Dr Andrew Geddis has advocated lowering the voting age for years. 

Alice Mander was hardly neutral on the issue prior to her appointment. At that time she posted on Facebook

“Honoured that I have been appointed to the Independent Panel to review our Electoral Law. I look forward to working to make sure diverse, youth, and disabled voices are included in this space that we are often excluded from.”

Conclusion

Voters are pitched recommendations on how elections are conducted by a so-called “bipartisan” panel. But when many panellists lean left aren’t the recommendations just going to be from their wish list, particularly for the lowered voting age which is widely thought to favour the left? 

Submissions on the recommendations can be made until 17 July 2023 here.

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