Why did New Zealand change to MMP?
2. Royal Commission on the Electoral System
Labour's opportunity came after it won the 1984 election. In 1985 it established an independent non-partisan Royal Commission to conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into the electoral system.418 The Commission had 5 members: a High Court Judge as Chairman, a law professor, a political science professor, a retired Government statistician, and a Mäori woman who was a statistician and social researcher.
The Royal Commission invited submissions from members of the public, and travelled around New Zealand to hear oral submissions. Members of the Commission also travelled to Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
The Report of the Royal Commission was published in 1986. Two of its 69 recommendations were about the voting system that should be used to elect MPs: first, that FPP should be replaced by MMP, and secondly that the final decision should not be made by Parliament but by the people in a binding referendum after a period of public debate.
Why did the Royal Commission recommend a change from FPP to MMP? It tested FPP and other voting systems against 10 criteria:419
The Royal Commission concluded that FPP rated well in relation to effective representation of constituents, voter participation, effective government, effective Parliament, and general legitimacy. In its view, however, FPP had 'severe weaknesses' in relation to fairness to major and minor parties, minority representation and Mäori representation.421
Having concluded that FPP was inherently flawed, the Royal Commission examined a number of alternative systems, particularly the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system; the Preferential Vote system used to elect the Australian House of Representatives; the system used in Germany, which the Royal Commission called the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system; and the Supplementary Member (SM) system.422 It concluded that MMP was the most suitable alternative to FPP, since it would be fairer to political parties and would improve voter participation, representation of Mäori423 or other groups, and be seen as more legitimate. The Royal Commission believed that MMP had 'comparable, though sometimes different' advantages over FPP in relation to effective government, effective Parliament, representation of constituents, effective parties, and political integration.424
Some of the basic provisions of New Zealand's electoral law have been 'entrenched' or 'reserved' since 1956 in that they can only be repealed or amended by a 75% vote of all MPs or by a majority of votes cast in a referendum held for the purpose. The matters protected in this way are the term of Parliament, the minimum age for qualification as an elector, the method of voting, and the membership of the independent body responsible for deciding electorate boundaries and the criteria it must follow in doing so.
The Royal Commission concluded that fundamental matters concerning the constitutional framework of government should continue to be entrenched. It considered that some of those provisions should only be changed by referendum rather than by a vote of 75% of all MPs but concluded that the choice of the method to be used to change a particular entrenched provision should be left to political judgement.425
The Royal Commission's recommendation that a referendum should be held on whether FPP should be replaced by MMP reflected its view that a change to a country's voting system affects the most basic aspects of its democracy and is therefore properly a matter which the people should decide.426