Andrew Little sympathetic to having a referendum on lowering the MMP threshold to 4%, but doesn’t rule out passing legislation to make the change before the 2020 election

Andrew Little by Jacky Carpenter.

The Government isn’t ruling out passing legislation before the next election to lower the threshold of support political parties need to get into parliament from 5% to 4%.

However Justice Minister Andrew Little is more “sympathetic” to letting voters decide through a referendum whether the change should be made, in which case it wouldn’t come into effect before the 2020 election.

He says there’s “a willingness” to make the MMP system fairer, so Labour, the Greens and NZ First are discussing whether to do so through passing legislation or through a referendum.

Little says it would be “unlikely” for a potential law change to come into effect before the 2020 election; his primary reason being that the Government would struggle to find time in the legislative timetable to make the change.

Yet he isn’t ruling this out, saying there’s also “a possibility” the law could be changed before 2020, but only come into effect in the 2023 election.

Little concedes that because reducing the threshold would be a “significant and material” change to the system, he’d rather the decision be left to the public.  

Recognising criticisms that the change would be a way of giving the Greens and NZ First a better shot at getting into Parliament, he says a referendum would remove allegations politicians are acting in self-interest.

If voters were given the option of voting on this as they cast their votes in the 2020 general election, Little says his preference would be for the question to be presented in the simple “yes/no” format. Ideally the same would go for other referendum issues voters would be presented with on cannabis decriminalisation/legalisation.

Little hasn’t committed to adopting Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman’s Member’s Bill on changing the MMP system, as a Government Bill.

Ghahraman’s Electoral Strengthening Democracy Bill proposes changing the law in line with recommendations from a 2012 MMP review conducted by the independent Electoral Commission.

These include reducing the threshold for a party to get into Parliament to 4% and removing the coat-tails rule.

Ghahraman’s Bill also seeks to ban overseas political donations, reduce the donor anonymity threshold, allow prisoners to vote, and enable voters of Maori decent to change roll type at any time.