I've drafted something (below). What are people's thoughts on making a submission, on the draft I've suggested, and on asking other political parties if they would be interested in collaborating?
We recommend no threshold for parties obtaining seats in parliament, but rather a threshold for parties having a vote in parliament.
The Report of the Royal Commission on the Electoral System 1986, which first recommended the adoption of MMP included this passages in its introduction:
1.6 The critical question now is about the fairness and equality of the ways in which the votes of New Zealanders, at the national rather than the constituency level, are turned into representation in Parliament and into the establishment of a Government. (...)
The Report then lists 10 criteria for judging voting systems, of which the following are the first and second:
(a) *Fairness between political parties.* When they vote at elections, voters are primarily choosing between alternative party Governments. In the interests of fairness and equality, therefore, the number of seats gained by a political party should be proportional to the number of voters who support that party.
(b) *Effective representation of minority and special interest groups.* The voting system should ensure that parties, candidates and MPs are responsive to significant groups and interests. To facilitate this, membership of the House should not only be proportional to the level of party support but should also reflect other significant characteristics of the electorate, such as gender, ethnicity, socio-economic class, locality and age.
The inclusion in MMP of a threshold compromises these principle in denying fair and equal representation. The Report justifies this as follows:
2.190 (...) The choice of a 4% threshold is designed to provide small parties with a reasonable chance of gaining seats while discouraging the proliferation of minor and/or extremist groups in the House. (...) In recognition of the special status of the New Zealand Maori population, and of the relatively small number of Maori votes, we have proposed that no threshold apply to parties representing Maori interests. This waiver could be extended to parties representing other minority ethnic groups, such as Pacific Islanders, if this was thought desirable.
2.191 (...) We are persuaded that if no threshold is set or if it is set too low, the operation of effective government would be very likely to be frustrated. On current voting numbers (...) the absense of a vote threshold would give a first seat in the House to every party recording around 25,000 votes. We think this is too low and could give rise to a proliferation of small parties with few seats in the House.
The former paragraph appears incongrous and self contradictory. It first seems to promote exclusion of minority groups for its own sake. This is not a criteria for judging voting systems put forward in the Report, and is in fact in direct opposition to the first and second criteria. It then suggests possible exceptions on the basis that inclusion of at least some minority groups may be desirable (besides Maori, for which an explanation is given).
The latter paragraph perhaps provides some explanation for this, in referring to the need to satisfy another criteria for judging voting systems, specifically:
(g) *Effective government.* The electoral system should allow Governments in New Zealand to meet their responsibilities. Governments should have the ability to act decisively when that is appropriate and there should be reasonable continuity and stability both within and between Governments.
If the exclusion of minority groups from parliament is not an aim of the threshold, but rather a byproduct of the aim to promote effective government, then this is more understandable. However we think the complete exclusion of minority groups is a more extreme measure than is necessary to achieve this goal. Specifically, we don't think it is necessary to exclude minority groups from having seats in parliament, but only to exclude them from having a vote in parliament, in order to allow the formation of a stable government.
Further, we think the exclusion of minority voices in parliament compromises another of the stated criteria for judging voting systems, specifically:
*(h) Effective Parliament.* As well as providing a Government, members of the House have a number of other important parliamentary functions. These include providing a forum for the promotion of alternative Governments and policies, enacting legislation, authorising the raising of taxes and the expenditure of public money, scrutinising the actions and policies of the executive, and supplying a focus for individual and group aspirations and grievances. The voting system should provide a House which is capable of exercising these functions as effectively as possible.
In further discussing this criteria, the Report states:
2.47 Many of the submissions made to us were critical of the way in which our Parliament operates (...) Insofar as the unhappiness relates to the system, it appears to be based largely on a public perception of petty bickering coupled with a misunderstanding of the valuable role performed by the Opposition in testing Government policies. The adversarial role of the Opposition as an alternative Government is an important factor in keeping a Government accountable to the people and is enhanced by the 2-party polarisation characteristic of a plurality Parliament. In our view, those who denigrate our system underrate the value of both Parliament and elections where competing ideas and policies can and should clash and be evaluated. (...) We record, however, that a constant theme in the submissions made to us was the strong desire for a process which is less adversarial and more consultative.
We believe that giving minority groups a fair and equitable voice in parliament, even if they do not also have a vote, would better serve to test Government policies and keep governments accountable to the people, better allow competing ideas and policies to be put forward and evaluated, and better allow for consultation.