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Simon Power

20 October, 2009

MMP referendum to be held at 2011 election

The first referendum on the MMP voting system will be held in conjunction with the 2011 general election, Justice Minister Simon Power announced today.

"The National-led Government made a pre-election promise to hold a referendum on MMP by no later than 2011, and we are honouring that promise," Mr Power said.


"The first referendum will ask two questions: the first will ask voters if they wish to change the voting system from MMP. The second will ask what alternative voting system they would prefer, from a list of options.


"Cabinet will be making further decisions in the next few months, including drafting the questions included in the first referendum, the alternate electoral systems to be offered, and how that referendum will be conducted. These decisions will be announced once they are made.


"The Government is committed to acting on the outcome of this referendum.


"If a majority of voters opt for a change from MMP, there will be a second referendum at the 2014 general election. This will be a contest between MMP and the alternative voting system that receives the most votes in the first referendum. It will be binding.


"If a majority of voters prefer the alternative voting system to MMP, the 2017 general election will be held under the alternative voting system.


"The first MMP referendum will be the opportunity for voters to review the voting system and decide if they want to keep it. Five general elections have been held under the MMP voting system, and it's timely to consider how that system has worked.


"Holding the first referendum at the same time as the 2011 general election will ensure a high voter turnout, which is important to ensure the legitimacy of the referendum result.


"If a majority of voters opt for a change from MMP, there will be plenty of time for public discussion on the merits of MMP versus the preferred alternative voting, system before the second referendum. The Government wants to ensure New
Zealanders have time to consider all the issues fully before making their decision."


A bill empowering the first referendum will be introduced into the House in early 2010. The bill will include the two questions to be asked in the first referendum, including a question on what alternative voting systems voters would prefer, which they will be able to choose from a list of options.


"There will be time for the public to comment on the bill at the select committee stage of the bill's progress. We want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to have their say on this significant constitutional issue."


Mr Power this morning briefed all other political parties on the Government's decision.


Cabinet briefing papers are available below.


MMP questions and answers follow.


MMP Q and A


What does a referendum on the voting system involve?


A referendum on the voting system involves not only asking voters if they want to change the voting system, but also to consider what alternative voting system they would like. As this involves a total of three questions, the Government has decided to hold two referenda on the voting system.


When will the first referendum be held, and why was this time chosen?


The first referendum will be held in conjunction with the 2011 general election to help ensure a high voter turnout. Encouraging a high voter turnout will support the legitimacy of a referendum on our voting system, which is an important constitutional issue.


Holding the first referendum in 2011 allows adequate time beforehand to draft the law to enable the referendum and for an education and publicity campaign about the first referendum.


What will the first referendum ask?


The first referendum will ask voters two questions:
• the first question asks voters whether they wish to retain the MMP voting system or if they seek change to the voting system; and
• the second question asks voters to choose their preferred alternative voting system from a short list of options.


Voters may decide to answer only the first question; the second question does not have to be answered. Voters can answer the second question even if they vote to retain MMP. This was the process followed in the 1992 referendum on the voting system.


The precise questions have not yet been agreed.

What will the alternative voting systems presented to voters be?


The alternative voting systems to be presented to voters have not yet been decided.


The question about which alternative voting systems is preferred will be included in the law to enable the first referendum. The public will have the opportunity to comment on the question during the select committee process.


Is the first referendum binding?


The first referendum is not legally binding, but the Government is committed to acting on the outcome. The second referendum will be legally binding. The government must follow the result.


What happens after the first referendum is held?

If a majority of voters opt for a change to the voting system, a second referendum will be held in conjunction with the 2014 general election. If the majority vote to retain MMP, there is no need to hold a further referendum.

What will the second referendum ask?


The second referendum, if it goes ahead, will ask voters to choose between MMP and the preferred alternative voting system (selected in the second question of the first referendum). This was the process followed in the 1993 binding referendum on the voting system when MMP was the favoured option.


Why does it take so long for a new voting system to be in place?


Planning and implementing a general election is a complex project and the electoral agencies begin preparation for a general election at the start of the three year election cycle. Having three years from the second referendum to implementation will help to ease the transition to a new voting system.


There needs to be sufficient time between the two referenda to allow for drafting of law to provide for a new voting system, if required. As the second referendum will be binding, the law providing for a new voting system would need to be ready to commence if there was a vote for change.


What is the process for enabling the first referendum?

As there is no general legal provision for a referendum to be held in conjunction with a general election, there will need to be legislation enacted to enable the first referendum. It is intended that legislation will be introduced into the House in early 2010.


How will the public be involved in the process?


The public will be able to comment on the Bill enabling the first referendum through the select committee process.


There will also be an education and publicity campaign about the referendum and the details of the alternative voting systems. It is intended that this campaign will stimulate public debate and raise awareness about the referendum. The finer details of the education and publicity campaign are yet to be decided.


More information
Information on the MMP referendum can be found at http://justice.govt.nz/policy-and-consultation/electoral. This will be regularly updated.


More information about how referenda and elections are run in New Zealand can be found at www.elections.org.nz.


 


 

  • Simon Power
  • Justice