HIGH TIME FOR UNDERSTANDING OF MMPDeputy Prime Minister
Doug Woolerton, Fay Dunstan, Fellow Members:
Last weekend I sent a clear message to the New Zealand First Council at their meeting in Wellington. That message was that the party members, the workers and volunteers, who put each and every New Zealand First MP into Parliament in the first place, would be treated with respect and courtesy.
After all, what is politics about if it is not about standing up for the people and representing the views of the electorate.
Under First Past the Post, successive governments ignored the views of the people and implemented their far left or far right agendas without so much as a backwards glance.
That is one of the main reasons why, as a member of the National Party, I campaigned from one end of the country to the other for a more fair and representative political system - MMP.
Since the public voted for MMP in a nationwide referendum we have seen its popularity wane.
This is not because MMP is no different from First Past the Post but, because, the public have not seen the differences. But just because the public have not seen all of the changes does not mean they do not exist.
The most positive result of the Prime Minister's comments this week are that they have made those changes transparent to the public.
Changes - and differences between the coalition parties - that have until now been behind the scenes were brought out into the public arena.
And whilst political comment on recent issues - like the proposed deferring of income and asset testing and the recently announced industrial law changes - highlight the degree to which we have stood up for the average New Zealander - they are not the only things we have fought for within the Coalition Government.
But those battles are confined to the Cabinet table and our respective Caucuses - and, thus, removed from the public eye to a large degree.
Alliance Leader Jim Anderton has previously said that Cabinet Meetings will be open to the press and public if the Alliance becomes government or a coalition partner under MMP.
Yet this is the same Mr Anderton who was critical of Mrs Shipley this week for sharing her so-called problems with the country. Yet by saying he would open the cabinet doors that is exactly what Mr Anderton is advocating.
But that sort of transparency comes at a cost to the nation.
For whilst there are private disagreements and party and philosophical differences between the coalition partners - which are co-operatively and constructively worked through - making those differences public every time they occur would only destroy any possibility for government stability.
And we are at a period when government stability is all important - and where anything less could have an adverse economic and social effect on us all.
It is a time when we must do the responsible thing.
Where the nation's longterm interests must come before petty political point scoring.
At the time that New Zealand First entered into a Coalition with National we pledged to put the interests of the people first.
And the nation's interests still come first.
But with political power New Zealand First took on another huge responsibility.
To show the public that MMP is working for the people, is a fair and democratic political system that gives the average New Zealander a stronger and more influential political voice.
To date our efforts on this front have been largely hindered by the persistent inability of many politicians and media commentators to understand MMP and its political realities.
There is no acceptance from these quarters (only from the public) that personal and philosophical differences will and should exist between coalition partners - any coalition partners.
Poor understanding of this most basic concept sees any visible difference between National and New Zealand First wrongly interpreted, time and time again, as a sign of instability - of a government in trouble.
In this respect, there is a major gulf between public expectations of MMP and the expectations of certain politicians and political commentators.
The public did not vote for New Zealand First so that we would be the same as National.
The public did not vote for New Zealand First so that we would be the same as Labour.
New Zealanders voted for MMP so different parties, representing different constituencies, would work together for the sake of the country.
In a nutshell the problem is this:
While the public, especially those who voted for New Zealand First and MMP, want to see differences between the two coalition partners to be transparent and out in the open - many influential media commentators and politicians perceive these very same differences as signs of government weakness and instability.
My call on journalists and politicians alike is to understand the MMP political environment and its political realities.
To understand that visible differences between coalition partners is one of the main attributes of an MMP political system - not a sign of bad government.
It is a sign of representative government - something this country had not seen for a very long time.
There are too many influential people (usually First Past the Post supporters) who apply First Past the Post standards and expectations to a quite different political system (MMP).
This mistake was best evidenced by New Zealand's richest citizen, Lion Breweries Chairman Douglas Myers. He accused the Government of reverting to Think Big, attacked MMP, praised Ruth Richardson and, as usual, attacked me.
And, as usual, he didn't give any evidence as to why these things should be so. He ignored the effects of the Asian Crisis - the most adverse economic event to hit New Zealand since the oil shocks of the 1970s, the climatic disasters that have beset a number of our rural communities, ignored the fact that most of Europe has a system of proportional representation and ignored, above all else, that if it were not for external and climatic influences, we would be headed towards 4% growth now and declining unemployment.
Of course, Mr Myers' concerns are not with the economic and social effects of these events but, rather, that he and his unelected ilk do not run this country anymore.
And that is because of MMP.
When differences emerge between the Coalition Partners the media and politicians should not portray those differences as threatening but a natural and expected consequence of an MMP Government.
One of the most positive and encouraging political aspects of the last week has been the admission by political commentators and opposition politicians alike that policy differences between New Zealand First and National, reflected in recently announced policies, are a result of MMP and of the junior coalition partner meeting public expectations.
These are not, by far, the first policies that have been altered by New Zealand First's concerns.
But we are encouraged by a slowly emerging understanding displayed in certain political quarters over the last 7 days that differences between the coalition parties are not threatening to the Government but, rather, make it a more representative and fair government.
That was the reason New Zealanders voted for MMP in the first place.