Frank Costigan:

Shane Fahey writes: Re. “Costigan 1: the Royal Commission was a farce” (yesterday, item 3). Wow, let’s attack a dead man before his body gets cold; I suppose you need to do it, to get the value out of it. You should be ashamed to run a story under “a Sydney lawyer writes”, Malcolm Turnbull himself could have wrote this, doesn’t say a current Sydney lawyer. Is this Crikey journalism at its best? Was this story taken out of the Herald Sun — that’s where I would expect it?

This Royal Commission was before my time, so I’m not writing defending Costigan, but as organisation that attacks other media units, to allow an “a Sydney lawyer writes” is indefensible. I have an opinion on the global financial crisis, you could run it under an “a Leading Victorian Economist”, but we’ll have wait until somebody dies. Pass this on to Jonathan Green; his spots on ABC radio will now be less respected. Not Happy.

P.S. I’m not a leading Victorian economist, I’m not even an economist or a Victorian for that matter, but that shouldn’t bother Crikey.

Robert Bromwich writes: A spelling and geographical lesson for your Sydney lawyer — Capalaba (not Capaliba) is located about 35 kilometres from Brisbane’s CBD, not on the Gold Coast as the correspondent implied. From spending nearly a decade in the city, would attest that even most long-term Brisbane-ites would not know where Capalaba (or anywhere southeast of the river outside of the cricket ground) is located.

Can’t let the opportunity pass to make a favourable comment about the staff at the Westpac branch at Capalaba — did most of my personal banking there for nearly 20 years (starting a couple of years after Ian Coote’s departure) without staff being rude or other negative experience.

Book economics:

Justin Templer writes: Re. Libby Gleeson (yesterday, comments). After studying finance and accounting for around 10 years I remain puzzled by the economics of the Australian book market. What most confuses me is why local authors and publishers are so keen on the status quo if, as they maintain, the current system does not drive up the price of books. Far be it from me to accuse these belles-lettristes of base venality but I do suspect their enthusiasm to be enlivened by the mighty dollar. Or, in more sympathetic terms, a wish to see struggling artists supported.

Whichever it is, the result has to be more money in the hands of authors and publishers. After my years of study I have concluded that money does not grow on trees — so where does more money come from? Higher book prices. QED.

Nicholas Bolton:

Daniel Grynberg writes: Re. “Kohler: the BrisConnections bolt from the blue” (yesterday, item 24). In case nobody else noticed this … we’ve seen Nick Bolton (aka OneTel dude) before…

First Dog and Christianity:

Geoff Coyne writes: Charles Miller writes (yesterday, comments) in regard to Greg Williams’ complaint about First Dog on the Moon’s joke about Easter that it is only the lunatic fringe of Islam which would complain about a joke about their religion. Really? Try making similar jokes in such countries as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Sudan, etc and see whether you are dealing with a “lunatic fringe” or a powerful government and a dominant religion.

Sure, the strength of any belief, religious or political, is the extent to which it will tolerate humour against itself. But until Crikey is prepared to publish “jokes” about Islam, ease up on the jokes against Christianity — or any other religion.

Intra-Zionist Nazi name-calling:

Guy Rundle writes: Yes, apologies are due to Michael Brull (yesterday, comments), for not noting his citing of intra-Zionist Nazi name-calling on his blog – I didn’t notice that he’d hyperlinked from his New Matilda article to examples, and thought he’d only mentioned it in passing. Happy to correct the record.

A psephological correction:

Malcolm MacKerras writes: Re. “BC-STV vs MMP: a psephological case study” (8 April, item 18). My recent article on the forthcoming by-election for Mount Albert in New Zealand seems to have created a minor confusion. Trying to limit my number of words I allowed William Bowe to write this précis in his Poll Bludger blog:

New Zealand’s Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system is modelled on Germany’s, but departs from it in that vacated constituency seats are filled by unelected candidates from the party’s national lists — which New Zealand was obviously loath to do as it would randomly match members to electorates with which they had no connection.

That is not quite right so I had best elaborate. Germany is a federation whereas New Zealand is a unitary state. In Germany there are no national party lists — there are Land party lists. A German Land is what we Anglos would call a state or province. Consequently if, for example, a constituency member for a Munich seat were to depart he/she would be replaced by the next unelected candidate of his/her party on the Bavarian list.

Since New Zealand is more like a German Land than like Germany as a whole I contend that any logical New Zealand MMP system would allow Labour’s Damien Peter O’Connor automatically to become the member for Mount Albert, rather than put the Labour Party to the cost of a by-election which it might lose. O’Connor was, for several years, the member for West Coast-Tasman until he was defeated by the National Party’s candidate at the November 2008 general election. Since constituency members switching from the North Island to the South Island (and vice versa) is so common in New Zealand I can see no reason why O’Connor should not automatically become the next member for Mount Albert.

So, how did the present situation arise? It all goes back to the Royal Commission Report in December 1986. Because of my interest in these matters I took a sabbatical leave in New Zealand for that semester so I could be there when the report was published. I was shocked by it. The feature which most shocked me was the number of howlers I found in the Royal Commission’s report. Among them was this recommendation on page 44: “Vacancies caused by the resignation or death of a sitting constituency member would be filled by a by-election as under the present system. List members would be replaced by the next available person on the relevant party list.” No further elaboration. No discussion as to why New Zealand should copy Germany in so many ways but not in this way.

So I set about to find out how the Royal Commission could have written that howler, along with the others. The explanation I came up with (which I am convinced is correct) is that when Royal Commission members visited Germany they never thought to ask the German experts as to how Germany actually fills its vacancies. Meanwhile the German hosts did not think to inform their New Zealand visitors about this feature of German law. Both sides assumed their position to be self-evident. The difference is that the Germans actually understood their system. The New Zealanders never did.

So the Royal Commission recommended to the people of New Zealand that they should vote for a system which the Royal Commission did not understand. That 54 per cent of New Zealanders actually voted for this ratbag scheme is easily explained. The issue of electoral reform was overshadowed by unpopular economic reform. The Business Roundtable was far too influential in economic policy making under both Labour and National Governments. When the Business Roundtable asked the people of New Zealand not to vote for MMP the popular reaction was the say: “If they say vote against it that is the best argument to vote for it”.

Meanwhile John Key, now Prime Minister, promised during the election campaign that there would be another referendum on MMP. No details were given. So I took the liberty of seeking an interview with him to press my proposal which is that there should be two referendums. The first would accompany the next general election and be indicative only — the kind of legally non-binding vote which we in Australia would call a plebiscite. At that referendum, to be held in conjunction with the November 2011 general election, the people would be offered the choice of two alternative systems. The winner of that would then run off against MMP at a referendum to be held in conjunction with the November 2014 general election and, of course, be legally binding.

The two systems alternative to MMP would be the Single Transferable Vote (STV), what we in Australia call Hare-Clark. That is the one for which I would vote if I were a New Zealander — or a British Columbian for that matter. The other choice would be the Mixed Member Majoritarian (MMM) system, known in New Zealand for many years as Supplementary Member (SM). That is quite simple to explain. The basic structure of MMP would stay. Every elector would get two votes, one for a constituency candidate, one for a party. The party list seats would be distributed proportionally between the parties. Under such a system by-elections would be quite logical because that would be a mixed system, not one of proportional representation. I have no idea which of STV or MMM would win in 2011. I am in no doubt, however, that the winning system of 2011 would easily defeat MMP in 2014.

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