In their manifesto, the Nats promised to 'hold a binding referendum on MMP no later than 2011'. I don't know where the impetus for this came from, but I'm guessing it's from residual first-past-the-post hardliners who'd like to see a return to the 'good old days'. I'd quite happily see electoral reform too, but in the other direction - much more proportionality.
During the referenda in the nineties, there was hand-wringing from FPP supporters who said that a move to proportional representation would affect the stability of government. They felt an undemocratic, minority government was a reasonable price to pay for stable government - defined as single-party government which could ram through legislation as quick as it liked, without regard to the public or its own election promises.
Even if you accept that it's OK to trade off democracy for stability in this way, the stability argument is a crock. Muldoon's government fell apart when Waring crossed the floor to vote with the Opposition. The fourth Labour government which followed combusted in a screaming pile of shite, with three leaders in six years. The pre-MMP National government which followed had its own internal ructions between the PM and Minister of Finance. Stability, my arse. And while MMP did get off to a rocky start, with much 'waka-jumping', it a) was not necessarily worse than the earlier system, and b) seems to be improving as the style of politics changes in response to the need for parties to cooperate more.
So if I could wave my magic wand and reform the electoral system, I'd do two things to enhance proportionality. First, I'd lower the 5% threshold which parties must cross to be elected, unless they win a candidate seat. I dislike NZ First and ACT alike; but it seems patently unfair that the not quite 1 in 20 who voted for Winston and co have no representation, but the much smaller number who voted ACT have three MPs (who in fact hold ministerial portfolios).
Second, I'd get rid of electorate seats. As far as I can tell, they serve very little purpose under the current system except generating the annoying overhang, which produces unfair situations like the NZ First/ACT one. I think the reason we have MMP, and therefore electorate seats, was that when we changed our electoral system in the 90s, a jump to complete proportionality was too scary and radical - no one could be entirely sure how it would pan out.
Now here we are, more than a decade later, and the way we express our political selves has changed - including as a result of the net. For example, if I had some burning issue of particular interest to me - a women's reproductive health issue, for the sake of argument - I wouldn't take it to my local MP. The very notion of discussing such things with Trevor Mallard is appalling (if strangely amusing). Rather, I'd simply email an MP I thought would be sympathetic - probably one from a party which more closely represents my beliefs.
Electorate MPs ultimately aren't there to pursue local issues either. Some do; others don't. Very few would pursue an issue that conflicted with the policy of their own party, particularly if they were in a senior position; ie a Cabinet minister. That would not be career-enhancing.
I can only think of two reasons for retaining the electorate seat aspect of the system we have now: it may produce some geographical spread of MPs across the country, and the overhang has delivered a stronger Maori voice in Parliament. The geographical benefit can be overstated, though. A political candidate can stand outside the electorate s/he lives in, and even if s/he lives in the electorate s/he represents, there's no guarantee his/her party will take these regional concerns seriously. And the stronger Maori voice in Parliament might also be achieved by adjusting whatever formula might be used as the basis of a more proportional system.
What do you lovely readers think?