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Comparison between Australia’s and New Zealand’s Electoral Systems


For some years, the Australian party politics have been influenced by the country’s preferential voting system. Thanks to this electoral system, the existence of numerous minor parties has been sustained, but the system also has limited tendencies towards fragmentation of part system. In New Zealand, the electoral reforms that happened in the 1990s exhibited an insightful sense of voter disappointment with the far-reaching policies of both National and Labour governments. This led to the espousal of Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system with the aim of promoting a representation system that is fairer for special interests and small parties, particularly Maori and women. Many believe that MMP was adopted with the goal of punishing the office-bearers, especially from the major political parties for lacking accountability and failing to keep the promises. Instead of limiting the big two parties’ powers through constitutional reform, MMP offered a less drastic alternative of a multi-party executive as well as the legislature. This essay seeks to prove that Australia’s electoral system of preferential voting is more effective as compared to New Zealand’s MMP voting system.


In 1993, Geddis and Morris (2004, p.451) posit that the political landscape in New Zealand underwent a seismic change, after the British colonial electoral system of First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) voting was replaced with a new MMP voting system. This change resulted in abrupt and abysmal ramifications regarding how the government function and is formed and how electoral participants carry out their campaigns. Besides that, almost all areas of New Zealand’s political and public life were influenced in some way after the electoral system was changed. Australia, on the other hand, utilises Majoritarian formulas, especially the alternative voting systems. In this case, rather than utilising a simple ‘X’, the electorates are required to rank their preferences amongst the candidates (Bartl, 2003, p.4). Candidates can win if the votes they get is the absolute majority. If no candidate gets more than 50% after the counting of the first preferences, then the candidate having the lowest percentage of the votes is eliminated and then his/her votes are redistributed among the remaining candidates. This is repeated until the absolute majority has been secured (Norris, 1997, p.300). The candidates at the bottom of the poll are systematically discriminated by the Australia electoral system with the goal of promoting effective government. Both Australia and New Zealand evoked Britain electoral system to create their own system (Kumarasingham & Power, 2015, p.190).

In 2011, voters in New Zealand went to a referendum to decide whether to revise or retain the MMP voting system that has been adopted almost two decades ago. New Zealanders enormously voted to retain the MMP system as constituted. Although the system appears effective for the New Zealanders, it has not been adopted in many countries like the preferential voting system. Numerous countries as cited by Reilly (2004, p.253) have espoused versions of preferential voting, which is the main Australian’ electoral system for both sub-national and national elections. In Australia’s preferential voting, candidates are ranked by voters on the ballot paper; the most favoured candidate is chosen by marking a ‘1’, while the second, third and fourth choice are marked ‘2’, ’3’, ‘4’,and so on. The candidate with most first preferences votes is elected immediately. New Zealand’s electoral system as mentioned by Geddis and Morris (2004, p.2) is a proportional form of representation where the voters cast two votes: an electorate vote and party vote. The electorate vote is for the most preferred candidate within the electoral district while the party vote is for the voter’s preferred political party. All the electoral districts (presently 71) go back to the House of Representatives the aspirant who gets the highest number of electorate votes. Other ‘list seats’ (typically 49) are subsequently allocated among parties crossing the representation threshold; those that have won at a minimum one electorate seat or more than 5% of the party vote. Parliamentary seats are the main feature of MMP voting system, and they are distributed based on the overall support of the qualifying parties.

Still, there is some dissatisfaction on how the MMP system has practically been operated; for instance, the final decision about who will form the government has been taken by the inter-party governing arrangements from the hands of voters. Besides that, the New Zealand’s system is different from Australia’s preferential voting system because smaller parties are not offered undue influence over the policy. Additionally, minority governments are deemed to be feeble and unable to enact the needed policy measures in New Zealand. According to Geddis (2013, p.4), there are also concerns concerning the hierarchy power of the political parties given by MMP based on determining who goes into the Parliament. The introduction of party lists by MMP has facilitated the election of persons who do not have direct support from the electorates. Supporters of MMP as cited by Nagel (2012, p.3) argue that it offers the required check on the ruling party by forcing it to compromise and negotiate with the smaller parties; as a result, generating policies that are more moderate, judicious and better-considered. Despite some of its shortcomings, MMP is considered favourable in New Zealand because it promotes representational fairness. Given that the list seats are allocated using a compensatory formula, New Zealand electoral system is designed in a way that ensures proportional representation for every party that has won the electorate seat or met the party vote threshold. Regrettably, New Zealand’s electoral system has turned out to be a label for different ills related to the government, which includes the members of parliament hoping from one party to another and the growing disunity among parties (Vowles et al., 2000, p.7). The Preferential voting system used in Australia is used in elections for the every state lower houses and House of Representatives, except for the A.C.T. Legislative Assembly as well as Tasmanian House of Assembly. The preferential system is more advantages than MMP because it ensures that the candidates that have received the absolute majority votes from the electorates is the winner; thus, the possibility of minority winners as seen in New Zealand is eliminated.

Furthermore, Australia’s electoral system ensures that the independent candidates as well as minor parties are supported by the voters, considering that it is their preferences, which is utilised to choose the winner. Therefore, the independents and minor parties’ votes are not wasted. Moreover, the preferential electoral system allows the exchange of preferences between parties of like-minded policies or philosophies so as to help one another to win. Therefore, Australian electoral system promotes a two-party system that is strong, and which ensures the parliamentary process is stable.

AV and voters’ satisfaction with democracy Studies by Ian McAllister and David Farrell as cited by Renwick (2011, p.6) established that voters are inclined to be more satisfied where they are allowed by the electoral system to choose amongst candidates (like the alternative voting system used in Australia) instead of systems that offers less candidates to choose from (like First-Past-The-Post voting system). In general, it is imperative to note the benefits associated with the proportional representation system like the one used in New Zealand. Other countries that use this form of electoral system are inclined to less political partisanship since the system promotes uncompetitive cross-party law-making. According to Wherry (2014) the system normally increases the voter turnout, since voters see their votes are no more wasted. Furthermore, the system ensures fairness and that the region representation is not dominated by many members of parliaments who are sourced from one single party. Since it adoption in 1993, the system has improved the representation the marginalised groups and women in the Parliament, because always ensure their party lists observe demographic diversity as well as gender equity. All in all, electoral system used in Australia is more effective and efficient as compared to that used in New Zealand.


In conclusion, this essay has provided evidence that Australia’s electoral system of preferential voting is more effective as compared to New Zealand’s MMP voting system. As mentioned in the essay, Australia’s electoral system has been adopted in different countries across the globe because of its predominantly normative appeal. The Australian electoral system ensures that the voters choose their most preferred candidates. Although the system used in New Zealand can result in the election of the less preferred candidates, it promotes fairness and equity that lacks in preferential voting system. As mentioned in the essay, MMP was supposed to bring change within the political responsiveness, but politics in New Zealand is still a confrontational business since the inter-party co-operation bounds at the parliamentary as well as government level are prudently delimited. Participation of new Zealanders in elections was as well projected to increase, but the turnout is declining progressively, and this possibly exhibits a greater malaise that cannot be cured by the MMP system. From the comparisons, it is evident that the electoral system used by New Zealand and Australia are very different because MMP promotes equity and fairness while alternative voting promotes the right to choose the preferred candidate.


Bartl, A., 2003. Electoral systems in Australia and Germany — a comparative study. München : GRIN Verlag.

Geddis, A., 2013. New Zealand’s Ill,Fated Review of MMP. Working Paper. North Dunedin, Dunedin : Electoral Regulation Research, University of Otago.

Geddis, A. & Morris, C., 2004. ‘All is Changed, Changed Utterly’? — The Causes and Consequences of New Zealand’s Adoption of MMP. Federal Law Review, vol. 32, pp.451-78.

Kumarasingham, H. & Power, J., 2015. Constrained Parliamentarism: Australia and New Zealand compared. In Wanna, J., Lindquist, E.A. & Marshall, P. New Accountabilities, New Challenges. Canberra : ANU Press. pp.189-206.

Nagel, J.H., 2012. Evaluating Democracy in New Zealand under MMP. Policy Quarterly , vol. 8, no. 2, pp.3-11.

Norris, P., 1997. Choosing Electoral Systems: Proportional, Majoritarian and Mixed Systems. International Political Science Review , vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 297-312.

Reilly, B., 2004. The Global Spread of Preferential Voting: Australian Institutional Imperialism. Australian Journal of Political Science, vol. 39, no. 2, pp.253–66.

Renwick, A., 2011. The Alternative Vote. Briefing Paper. London: PSA Press University of Reading.

Vowles, J., Karp, J.A. & Banducci, S.A., 2000. Proportional Representation on Trial: Elite vs. Mass Opinion on Electoral System Change in New Zealand. In American Political Science Association. Washington, D.C., 2000. University of Waikat.

Wherry, A., 2014. The case for mixed-member proportional representation. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 5 July 2016].