The 1992 referendum on electoral systems
In late 1991 Parliament passed the Electoral Referendum Act, introduced by Prime Minister Jim Bolger’s National government. This resulted in a two-part referendum on the electoral system in September 1992. Part A asked electors whether they wanted to retain or change the country’s first-past-the-post electoral system. Regardless of how they voted in the first question, Part B of the referendum asked electors which one of four alternative electoral systems they would prefer if the country opted for change.
Although the referendum was simply a consultative – or indicative – one, the government made clear its intention to hold a binding constitutional referendum if a majority voted for a change. Of the 55% of registered electors who took part, a clear majority of 85% chose change, leading to a binding constitutional referendum in 1993. In the September 1992 indicative referendum, 71% of those who voted favoured the mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system. MMP was adopted in the subsequent 1993 constitutional referendum.
The voice of the people
In a comment made in Parliament four days after the 1992 referendum on the voting system, acting Prime Minister Don McKinnon called the result ‘probably one of the most momentous this country has ever had.’ Opposition Labour leader Mike Moore said of the vote, ‘The people didn’t speak on Saturday. They screamed.’1
The 2011 electoral systems referendum
In November 2011 New Zealand held a consultative referendum that was almost an exact copy of the 1992 referendum. Part A of the 2011 referendum asked voters whether or not they wanted to keep New Zealand’s MMP electoral system, and Part B gave them an opportunity to choose one of four possible alternatives to the country’s voting system.
A clear majority (58%) favoured the retention of the country’s current electoral system. The 2011 referendum did not, therefore, result in a binding run-off constitutional referendum. Around 74% of registered electors voted in the 2011 referendum.
Compulsory retirement scheme referendum 1997
In September 1997 a referendum asked electors if they supported a proposed compulsory retirement savings scheme. An overwhelming 92% of voters opposed the proposal, with 80% of registered voters taking part.
In 2015 and 2016 New Zealand held a two-stage consultative referendum on the future of the New Zealand flag. In 2015 voters were asked to rank five alternative flag designs from a shortlist developed by a Flag Consideration Panel in consultation with the public. Then in March 2016 voters chose between the most preferred option from the first referendum and the current New Zealand flag. The flag that received the most votes in the second referendum would be the official flag of New Zealand. As a result of the referendum process, the current New Zealand flag was retained. Around 49% of registered electors voted in the 2015 referendum and around 68% voted in the 2016 one.