Some members have been putting across that we are trying to force this voting system on schools, whereas the bill clearly states that it will be available to schools. Even if the national school trustees body is not at this point pushing for the system, there are schools that would enjoy it and benefit from it.
To me, the compliance cost argument does not carry much weight. We live in a computer society, and all that is needed is a little bit of software that can run the vote count. An initial cost might be incurred in getting the software into the computers of schools that want to take up this position, but once it is installed vote counting will be as easy as in any other system. Or there may be an agency that comes in under contract to do the vote counting. As my colleague Rod Donald said, these agencies already have the software, so there is no significant compliance cost there.
This procedure will give minorities in schools better representation, be they ethnic minorities or people with minority views about where their school should go. Some of the other speeches have reinforced that point in some ways. Deborah Coddington commented on how only a few parents turn up to meet-the-candidates meetings.
Often, particularly in big schools, parents who are confronted with having to vote for so many candidates but know only a couple of them wonder who else they will vote for beyond those they know. They often end up exercising a less informed vote by just ticking the names of people who sound good in order to make up the number on their list.
It is unfortunately true, if we go by the evidence – and if we look, for example, at the Auckland local body results, although I am not saying it is entirely identical to school boards of trustees elections – that people with “foreign-sounding” names miss out when that less informed category of voting is exercised by people just filling up their lists.
It has been indicated here that there is a lower level of Asian and other minority representation on school boards of trustees. There are fewer people from these groups on them than their presence in the population indicates there should be. So there can be a certain cultural conservatism in the voting that puts candidates of minority nationalities out of the picture.
Other members have said that people vote just for the person. We can see from the situation at Cambridge High School recently that disputes can occur over the direction a school should take. We therefore want to allow for expression of different views, in terms of the direction a school should take, to be represented on the board, as well. Once again, using the parallel of local body elections, STV allows not only for broader representation but also for more positive voting.
The reality is that in elections, be they local body or school boards of trustees elections, a number of similar candidates can be almost competing for the same spot – for example, a number of candidates of a particular ethnicity. In the case of the Auckland mayoralty contest that is going on at the moment – which I am familiar with as an MP from Auckland – there was the situation of the incumbent having two challengers, Christine Fletcher and Bruce Hucker. Then Dick Hubbard came into the ring, making three challengers to the incumbent, with overlapping constituencies, one could say. Bruce Hucker thought it wise to pull out at that point, whereas under an STV system he could have stayed in the race, because, even if he lost, his preference votes would tend to go to the dominant challenger to Mr Banks.
I think such a system benefits us all. One of the things about STV that has not been talked about enough is that through the preference system one gets to the quota. The quota, if there is a multi-member situation, can be relatively low, so people from a minority ethnic group in a school can get represented, and a block of the dominant ethnic group cannot outvote all the minority candidates. The system is much fairer in that respect.