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English claims victory, of sorts, as referendum voters say no to asset sales

Provisional Citizens-Initiated Referendum result

"Do you support the Government selling up to 49% of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genesis Power, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand?"

Yes: 432,950 (32.50%)
No: 895,322 (67.20%)
Informal Votes: 4,068 (0.31%)
Total Valid Votes: 1,332,340 (100.00%)


Both sides are claiming victory  after 67.2% of referendum voters said no to partial sales.

As the Citizens-Initiated Referendum result was announced last night, Labour and the Greens crowed about the winning margin.

A majority of voters in every electorate bar Epsom and Tamaki voted no to the proposition, "Do you support the Government selling up to 49% of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genesis Power, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand?"

Green Party leader Russel Norman told media, "John Key has arrogantly labelled Kiwis who oppose asset sales as extremists but tonight we have shown that by a margin of two to one Kiwis are against privatisation, and it is Mr Key who is out of touch with mainstream New Zealand."

For the government, Finance Minister Bill English sid the opposition "will be disappointed by the provisional result".

Total voter turnout of 1.33 million was the second-lowest of the five Citizens-Initiated Referenda held so far (there has also been a referendum on MMP for a total of six popular votes).

Mr English's spin is that while 67% of those who voted said no, the low turnout means less than 30% of the eligible voting population overall actually cast a "no" ballot. 

He also maintains those against asset sales would have been more motivated to vote.

Labour leader David Cunliffe said the Genesis Energy partial sale should be called off. Mr Norman called for the asset sales programme to be canceled, and reiterated his party's plan to buy back second-instalment Meridian shares (Labour has still trying to decide if it supports the buy-back).

Prime Minister John Key has already flagged that is not an option.

Partial asset sales were a central policy plank at the last election, where voters gave National a renewed mandate.

And beyond the spin war over last night's result, Labour-Greens face the thorny problem that it's hard for them to demand National be bound by the asset-sales result when the left has ignored referenda results - such as the smacking verdict - when they don't go its way.

With successive governments on the left and right ignoring referenda results when it suits, taxpayers have to question whether the process is worth the time and money (the latest referenda cost $9 million, the Electoral Commission says).

Ironically, the best hope for the left, on referenda and asset sales, is if Colin Craig's Conservative Party enters coalition with National after the next election.

Mr Craig opposes the current asset sales programme, and wants referenda results to be binding.

Meantime, the biggest threats to the government's remaining asset sales agenda is not the referendum result, but Mighty River Power and Meridian shares' poor post-IPO performance; fears from some in the pro-asset sales camp that National is ladling on too much pay-later/bonus share pork in its efforts to encourage mum-and-dad participation, and investor anger and confusion over the ongoing Chorus price regulation controversy.

RAW DATA: Referenda results 

"Should the number of professional firefighters employed full time in the New Zealand Fire Service be reduced below the number employed on 1 January 1995?"
Yes: 79,475 (12.18%)
No: 572,919 (87.82%)

Should the size of the House of Representatives be reduced from 120 members to 99 members?" 
Yes: 1,678,054 (81.5%)
No: 381,984 (18.5%)

"Should there be a reform of our justice system placing greater emphasis on the needs of victims, providing restitution and compensation for them and imposing minimum sentences and hard labour for all serious violent offences?" 
Yes:  1,886,705 (91.8%)
No: 169,699 (8.2%)

"Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"
Yes:  201,541 (11.98%)
No: 1,470,755 (87.40%)
The last election also saw a legislatively-required government-initiated referendum:
"Should New Zealand keep the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system?"
Keep: 1,267,955  (57.77%)
Change: 926,819  (42.23%)
300,000 signatures are required to force a citizens-initiated referendum. No more than $50,000 can be spent promoting a referendum. 
In the four referenda so far, turnout has varied between 27% and 85%. Higher turnout has been when a referendum coincides with a general election day.

Source:; balance to 100% is invalid or informal votes.


More by Chris Keall

Comments and questions

Well if only 29.7% supported the Green/Labour inspired referendum,seems to me it is hardly a landslide.The message to Norman/Cunliffe,maybe there was a better cause, for the spending of Nine million dollars,for the so called referendum on part asset sales, was an exercise in futility.

As far as the Greens and Labour are concerned, the 9 million was only taxpayers money, and there's more where that came from.

The money was for democracy - are you really so ignorant that you forget what your grandparents died for?

Considering the Greens/Labour propaganda was deliberately misleading, if not outright false, it is not surprising that so many voted "no". All the companies in whom the government sold shares remain majority NZ owned and government controlled. None of them has gone in to the private sector or gone to offshore owners. Of course, now they are stock market listed any future Greens/Labour government won't be able to fiddle the books and manipulate their prices, as they would if they were 100% government owned.

What like the Government has just done - fiddled the books
Sold future revenue at a huge book loss - real clever Lindsay

Your experience with NZ Steel in the 1980's makes you todays expert - yeah right. Enjoy your retirement - best no more said

If John Key reckons those who voted against asset sales are extremists he has a major problem with close to 900,000 extremist voters and perhaps enough may withold their party vote from National leaving National in a coalition with The Conservatives and possibly another or our of office. It seems from voting figures in Christchurch National will likely lose the City and Waimak seats at least.

So where did the voters of CHCH think the money that is helping to rebuild their city came from.At least 15 BILLION from all of us as taxpayers.To save 4 BILLION by selling off a few shares in power companies yet still retain control is a master stroke.CH CH have benefitted the most since the earthquake.Your comments appear to sound you have turned the people of CHCH as a city of Oliver Twists.What is your problem.

The point I make is about the attitude of the people who voted in the referendum and John Keys intemperate comment that is probably inaccurate as a description of those who disagree with asset sales.As a National supporter I have no issue disagreeing with some aspects of Nationals policy and saying so as this enlightens the party to the views of its supporters, National may choose to ignore the feeling and may be right in assuming it will not change voters choice but equally voters may change their preferences - democracy in action!

From the provisional result, 225,000 National voters voted "no".
If you are alienating a significant proportion of your base with a single policy, then you have a problem.

Lest we forget.The stay at home or the people who didn't post in their vote,must have agreed that the sales were on the money.After all by not voting they must have agreed .

Russel Norman states 'we have shown by a margin of two to one kiwis are against privatisation"
The facts are - of the eligible voters 57% couldn't care, 29% were against and 14% were for and yet in the delusional minds of Cunliffe and Norman these figures mean that two thirds of all Kiwis oppose the sales!!
And these guys want to run the country!

If you infer that the number voting is an indication of validity then we need to re consider what percentage of total votes against eligible voters are required to validate a result. At present it is only those votes cast that count and those not voting have expressed no opinion so nothing can be assumed from their not voting - democracy in action like it not!

If Labour and the Greens think the referendum result should dictate policy I assume they will also reduce the number of MPs, repeal the anti-smacking law and impose harsher sentencing.

The point of referendums as the Swiss and many US States employ is to provide the electorate a method of conveying their views on subjects not relevant at the time of an election or on which voters have changed their opinions in the light of further information. The power of recall as Governor Grey who was removed by referendum in California is the ultimate voter weapon as it is available anytime during a electoral cycle so can act as a powerful influence to politicians who fail to legislate as promise or legislate laws they did not mention and with which voters disagree. Of course these are the reasons NZ Politicians don't wanting referendums to be binding - Turkeys don't vote for Christmas!!