NZ govts have proud history of ignoring referenda results
"A postal ballot held between 25 December 2013 and 3 January 2014 would be great - let's do it."Featured comment
Since National introduced the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act (1993), four measures have been put to the ballot.
For better or worse, the wisdom of the mob has been ignored on all four occasions (see RAW DATA below).
Opponents of partial privatisation are the latest to amass enough signatures to force the government to stage a non-binding citizens-initiated referendum.
The government has control of the timing for the vote, and has yet to set a date.
Critics of citizens-initiated referenda point to their cost (the asset sales referendum will cost around $9 million - Labour argues that's a pittance compared to the $100 million spent organising and promoting asset sales so far), and the wording of their questions - which can be seen as emotionally loaded or manipulative in some cases.
And with governments failing to heed the results, you could argue: why bother?
In the case of asset sales, you could argue it will help promote debate.
But whether you love or loathe the partial privatisations, there's been no shortage of discussion on the topic.
We already know from opinion polls that a majority of people oppose partial privatisations. Even many on the right are squiffy about asset sales as instictive nationalism clashes with more nuanced arguments about economic security.
But we know from those same opinion polls, and the 2011 election result, that it's not a vote-deciding issue. A referendum will just underline these known facts.
Can't pick and choose
And assuming the referendum result was anti-assets sales, could the Greens and Labour even claim there was a moral imperative for the government to follow the peoples' will? As an NBR commenter has pointed out, that logic would also require them to demand the government uphold the pro-smacking result.
Regardless, the government could well follow precedent and delay the referendum until election day (which, for National, would have the pleasing side effect of preventing the Greens and Labour from using it as a campaign platform). And of course it would make the vote meaningless in terms of the immediate asset sales programme, given stable door will have closed on the Meridian and Genesis IPOs - as the PM has already hinted.
National openly promoted its partial asset sales policy before the last election. And whether pro or con, most would agree the privatisation programme is in keeping with this government's broader agenda, which for better or worse has involved few surprises. People will get to deliver their verdict at the general election in November next year.
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%)
"Should New Zealand keep the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system?"
Keep: 1,267,955 (57.77%)
Change: 926,819 (42.23%)
Source: electionresults.org.nz; balance to 100% is invalid or informal votes.