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

Spin from both sides as the provision result is revealed in the $9 million special ballot. 

Chris Keall
Sat, 14 Dec 2013

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.


Chris Keall
Sat, 14 Dec 2013
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English claims victory, of sorts, as referendum voters say no to asset sales