There’s been a battle over the weekend about how to interpret, sell, and spin the asset sales referendum results. Of course, this tussle has been mostly self-serving, with Labour/Green partisans declaring the referendum a resounding defeat for the Government, and National partisans promoting equal reasons to celebrate. So, who really won the referendum? Or did we all lose?
The ‘spin wars’ over the referendum results have hardly been illuminating. As Morgan Godfery (@MorganGodfery) said on Twitter when the results were announced, ‘Meaningless platitude follows: partisans are going hard with their view on the referendum. I suspect the truth is somewhere in between etc’. Similarly, James Cardno (@jamescardno) captured the debate perfectly saying, ‘This whole referendum thing has been like those old optical illusions - do you see a vase or two faces? And old woman or a young girl?’ Some of the most interesting and witty reactions can be found on Twitter, and you can see the best of these in my blogpost Top tweets about the asset sales referendum. Scott Yorke also parodies the spin wars in his blogpost Analysing the asset sales referendum results.
‘Labour and Greens won’
Labour’s blogging spin-doctor Rob Salmond had one of the most interesting (and self-serving) blogposts about the result, in which he tried to make an argument that the Government’s own voters had deserted them over the issue – see: At least 225,000 Nats said "No" to asset sales. The extent of the spin was too much for some, with Blaise Drinkwater (@BKDrinkwater) tweeting to say Salmond was simply tying himself up in knots, and ‘his reasoning is supernaturally unpersuasive’.
Others on Twitter pointed out how Labour and the Greens had done very well in keeping the issue alive. Lew Stoddart (@LewSOS) said ‘The asset sales referendum was an agenda-control play; to keep the issue top of the public mind. It's worked admirably for that purpose’. Today’s Press editorial says something similar: ‘As a political stunt it can be counted a success. It has kept the issue of the sale of some of the Government's share in a few state assets to the fore to the discomfiture of the Government and possibly some cost to its standing in opinion polls’ – see: Little point to one-issue polls.
Lewis Holden has argued that the exercise itself had been useful for Labour/Greens: ‘What the government will actually worry about is that the CIR represents the Greens and Labour working together. Speaking from personal experience, these referendum campaigns are invaluable for political campaigners. You make a lot of connections and gain knowledge about how to run a campaign - the essential stuff of winning a general election’ – see: Referendum: What the government will worry about.
Some on the left are unconvinced by the anti-asset sales campaign, pointing out that the Labour/Greens policy on the energy companies was in practice just as neoliberal as National’s policy. See, for example, Philip Ferguson’s Referendum result: voters not moved by either capitalist option and Steven Cowan’s Much ado about nothing. Marxist blogger Giovanni Tiso (@gtiso) also proclaimed on Twitter, ‘And – again, to state the bloody obvious - you don't need to privatise SOEs to be neoliberal. You just run them as private companies’. Incidentally, my own view, formulated nearly three years ago when the policy was first announced, is still relevant: A leftwing perspective on asset sales.
John Key has been running the line that only a quarter of New Zealanders voted against asset sales, and the remaining three-quarters of voters are supportive or don’t care too much – see, for example, Neil Reid’s Asset sales programme to continue: Key.
It takes a certain chutzpah to claim victory in a referendum where the votes went two-to-one against you but the political right was quick to point out that their loss was less severe than expected. Essentially they were happy to come out of the punch-up with only a few scrapes rather than the hiding that they were expecting. David Farrar blogged to say that he had been expecting the ‘no vote’ to be over 80%, and that he thought many of those in favour of asset sales hadn’t bothered to vote, including himself – see: Much higher yes vote than I expected.
Matthew Hooton wrote that the result was almost a ‘debacle’ for Labour and the Greens, as it was less decisive than expected and the depth of feeling on the issue was just not present: ‘It is clear that for hundreds of thousands of people, it is something they oppose but not passionately so. The referendum result confirms it – see: No joy for left from referendum result (paywalled).
National’s other major tactic to cover any embarrassment has been to continue to challenge Labour to be consistent over its opposition to asset sales, by promising to buy them back. The line that keeps coming out of the Labour and Greens camp is that they might do so – see, for example, the latest: Labour may buy state assets back. Key continues to label such a non-committal position as ‘weasel words’.
It could be argued that neither side won the debate or referendum. Martyn Bradbury blogs to say Why I think asset referendum represents a political stalemate. My views, along similar lines, are outlined in Rosie Mann’s Otago Daily Times news report Victory (just) for asset sales opponents. I argue that the result was certainly bad news for National, but that the anti-asset sales campaign also failed to achieve its two unofficial goals of 1) getting the turnout to the symbolically-legitimate target of 50%, and 2) achieving a total ‘no vote’ greater than the party vote won by National at the last election.
The turnout was certainly surprisingly low. The vast majority of eligible voters decided not to participate, with a turnout of only about 40.7%. A higher turnout figure of 43.9% has been bandied about, but such a figure is less useful or rigorous as it doesn’t include the non-enrolled voters (as is normally done for elections). The low-turnout was also the second lowest for citizen initiated referendums.
So, why did so few participate? The anti-asset sales campaign is arguing that the National Government did its best to lower turnout by holding the referendum just before Christmas, after Parliament had finished, after most of the assets had been partially privatised, and not as part of an election. Rob Salmond is particularly scathing of the Government using a postal mechanism, suggesting that this was a deliberate attempt to exclude certain voters from participating. He says: ‘National chose a postal ballot for the referendum knowing it would disproportionately disenfranchise Maori and Pasifika communities. I hope they're proud of themselves’ – see: Turnout in the referendum.
Are CIR’s now discredited?
One of the outcomes of the anti-asset sales campaign has been to help kill off the credibility of citizen-initiated referendums. This democratic mechanism was always problematic, and previous referendums had already damaged their perceived legitimacy and usefulness. This latest experience might have finally tipped the balance against the referendums and there is now a widespread feeling that the inadequacies and flaws in the mechanism mean that they should be abolished. Certainly attempts to initiate future referendums will be much more difficult now.
Today’s Press newspaper editorial outlines some of the problems with citizen initiated referendums, but reminds readers that the extra problem with the latest one was that it was essentially a political-party driven referendum rather than a ‘citizen’s’ one – see: Little point to one-issue polls.
Today’s Timaru Herald editorial is scathing about all politicians involved in the referendum, but says the answer to the flaws of the referendum model is not to abolish such referendums but to make them binding on the government – see: Nothing to shout about. This is an argument we are likely to hear more of from Colin Craig’s Conservatives.
Yesterday’s Sunday Star Times editorial, ‘It’s time to do away with stupid referenda’ (not online) says that ‘CIR have failed spectacularly to deliver on their promise. Most have been poorly devised, with pointless, leading questions that have provided little insight or direction to governments’. That newspaper says that same results could be found through opinion polling: ‘But in this digital era, when governments have almost instant access to polls and can constantly monitor social media, it’s fair to say they don’t need an unwieldy and outmoded referendum to tell them what people are thinking. Couple that with the fact we have elections every three years and there seems little point in having another ‘‘vote’’ on major policy mid-way through that relatively short governance term’.
A similar proposal is put by Matthew Hooton: ‘A case can therefore be made that it would have been much better to pay Roy Morgan, UMR or Curia $100,000 to carry out a large-scale opinion poll, rather than spend the estimated $9 million on the MOM referendum. It would almost certainly have delivered a near-identical result and would have ignored just the same as the CIR result’. Yet he says that the asset sales referendum exercise was still useful for democracy: ‘despite the fact the government will ignore the result, it can only be a good thing for civil society that over 300,000 people ultimately did put their genuine signature on a petition about a public policy issue they care about, and that 1,332,340 people voted one way or the other – with the 1,705,065 who didn’t vote also sending a message about how on their priority lists the MOM sits’ – see: No joy for left from referendum result (paywalled).
Finally, with the referendum over, should the political parties behind the petition exercise be able to use the contact details of all signatories to campaign on other issues? No Right Turn is firmly against this abuse – see the blogpost, Grossly unethical.
Asset sales referendum results
Dan Satherley (TV3): Asset sales referendum 'complete nonsense' - Collins
Philip Ferguson (Redline): Referendum result: voters not moved by either capitalist option
No Right Turn: Grossly unethical
The Standard: Muppets
Radio NZ: Cunliffe rejects asset buyback challenge
Rob Salmond (Polity): Turnout in the referendum
Peter O’Neill (Timaru Herald): Editorial: Nothing to shout about
Neil Reid (Stuff): Asset sales programme to continue: Key
Radio NZ: Key issues asset sales challenge
Rebecca Quilliam (Herald): Asset sales proceed in spite of referendum
Jacqui Stanford (Newstalk ZB): Key dismisses referendum as political stunt
Radio NZ: Asset sales will go ahead, says Key
Newswire: Assets referendum a 'stunt' – Key
Rosie Mann (ODT): Victory (just) for asset sales opponents
Newswire: Vote will disappoint Opposition – Govt
Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Two-thirds of voters oppose asset sales
Brook Sabin (TV3): Asset sales referendum results announced
Adam Bennett (Herald): Resounding vote against asset sales in referendum
Rob Salmond (Polity): At least 225,000 Nats said "No" to asset sales
Chris Keall (NBR): English claims victory, of sorts, as referendum voters say no to asset sales
Matthew Hooton (NBR): No joy for left from referendum result
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Much higher yes vote than I expected
Steven Cowan (Against the current): Much ado about nothing
Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): Analysing the asset sales referendum results
Grumpollie: Do the Nats care about the referendum result?
Lewis Holden: Referendum: What the government will worry about
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Why I think asset referendum represents a political stalemate
Frank Macskasy (Daily Blog): Has Key just insulted 1,058,638 National voters?
Kirsty Wynn (Herald): Labour gaining votes as National 'ignore' referendum results
The Press:Little point to one-issue polls
David Kennedy (Local Bodies): Key Desperately Spinning Referendum Result
Jacqui Stanford (Newstalk ZB): Cunliffe hopeful asset sales will drive voters his way
Jacqui Stanford (Newstalk ZB): Government urged to re-think Genesis Energy plans
Keeping Stock: Correcting a Labour porkie
Efeso Collins (Daily Blog): Victory for Labour
Greg Presland (The Standard): Herald poll has Labour at 40% because of asset sales
David Farrar (Kiwiblog):HoS Poll
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): The Green Party data scammers: look at their guidelines
Tim Selwyn (Tumeke): Asset sales referendum: Nats smacked
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): The Press on referendum
Bernard Orsman (Herald): Brown refuses to pay part of inquiry bill
TV3/RadioLIVE: 'Disappointed' councillors to question Brown
Pete George (Your NZ): Brown a repeat cheat and liar
Angela Beswick (Newstalk ZB): Len Brown's hotel upgrades total more than $32,000
RadioLIVE: Report rigorous, but not sensational
Heather McCracken (Herald): Len Brown report reveals extent of spending
Bernard Orsman (Herald): Len Brown: I'm staying
Fran O'Sullivan (Herald): Compromised mayor has to be held to account
Bryce Edwards (Liberation): Top tweets about the Len Brown report
No Right Turn: Unacceptable
Grant Duncan (Policy Matters): Should Len Brown resign?
Pete George (Your NZ): Len Brown – free room at Sky City
Pete George (Your NZ): Len Brown from the left
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Len Brown’s additional hotel nights questioned
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Len Brown report – media roundup
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Have EY accessed all of Len’s emails and txts as part of their investigation?
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Len Brown resource use “generally” within the rules. Generally.
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): The Whaleoil “Len Brown” investigation – Reviewing our options
Torben Akel (TV3): Tough questions over affair ahead for Auckland mayor
Tony Wall (Stuff): Councillors in talks over mayor
John Weekes (Herald): Mayor to face council as casino row flares
Cherie Howie (Herald): Wewege paid $13k by Palino
Newstalk ZB Staff (Newstalk ZB): Costs of Auckland mayoralty campaigns revealed
Stephanie Flores (NBR): Lessons from America: How politicians carry on after the extra-marital affair
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Why I don’t care about Len Brown’s audit
Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock): Bring in the AG
Danyl McLauchlan (Dim-Post): Thinking my way through the whole Len Brown thing
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Censure is the minimum for the Mayor with no contrition
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): New Zealand. The country of talkers. The doers have given up
Rankin vs. Bennett
Colin Espiner (Stuff): 'Catfight' looms in hot seat
Sarah Robson (Newswire): Rankin asked to stand for Conservatives
Danyl McLauchlan (Dim-Post): Why I don’t write politcal satire anymore
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Bennett v Rankin
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): A DPB solo mum ‘catfight’ on the cards in Upper Harbour
Radio NZ: Pike mother opposes legal action offer
Dominion Post: Editorial: Pike families let down again
Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Pike decision 'firmly based on legal principles'
Patrice Dougan and Matthew Theunissen (Herald): McCready vows to take Whittall to court
Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Mine emergency protocols strengthened
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): The Whittall prosecution
Greg Presland (The Standard): The Pike River deal of the century
Colin Espiner (Stuff): Laws out of balance
Timaru Herald: Editorial: Smell won't go away
Deidre Mussen (Stuff): 'Hard questions' for Whittall
Greymouth Star: Whittall unemployed since mine disaster
Patrice Dougan (Herald): Whittall's cash offer to families a bad look – Key
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): A brief word on Pike River blood money
Don Franks (Redline): PIke River injustice: taking up Helen Kelly’s offer
Tom Peters (WSW): New Zealand: Charges dropped against Pike River mine CEO
Hamish Fletcher (Herald): Chorus shortfall may hurt service
Nick Leggett (Stuff): Wrong of Chorus to think of abandoning the Gigatown competition
Claire Trevett (Herald): Analyst sees drop in service from Chorus
Paul Brislen (Herald): Telecommunication in 2013 - The good, the bad and the ugly
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): One of Hooton’s corporate wrecking crew busted with $250k fine
Lance Wiggs (NBR): Chorus: turnaround and go
Hamish Fletcher (Herald): Chorus funding shortfall can be improved – report
Chris Keall (NBR): EY: Slash Chorus dividend payouts by $290m
NBR Staff (NBR): EY report shows no need for copper tax
Jacqui Stanford (Newstalk ZB): Government labelled 'cynical' over Chorus report
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Dunne offers to mediate in Chorus snag
Bryce Wilkinson (NBR): Chorus ‘tar baby’ spreads risk from investors to taxpayers
John Harbord (NBR): Chorus: Who wins and who loses
Rodney Hide (NBR): Investors should flee when state moves in
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Options for Chorus
Andrea Vance (Stuff): What future for South Africa?
Kerre McIvor (Herald): Cunliffe comes in handy
Rodney Hide (Herald): Sorry, but I'm on the 1981 fence
Matt McCarten (Herald): Insult to send tour supporters
John Sargeant (Stuff): Mandela leaves important legacy
Ross Henderson (Stuff): Let's hear it for the progressives
John Roughan (Herald): Mandela made us wait a while
Chris Trotter (Stuff): Unforgiving remnants of racist hatred linger on
Taranaki Daily News: Mandela as symbol remains undiminished
Mai Chen (Herald): Election year could do with the goodwill of Mandela
Redline: NZ politician beatifies Mandela
Steven Cowan (Against the Current): Vividly Confused
Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Climate of fear during inquisition
Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Diplomats reject Rebstock report findings
Radio NZ: Leak report 'unfair' on managers
Laura McQuillan (Newstalk ZB): MFAT leakers 'heroes', says Goff
Gordon Campbell (Scoop): On the Rebstock investigation of the MFAT leaks
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): The behaviour of certain MFAT managers
Child poverty and inequality
Dave Armstrong (Dominion Post): Ignorance and want will return to haunt us
Prue Hyman (Stuff): Living wage provides many benefits
Gareth Morgan and Susan Guthrie (Herald): Creating jobs will not end poverty
Martin van Beynen (Stuff): There's more to poverty than a lack of money
Sam Boyer (Stuff): Food queues already huge, says Mission
Amy Maas (Stuff): Millions more for benefit heroes
Newswire: Government provides help for children
The Standard: The party I will vote for ….
The Standard: Summer service: the real economy
Pete George (Your NZ): Guest post on poverty
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Mathematically challenged expert
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Real poverty or an outcome of poor decision making?
Brian Gaynor (Herald): Next year an economic cracker
Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Govt change could impact market
Herald: Bernard Hickey: 'Dutch disease' drives rash of losses Downunder
Matt Nippert (Stuff): Kiwis rebuked for going soft on bribery
Newswire: Govt seeks business-savvy immigrants
Corazon Miller (Newstalk ZB): Rich foreign business people need to prove themselves
David Williams (NBR): Union weakened by Ports of Auckland industrial dispute
Josh Martin (Stuff): Taxi dispute still rankles drivers
Rod Oram (Stuff): Govt report on Fonterra scare does not reassure
Max Rashbrooke: NZ govt spending above average – OECD
Stephen Franks: Proud of the team – and consumers will benefit
Blogs and the media
Peter Aranyi (The Paepae): Deceitful “PR blog” questions worth considering
Pete George (Your NZ): Cameron Slater on party funding and influence
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Deceptions and integrity in politics
Police and prisons
Alex Fensome (Stuff): New Zealand's imprisonment levels slammed
Shane Cowlishaw (Stuff): Prison plans expansion for ageing inmates
Kathryn Powley (Herald): Roast Busters: Sex scandal prompts increase in calls for help
Kerre McIvor (Herald): Good report card for Taser
Rebecca Quilliam (Herald): Crown signs historic Treaty settlement
Matthew Theunissen (Herald): Race-based manslaughter appeal fails
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Speaking English “a great offense”
Sam Boyer (Herald): NZ authors sign spying petition
Lance Wiggs (NBR): NZ Customs Seizes Electronics – a full enquiry please
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Have Customs become the GCSB’s 5th eye at the border?
Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Money runs out for drug research
Rachel young (Stuff): Water quality tops public concerns
Nicholas Jones (Herald): NZ's adult obesity rate tops 30%
Rob Stock (Stuff): Big gaps in home ownership information
Deborah Russell (Telling it Left): Working for a fair society
Kathryn Powley (Stuff): Teacher hearings shake-up
Susan Edmunds (Herald): Census 2013: Immigration at new high
Radio NZ: Battle lines drawn over oil drilling
Matthew Theunissen (Herald): SAS man who stole equipment keeps army job
Nicholas Jones (Herald): 'Informed, thoughtful citizens' at risk of vanishing: academics
Chris Ford (Voxy): On Michael Laws and eugenics
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Colin Craig says
Cassandra Mason (Herald): Wellington Council admits massive data leak