Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Too late

Note: see the correction at the bottom of this post.

So, it seems that the child-beaters' political stratagem has come to nought. Having gained an extra 60,000 signatures in the hope of getting them over the 10% threshold required to force a referendum on the child discipline law, it turns out that even if they do manage it, they're too late: there is now no time to organise a referendum before polling day. As with their earlier debacle over overenthusiastic child-beaters signing the petition twice, their response is a faith-based assertion that there is "plenty of time", coupled with dark mutterings about government persecution and conspiracies to frustrate god's will. And as with that earlier debacle, they are simply victims of their own ignorance.

The provisions of the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993 are quite clear. When the Clerk of the House receives a petition calling for a referendum, they have two months to certify it and present it to the Speaker. Assuming that the additional signatures are not from similarly overenthusiastic loons who believe that signing a petition more than once helps their cause, and that it is indeed certified, the Speaker then presents it to the House. Finally, the government has a month in which to set a date. Then - and this is the bit that everyone seems to have forgotten - the Governor-General issues a writ for the poll. And if the referendum is to be held on election day, that must be done 60 days in advance.

Do the maths: the whole process takes five months, which pushes the date back to the end of November (sometime around the 28th, once you take the vagaries of the House sitting programme into account). But the latest date an election can be held is November 15th, and some are predicting the election will be held in mid-October. In short, it's not happening. If they have the signatures, the child-beaters will get their vote, but they'll have to wait until next year to get it.

Correction: A correspondent informs me that the 60 days refers to the return of the writ for a referendum, and that it is usually issued about a month in advance. So, the process takes four months, not five, meaning there is still time if the government is not planning to go to the polls early. And on that question, who knows?

It would certainly be a lot easier if we knew the election date in advance, like they do in the US.