Tuesday, March 06, 2012

A referendum on privatisation

Opposition to the government's privatisation policy has finally crystallised, with Grey Power planning a Citizen's Initiated Referendum on asset sales:

An alliance of community groups led by Grey Power and backed by Labour and the Greens will this week launch a petition calling for a Citizens' Initiated Referendum on the partial asset sales plan.

However, the referendum amounts to a desperate rearguard action against the plan, which the Government claimed a mandate for after the last election.

The petition will oppose the proposed sale of up to 49 per cent of Mighty River Power, Genesis and Meridian and needs to get 307,000 signatures to force the referendum.

A Citizens Initiated Referenda is a blunt instrument, and its slow; just getting a question approved takes around three months, by which time the government will likely have passed its Mixed ownership Model Bill. And even if it gets the required signatures, the government gets to choose when and how the resulting referendum is held. OTOH, if anything is going to get the required number of signatures, its this. It will make it clear to the government that their asset-stripping programme has no mandate, and provide a powerful and credible threat to focus the minds of National's backbenchers on their own electoral survival.

Of course, we shouldn't have to do this; we should have inbuilt constitutional safeguards against a rogue government gaining power than flogging off our assets to their rich mates. Labour has one suggestion for doing so, with the State-Owned Enterprises and Crown Entities (Protecting New Zealand’s Strategic Assets) Amendment Bill, which would require a referendum or supermajority for any asset sales. Unfortunately, its a member's bill, so its luck of the draw (and the next ballot probably isn't until July). But it would be a start. These are our assets, and we, rather than corrupt and self-interested politicians, should have the final say on what happens to them.