Thursday, June 14, 2012

No privatisation without a public vote

Parliament has just started the second reading of the government's asset sales bill. Meanwhile, there is an active referendum petition campaign, which looks almost certain to meet its target. This raises the prospect of the government passing a bill, while there is a referendum in train to stop it.

This would be deeply undemocratic, and would further undermine public faith in Parliament and the legitimacy of our democratic institutions. The Greens have proposed a solution: delay the commencement of the bill until after the referendum is resolved (either by a vote or the petition lapsing) (SOP here [PDF]. Note that this doesn't make the outcome contingent on the referendum; it simply requires the government to stop and listen before proceeding. Parliament should not pass the bill without this clause. Sadly, I expect National will ram it through anyway.

Meanwhile, for those wondering about the point of a referendum when the government is going to press on anyway, firstly, this government has shown that they will back down if there is enough public opposition. 50,000 people marching along Queen Street convinced them to give up their plans to dig up the Conservation estate; the anger of every parent in the country convinced them to give up on their education cuts. If we get enough signatures on the petition, then they will rightly fear for their political futures. Secondly, even if it doesn't convince this government, it will convince the next one, providing a moral mandate for any thefts to be reversed at a loss to the thieves and for our remaining assets to be protected by a built-in referendum requirement. That's the real benefit: ending this policy forever. And its precisely why National is in such a hurry: because this is their last chance to steal these assets for their donors and cronies.