Monday, December 16, 2013

The referendum

The results of the Keep Our Assets referendum were announced over the weekend (well, Friday evening, but that's the weekend as far as I'm concerned), showing that 895,322 out of 1,332,340 voters voted against asset sales. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed - I'd been hoping for a higher turnout and a more resounding "no" vote. At the same time, its still a clear message against asset sales in the face of a deliberate strategy of turnout suppression from the government.

As for the consequences, the government is of course promising to ignore it and sell Genesis on a flooded market for a shit price out of pure anti-democratic spite. But looking at the results by electorate, that might not be a great idea, particularly in seats like Invercargill, Nelson and Whanganui which have National MPs but stronger than usual opinion against privatisation. And there will be a lot of people outraged at the government ignoring a clear policy referendum even if they agree with the policy. National will be polling, and possibly trying to find a way out of Key's moronic, spiteful threat.

As for Labour, they've had a bump in the polls and are making noises about buying everything back. This will probably be by Air New Zealand-style opportunism (perhaps leveraging the effects of their energy policy) rather than by my preferred policy of legislating for nationalisation at an explicit loss to the thieves, but its still encouraging. More importantly, it will provide a solid mandate for a future policy of erecting constitutional barriers to privatisation (though this is very much bolting the gate after the horse has been butchered in its pen).

The bigger question is where to now for referenda. This was a referendum where we did everything right - a clear question, with a clear policy outcome, not tainted by motherhood and apple pie - and the government still ignored it. Clearly, our politicians need to be reminded who is boss in this country. I can think of an easy intermediate step to doing so - requiring governments to formally respond to referenda in the House and publish an immediate update when an election is called - but passing it into the law requires the consent of politicians. Who are hardly likely to want to create a rod for their own back.