15 Dec 2013

Asset sales will go ahead, says Key

5:38 am on 15 December 2013

The Prime Minister says the Government will continue with its programme of partial asset sales, despite a majority voting against the policy in a citizens initiated referendum.

John Key.

John Key. Photo: RNZ

Almost 44% of eligible voters took part in the citizens-initiated referendum. The preliminary result was announced on Friday night, showing that 1,333,402 people voted - of which 32.5% voted for the asset sales and 67.2% against.

John Key says the referendum was a waste of money as the Government already had a mandate for its sales programme from the general election in 2011.

The Government says that result means less than 30% of voters actually expressed opposition to the programme and it believes most people support its economic plan.

Mr Key says Labour Party leader David Cunliffe is deluded in thinking the result is an overwhelming victory and believes Labour and the Greens will be disappointed.

"It was much tighter than what they thought, the word that Labour and the Greens were putting out there was that well over 80%, similar to the smacking referendum which was 87%, would vote their way, in fact it was 67%."

Mr Key says his party has always been clear and transparent about its asset sales plan and the referendum was a political stunt.

He says the Government will continue with its plan to sell off part of Genesis Energy, subject to market conditions.

Vote sparks call to drop asset sales

The Labour and Green parties say John Key should heed the wishes of the public and bring the programme to an end.

Labour leader David Cunliffe says the asset sales programme has been a disaster so far and must be ended.

"National tried every trick in the book to suppress this referendum, putting it right before Christmas, after the House had lifted, saying in advance they were going to ignore the result, but, more than two-to-one, New Zealanders got out and voted against asset sales."

The Government has sold shares in Mighty River Power, Meridian Energy and Air New Zealand and plans to float Genesis Energy early next year. There is no date yet for financially troubled Solid Energy.

The Conservative Party says any coalition deal it does will include a condition that citizens-initiated referendums with a clear outcome will be binding on the government of the day.

Conservatives leader Colin Craig says it is outrageous successive governments have ignored the wishes of New Zealanders when results of referendums haven't gone the governments' way.

Asset vote 'robust' despite turnout

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Photo: RNZ

Victoria University political scientist Dr Jon Johansson says the referendum on the Government's partial assets sales programme has delivered an emphatic result for its opponents.

He says the results are robust given the collection of signatures to trigger the referendum was delayed and the only asset left to be partially sold is Genesis Energy.

"I think it has delivered a very emphatic result and it doesn't really matter what rhetoric is employed by the Government, this is a serious message and you dismiss nearly 900,000 people at your own peril."

Dr Johansson believes the Government will be seriously mulling the referendum result in the lead-up to the sale of Genesis Energy.

One of the prime movers behind the referendum on the Government's partial assets sales programme says if the poll had not come so late in the day, the result would have been even more pronounced.

Grey Power says many of its members who opposed the sales did not vote because they said Genesis Energy was the only asset left to be partially sold.

Lower response

The referendum produced a lower response from voters than previous citizens-initiated referendums.

In 2009, 56% turned out to vote on parental smacking. Almost nine out of 10 thought smacking was acceptable, but Parliament banned it anyway.

The referendum before that, in 1999, called for tougher law and order policies. Almost 85% took part in the ballot, and again, nine out of 10 voted in favour.

In a simultaneous referendum, the same number of electors voted four to one to reduce the number of politicians in parliament. The results of both polls were ignored by the Government.

The strongest margins in referendum history were in favour of stronger law and order (91.8%), and against a superannuation proposal by Winston Peters two years earlier.