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Chris Ford: The Citizens Initiated Referendum: a definite mandate for no more sales

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

Last week's Citizens Initiated Referendum result was definitive in its verdict: those New Zealanders who voted, voted no to any further asset sales.

While the Right has been trying to spin the result as a failure due to the relatively low turnout, I think they should look at it as elements of the Left have done: the fact that the referendum attracted 1.3 million voters, over 1 million more people than actually signed the referendum petition, is a significant triumph. The fact that the referendum had such a good turnout occurring as it did before Christmas and with many of the assets listed on the ballot paper having been sold already, should cause National some concern.

The fact that as one other fellow blogger has suggested that as many as 200,000 National voters ticked the no option  should send a clear message to Key that the last asset sale (that of Genesis Energy) should be stopped as well.

It seemed up to a week ago that Key was at least listening to the extent that noises were being made about Genesis being taken off the asset sales list. However (and perhaps following discussions with Bill English), Key confirmed that Genesis would indeed be offered up for sale in early 2014.

Nontheless, the referendum forced Labour leader David Cunliffe to declare that he would seriously look at the option of renationalisation and what options could be used to achieve this end if he and my own party the Greens are successful in forming the next government. If anything, while the referendum may have somewhat moved Key, it's been far more effective in forcing the Labour leader to finally declare his and his party's position on the matter of renationalisation. True, it's not a definitive promise and is hedged with a lot of maybes but it's the first serious indication that investors should exercise caveat emptor (buyer beware) if they choose to purchase Genesis shares.

What the referendum has proven is that New Zealanders did not give a definitive mandate to National for asset sales at all. Despite their continued good showing in the polls, National should be concerned enough that even many of its more moderate supporters cast votes against a key 2011 election plank. If Key has any political nous, he should at least take Genesis off the block and promise that no more assets will be sold if his party wins next year's election. If Key does that, then the referendum will definitely be considered to have been successful.

 

 

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