Asset petition good, smacking and marriage petition bad

Green MP Kevin Hague supports the asset sales petition/referendum but opposes having a referendum on the marriage equality bill. Do Greens think that democratic processes can be used selectively to suit their preferences?

Asset Bill

The Green and Labour parties are currently pushing the anti asset sale petition/CIR for all it’s worth (actually for all the taxpayers are worth, they’re using our money, but that’s another story).

MPs from both parties are demanding that the asset share floats are halted until the results of the referendum are known, and then the Government should scrap the share floats as opponents are confident the referendum result will be favourable to their argument (and to their politicking strategy).

It is obvious the referendum (presuming it will go ahead) would be ignored and will be too late anyway, asset shares will have already been sold.

Smacking Bill

It has often been pointed out that these same Green and Labour parties (and other parties) ignored the last referendum, on smacking.

Voter turnout was 56.1%. While 87.4% of votes answered ‘no’, the question drew widespread criticism from the public, parliament, and even the prime minister John Key for being a loaded question and for the use of the value-judgement ‘good’.

I thought the question was poor too, I could have justified answering either Yes or No depending on how I looked at the question. Because the referendum question didn’t directly address the Bill it could be (and was) easily ignored.

Marriage Bill

There have also been calls for a referendum on the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill.

Some want it to be a Government initiated referendum and it be made binding. It is a conscience vote in Parliament so there is some justification for this.

Others say that if ‘the people’ want a referendum they should start a petition. Like the others this would take massive effort and resources and take far too long.

There is not going to be a gay marriage referendum, but if there was should Parliament abide by the result? There are valid questions about whether the majority should be able to impose possibly discriminatory will on a minority.

All bills are not equal

Obviously all bills have different aspects to them.

The Asset bill is Government policy that was a major issue in the last election.It has been debated on strictly party lines, Government (National, Act and UnitedFuture) versus Opposition.

The Marriage bill was a private members bill so has only been debated since the election, and is a conscience vote, with mixed support and opposition from National and Labour MPs (Greens have all agreed with it but they tend to block vote anyway).

Green support for referenda is not equal

Green MP Kevin Hague commented on the issue of a marriage referendum on his facebook page:

Maybe 1% of submitters to the Select Committee thought there should be a referendum on marriage equality. As we get into the final stages of the parliamentary process these referendum calls have become stronger.

There are two reasons for this: one group of MPs believes their supporters are mostly opposed to the legislation, so want to be able to vote against without having to use homophobic or irrational arguments, while another group is opposed to the legislation for homophobic or irrational reasons, and sees a referendum as a means of delay.

There’s some irony here, as some views on the asset referendum go along the lines of “while another group is opposed to the legislation for political reasons, and sees a referendum as a means of delay”.

Joshua James comments:

The very idea of a referendum is ridiculous. The concept of the ‘majority’ voting on minorites rights is disturbing. There are elected members for this purpose.

Also ironic, claiming “very idea of a referendum is ridiculous“. There is some merit to this argument, but it assumes what the ‘majority’ would say.

Yes, there are elected representatives for this purpose, that’s our model of representative democracy.

Also, comparing a referendum of the sale of assets to a referendum on marriage equality is ridiculous. Every New Zealander owns these assets, no one but me and my partner own my relationship.

Kevin Hague agreed:

Very well put Joshua!

Comparing referenda on different issues is ridiculous? Or is this a case of supporting a referendum that you think will benefit you and opposing a referendum that you fear might give you a result you don’t like?

Seems like selective support of democracy – when it suits.

Future Referenda

Green’s past opposition to taking notice of referenda (smacking) and current mixed support – for the asset referendum anmd against one for marriage – raises questions about their commitment to democratic processes.

Would Greens commit to abiding by the result of any future Citizen Initiated Referendum?

Or would they select which referenda suit them to support?

I think this is an important question – particularly when the Greens openly express pride about being a party run on sound democratic principles.

Question for Greens

Would Greens support the will of the majority in any future CIR, or will they decide which referenda are ridiculous on a case by case basis?

Leave a comment


  1. chirpbird

     /  18th March 2013

    Interesting questions about the pitfalls of referendums – which in turn reflects back to the issue of how political decision-making is done, how it should be done or can be done most fairly and effectively.
    I can see at least three factors creating tension with the traditional nation-wide, simple majority voting on issues:
    1) the existence of the internet which allows information and opinion exchange (like this!)
    2) the increasing complexity of issues
    3) the formation of identity groups and communities of interest (including geographical ones) who also advocate for their right to collective representation, as well as the already existing representation for individuals.
    I don’t think this debate is yet at the stage of looking for solutions, more still in the stage of first recognizing that there are problems.
    For example, does allowing collective representation (e.g. of an identity group) weaken the power of individuals and so disenfranchise them? Is allowing it like giving some people two votes while other people still have only one?
    I think the United Nations debated this when considering its Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    • I think there are fundamental flaws with our CIR – flaws built in by politicians from the start, and now politicians are taking CIR over for their owbn purposes.

      I’ve been looking at better ways of providing people input into politics and have a good idea of what might be a much better and more effective approach, both on a local and national basis.

  2. Darryl

     /  18th March 2013

    They should put this Marriage bill forward at the next election and let the public have there say. Why should we have to accept what a few MP’s want. WRONG. The Partial Asset sales were widely publicised at the last election, and everyone had the chance to vote for the party of there choice. National won and that should be the end of it. As far as the Labour/Greens go, they are for sure selective.

  3. Harriet

     /  18th March 2013

    “….All bills are not equal…”
    Neither are all relationships.

    The “equal protection of the laws” provided by the State applies to people, not actions. Laws exist precisely in order to discriminate between different kinds of actions.

    When the law permits cars to drive on highways but forbids bicycles from doing the same, that is not discrimination against people. A cyclist who gets off his bicycle and gets into a car can drive on the highway just like anyone else.

    In a free society, vast numbers of things are neither forbidden nor facilitated. They are considered to be none of the law’s business.

    Homosexuals were on their strongest ground when they said that the law had no business interfering with relations between consenting adults. Now they want the law to put a seal of approval on their behavior. But no one is entitled to anyone else’s approval.

    Why is marriage considered to be any of the law’s business in the first place? Because the state asserts an interest in the outcomes of certain unions, separate from and independent of the interests of the parties themselves.

    In the absence of the institution of marriage, the individuals could arrange their relationship whatever way they wanted to, making it temporary or permanent, and sharing their worldly belongings in whatever way they chose.

    Marriage means that the government steps in, limiting or even prescribing various aspects of their relations with each other — and still more their relationship with whatever children may result from their union.

    In other words, marriage imposes legal restrictions, taking away rights that individuals might otherwise have. Yet “gay marriage” advocates depict marriage as an expansion of rights to which they are entitled.

    They argue against a “ban on gay marriage” but marriage has for centuries meant a union of a man and a woman. There is no gay marriage to ban.

    The life of the law has not been logic but experience. Vast numbers of laws have accumulated and evolved over the centuries, based on experience with male-female unions.

    There is no reason why all those laws should be transferred willy-nilly to a different union, one with no inherent tendency to produce children nor the inherent asymmetries of relationships between people of different sexes.

    Despite attempts to evade these asymmetries with such fashionable phrases as “a pregnant couple” or references to “spouses” rather than husbands and wives, these asymmetries take many forms and have many repercussions, which laws attempt to deal with on the basis of experience, rather than theories or rhetoric.

    Wives, for example, typically invest in the family by restricting their own workforce participation, if only long enough to take care of small children. Studies show such differences still persisting in this liberated age, and even among women and men with postgraduate degrees from Harvard and Yale.

    In the absence of marriage laws, a husband could dump his wife at will and she could lose decades of investment in their relationship. Marriage laws seek to recoup some of that investment for her through alimony when divorce occurs.

    Those who think of women and men in the abstract consider it right that ex-husbands should be as entitled to alimony as ex-wives. But what are these ex-husbands being compensated for?

    And why should any of this experience apply to same-sex unions, where there are not the same inherent asymmetries nor the same tendency to produce children?

    Of course a referrendum is needed:

    Gays and prostitutes are seen by both National and Labour as ‘second class citizens’ as neither party would ever take ‘gay/prostitute’ reform to an election.

    So why is it that the public should now be expected to treat gays any differantly than ALL the ‘law makers’ themselves do?

  4. zephyr

     /  18th March 2013


    [off-topic, stupid and unnecessary – PG]

  5. aquashell

     /  18th March 2013

    Yeah Man, I’m in

  6. Kevin Hague

     /  18th March 2013

    Hi Pete,
    It’s a very interesting discussion. I’ve been thinking about it during the day and I am struggling to find a simple single rule that can be used to distinguish useful from useless referenda.

    I suspect we would agree on at least some of the situations where referenda are unhelpful, judging by your comments. Referenda on issues that are too complex to be reduced to a straightforward question are almost always going to be unhelpful. Similarly where the question is ambiguous or requires interpretation to be applied to public policy (which is most of the CIR to date). Referenda are also not useful where no actual choice exists, or where ethical leadership requires that governments act a particular way. For example, where an issue relates to the human rights or fair treatment of a minority group or a group that needs protection for some other reason than bein in a minority clear and comprehensible questions could probably be constructed but certain response options may be unethical. For example, say we were looking at a referendum question about whether the human rights of refugees should be honoured. Judging by the ease with which it seems to be possible to whip up a moral panic about refugees there would seem to be a reasonable possibility that a referendum may conclude that their human rights should not be honoured. But human rights are inalienable, so a Government could not ethically implement the referendum outcome.

    So lots of situations where referenda are not helpful tools. Obviously they can be tools where the relevant public policy question is what the majority view is. I suggest that in the case of asset sales there ate quite a number of aspects which are not helpful referendum topics, but the Prime Minister created a legitimate referendum topic through his claim that there is a public mandate for the Government’s programme. The question of whether or not a mandate exists is well-suited to a referendum, and it would be entirely possible for the Government to hold this referendum before selling any of our state assets.

  7. zephyr

     /  18th March 2013


    [That sort of comment is totally uncalled for – PG]

  8. zephyr

     /  18th March 2013


    [If you’re going to be disgusting and not add anything reasonable don’t comment – PG]

  9. zephyr

     /  18th March 2013

    Oh come now Pete, Are you against same sex relations?

    • No, I’m against you being deliberately nasty and disruptive. If you can’t contribute reasonably then you’re not welcome here.

  10. Brown

     /  18th March 2013

    Thanks Pete for telling NZ’rs they are too thick to form a rational view about complicated stuff.

  11. Brown

     /  18th March 2013

    Whoops, sorry. I meant Kev. My apologies.

  12. Brown

     /  18th March 2013

    I thought I apologised because I meant Kev. Sorry Mr G.

  1. Kevin Hague on referenda | Your NZ

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