Craig wants binding referenda and smacking

Colin Craig is suddenly getting a lot of media attention. He is getting the chance to state policy positions. Time will tell whether this exposure enhances Conservative chances or if it raises concerns.

Craig was asked on TV3’s Firstline…

“Are there some absolutes you would go to National with and say ‘We’re not coming on board unless you give us this?’”

He replied…

“One of the things we’ve always been very clear about is when you’ve got a strong result in a referendum, we don’t think in a democracy the government should just be able to throw it out. That’s something I do think needs changing.”

Not an absolute position. It appears to be targeting voters who want some ballot power, but it’s hard to see Parliament agreeing to binding referenda. Seeking support for a futile cause.

Craig used the smacking referendum as an example of the will of the people being ignored.

87.4% voted against a parent hitting a child “as part of good parental correction” being made a criminal offence, but National reached a deal with Labour that saw the legislation passed.

Smacking has been one of the driving forces behind Craig’s push for political power. Again this is seeking support from people who still feel strongly about the ‘anti-smacking’ legislation but it’s hard to see other parties wanting to revisit this.

The legislation certainly annoyed many people but that’s history and it’s been nothing like the societal catastrophe some predicted. It’s an issue that might attract a few votes but it’s hard to see it swinging an election, nor interesting the next Parliament.

Following the Craig line Conservatives would want to reverse the asset sales if the upcoming referendum supported rolling back the sales, but that would make a farce of parliamentary process.

Craig is using attention seeking issues to build support, but it will be more difficult to look like a credible coalition partner with do-able policies.

Asset sales a bad mix of business and politics

The partial asset sale programme shows that political game playing and sound business decisions don’t go well together. Have we ever seen such a costly (to the country) opposition campaign before?Labour and Greens have deliberately tried to score points at great cost to the country (us).

And I always thought National was unwise to put so many political eggs in one business sector basket, one of the most important rules of investment is diversity, so small investors would be unwise to put too much into power generation.

Another angle – while the sale prices and subsequent market performance have been disappointing when all the Green energy initiatives kick in next term the Government may have been wise to flick off ownership in big old energy companies.

Asset referendum question an ass

The question we will be asked in the asset sale referendum:

“Do you support the Government selling up to 49 per cent of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genesis Power, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand?”

No, I don’t. I doubt that anyone would support selling Solid Energy in it’s current state. Government have indicated it won’t be sold at this stage.

I do support the right of Government to have sold Mighty River Power shares, they campaigned on it, they were elected, and they got support to get their legislation through Parliament.

But I would honestly say No to the referendum question.

And then the Opposition would claim that supports their “no asset sales” campaign. Which would be false.

This illustrates the absurdity of our Citizen Initiated referenda system.

A single question has to be designed to attract petition signatures, and then cover all possibilities in a referendum question eighteen months later.

Time has passed by the original premise of the question.

And a single question is unable to address more complex possibilities and preferences.

The infamous smacking referendum question was just as flawed. It was designed to get a particular negative response, regardless of the actual arguments for and against.

Questions have become simplistic political tools, campaign tools. They do not accurately capture complexities of public opinion, they are not designed to do that. They can’t do that anyway, so they are used to try and score political points.

The asset sale question is an ass, as is the system of citizen democracy that has been taken over by political campaigners.

This petition is a waste of time and taxpayer money. It is simply a means of parties extending their campaigning between elections. And we pay for it.

Asset sale referendum is flawed politics

After eighteen months of organising a petition and gathering signatures it has been confirmed that we will have a referendum on asset sales.

This has been driven by political parties with political agendas, not by citizens. The legislation has already become law, the first asset has been part sold and another is likely to happen before the referendum.

NZ Herald reports.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the referendum should take place as soon as possible, and the partial sale of power companies should be suspended until the vote was held.

Labour’s state-owned enterprises spokesman Clayton Cosgrove said Mr Key should respect the democratic process, and the asset sales programme – including the Meridian float – should be halted until after the referendum

Greens and Labour have been calling for a suspension of sales for some time.

If legislation was put on hold pending a petition and potential referendum then so-called Citizen Initiated Referenda would become common political party obstruction to the government of the day.

If Greens were in Government and proposed legislation to give Working For Families tax credits to beneficiaries and an opposing petition was started would they wait for the outcome of that and a possible referendum?

Would Labour wait for a petition and referendum before introducing a Capital Gains Tax?

Would Labour-Greens wait for opposition delaying tactics to run out of options before implementing their NZ Power scheme?

They are abusing so-called citizen democracy to re-litigate what their failed election support and their failure to stop it in the normal parliamentary process.

They have used parliamentary funds to promote a political agenda. And the referendum will cost millions of dollars – so they can continue their political agenda.

Politicking is all they can achieve, because we know from past experience that Citizen Initiated Referenda are ignored by Parliament, including by Labour and Greens when it suits them.

The whole petition and referendum system has become severely flawed.

Time to end asset petition farce

As a supposed Citizen Initiated Referendum the asset sales petition was always a politicised farce. It was known from the start that if a referendum was held it would be ignored by Government, as past Governments have done with past referenda.

But the Greens poured considerable resources into using the referendum as a between elections campaign tool. And as seems to be common practice these days Labour followed along.

As far as political PR stunts go Greens and Labour have been majorly embarrassed by failing to get the required number of signatures.

They are initially putting on brave faces, albeit considerably egg covered. Russel Norman and David Shearer are vowing to get back to gathering signatures again to get the additional signatures required.

I wonder how many of the Green and Labour troops are groaning with trepidation. A year long signature gathering campaign was a major slog. Now they are being asked to psych themselves again for another burst of pleading to the public.

For what?

If they get the signatures a referendum will be held, perhaps later this year – well after Mighty River Power shares go on NZX (this Friday), and quite possibly after Meridian as well some time in the next few months. Too toothless, too late.

A referendum would be a multi million dollar exercise in futility.

Greens thought they were onto a winning strategy where they could use taxpayer money to fund a long running party campaign leading in to the next election.

They have now lost face, big time.

And if they continue on with the petition they stand to gain little if anything more, and could lose more egg covered face.

If Greens and Labour can’t organise a successful petition together, how would the look organising a government coalition?

A referendum will have zero effect on the asset share sale programme. It will keep reminding voters of the ongoing CIR farce.

If Greens and Labour had any sense they would cut their losses and move on to something more positive.

But by the sound of Russel Norman’s response to the news yesterday the Green petition machine is likely to continue.

And Labour sound like they will continue – Anti-asset sales campaign not over yet – Labour

Talk about flogging long dead horses. I think it’s time to end the farce.

Did David Farrar sabotage the asset petition?

Russel Norman’s last tweet yesterday:

So if the National Party activist David Farrar signed the asset sale petition 13 times, did Nats organise this nationally?

Funny to see Norman referring to Farrar as a “National Party activist”.

Farrar has responded on Facebook:

Seeing the response to today’s joke tweet, I am thinking of becoming a professional troll. The waves of outrage are quite addictive!

Farra’s “joke tweet” was amongst an exchange on the number of disallowed signatures on the asset sale petition. On a Kiwiblog post Massive fail for Labour and Greens Farrar claims:

This is incredible. They spent around $400,000 gathering signatures for their asset sales petition, and they failed to get enough valid signatures.

They needed 308,753 valid signatures but fell short by 16,500.

That is a massive fail and gross political incompetence. They didn’t have to submit the petition when they did. They could have carried on getting more signatures to make sure.

I’m still staggered for now that despite spending $400,000 and having the entire memberships of the Labour and Green parties, and most unions, they proved unable to get enough valid signatures.  You could understand it if they were close to the deadline to submit – but they were not. They made a tactical decision to submit early for political posturing, and have ended up with egg on their face.

UPDATE: They claimed to have 400,000 signatures but got 292,250 valid ones. That means 107,750 were invalid which is a massive 26.9%. Maybe they should have put their paid petition gatherers on performance pay!

Here’s the offending tweet:

So was it wrong of me to sign the #assetsales petition 13 times? I used a different name each time, so figured that was fine 🙂

I saw that tweet at the time, 8.37 pm last night. I can only see minor response to that tweet, Farrar then went out fot the evening (according to another tweet) and Norman was not very active, a few tweets defending the petition and then the one accusing Farrar.

Farrar was obviously joking. Norman must know this but is trying to score some political mileage by trying to portray it as an organised National sabotage of the petition.

Over the last year when the petition was gathering signatures I saw many quips and claims in social media that people had signed the petition using fake names – eg Mickey Mouse. It’s impossible to know if these commenters were saying what they had actually done or were trying to encourage others to do it.

I don’t agree with deliberately spoiling a petition but I’m not surprised, the Greens used what is supposed to be a Citizen Initiated Referendum into a party campaign tool, using it to promote themselves and to harvest contact email addresses, phone numbers and postal addresses (as did Labour).

So it shouldn’t be surprising that political game playing may have occurred with the petition. Norman played down a country wide 2011 campaign stunt by Green activists defacing National election hoardings.

Defacing petition forms is probably a degree worse but as a Citizen’s referendum it was farcical and futile, so making it more farcical doesn’t seem to be a big deal.

Not that I think Farrar signed 13 times, I highly doubt that he did, he was joking on Twitter. Some will have deliberately the spoiled petition, but there will be many reasons for invalid signatures.

Someone I know told me that a signature gatherer was so pushy they found it easier to just sign (again) than say no.

And a couple of examples from a petition supporting blog, The Standard, in Asset sales petition has more work to do.

tamati 9

I remember seeing a petition at an op shop on Dominion road. Was just sitting on the counter, with nobody actually supervising. Saw a bunch of girls in school uniform sign up, and nobody seemed to know this was wrong!

shorts 13

I wonder how many are disallowed due to them not being on the electoral role – given over a million eligible voters didn’t vote last election, one could surmise there’s a lot of young people whom may have signed simply not on the roll?

Yep as someone who spent a lot of time collecting signatures the number of people who had changed addresses were significant. And without a date of birth date the chances of identifying them on the roll would have been very poor.

I am actually not surprised at this problem. It is just what happens when you have volunteers talking to ordinary people and collecting signatures without the benefit of electoral rolls being on hand.

The Al1en 16

I signed the petition in the Labour party Hamilton office in Te Rapa.
I was told to only sign my name and date of birth.
And they want to run the country when they can’t even get a form filled out properly.
Good work, front desk nobody.

With consideration, I remember I queried it at the time and did put my name down, but I do recall seeing a lot of just names and birth dates. Hope that page wan’t pulled out for a scan by the clerk.

karol 23.3

I’m still concerned about the fact that I moved since I signed the petition – wonder if that makes my signature invalid.

So obviously it’s very difficult ensuring that only valid signatures are collected, and a high failure rate isn’t surprising.

Greens and Labour will have known there was a high error rate, as they were harvesting data off the petition forms, Duplicates and obvious bogus names would have been known about.

They delayed presentation of the petition. This was probably due to known error rates. But they miscalculated – and were under pressure to present the petition before Mighty River Power shares were floated.

Russel Norman could look at any number of reasons why the operation failed to make the required threshold.

Blaming David Farrar and a National spoiling campaign looks a bit desperate.

But I guess a highly party politicised “citizen’s” petition/referendum campaign is going to remain highly politicised.

Asset petition failure

The asset sale petition has failed, but gets a chance to top up the numbers:

Andrea Vance ‏@avancenz

The asset sales referendum bid has failed – see @NZStuffPolitics It is short by approximately 16,500 valid signatures.

“Some signatories could not be found on the electoral roll, either because they were not enrolled or because the identifying information they supplied was insufficient or illegible. Some duplicate signatures were also identified.”

The Greens says the Keep Our Assets coalition will continue to collect petition signatures

Office of the clerk says: “if the promoter wishes to resubmit the petition he has two months from today to collect additional signatures.”

That must mean a very high error rate.

Patrick Gower ‏@patrickgowernz

early estimate – 100,747 bogus signatures on Asset Sales petition

Sabotage works both ways?

Stuff: Asset sales referendum falls short

Greens quickly back into action.

Green Party NZ ‏@NZGreens 

You can help get the last signatures we need for a referendum on asset sales. Download the petition form here

And so are the jokers:

Gareth Richards ‏@garethmr

Greens announce a ‘single buyer of signatures’ model for their asset petition. All who generate signatures must sell them to Labour-Greens

Peter Dunne on the power of his vote

Peter Dunne was interviewed on Q+A this morning. He was asked about “how much power a one-man party has in parliament.”

JESSICA You do hold a lot of power. You’re a one-man party. We’ve seen since 2008 that you’ve actually held the crucial vote on 20 pieces of legislation. Is it right that one person, yourself, has so much power?

PETER Well, firstly, I didn’t put myself in that position. The electorate dealt the cards at the election.

JESSICA But how do you deal with that?

PETER And the second point is how I deal with it. I don’t just wake up each morning and decide what capricious thing am I going to do today. I’ve got a quite developed matrix of how we deal with things. Firstly, is the issue under debate covered by the confidence and supply agreement that United Future has with National? If it is, as was the case with the mixed ownership model, for instance, then the outcome is very clear.

JESSICA Let’s touch on that for a moment – the asset sales legislation. You obviously hold the power to get that through for National. Does that give you a lot of extra power and bargaining power back?

PETER In some senses it does, on unrelated issues. But that was a very clear case. Our election policy said we oppose-

JESSICA Like what? What kind of trade-off-?

PETER I don’t want to go into specific detail, because that actually destroys the advantage that you’ve got. But come back to that one. Our election policy said that we were, in principal, opposed to asset sales except if the government nominated the energy companies and Air New Zealand, we would agree to that provided the public shareholding was to be no greater than 49% and there was a cap on individual shareholding. That was included on our negotiations and put into the agreement. And the government at that point didn’t want to statutorily specify those limits-

JESSICA So you got some influence over that.

PETER And so it became a no-brainer to vote for it when the legislation arrived.

JESSICA Another one-

PETER So that’s the first point. The second point – because I haven’t finished what I was saying before – if it’s not covered by the Confidence and Supply agreement, is it something that was covered by United Future’s election policy? And if it was, clearly you vote for in accordance with that. That’s why I’m backing Paid Parental Leave, for instance. The third one is neither of the above, and then it just comes down to, basically, the circumstances of the time and what seems like the right thing to do.

JESSICA And one of those things will be about SkyCity. The government will need you if it needs to work out some kind of a deal with SkyCity. Have you worked out any kind of pay-off for that?

PETER My view on that is quite simple. I think Auckland needs a world-class convention centre. In my role both as Associate Minister of Health and previously, I’ve been working over the last 10 years with the structure of-

JESSICA But will you get anything back?

PETER Hang on, hang on. And the important point about the SkyCity one, from my perspective, is if you can achieve the convention centre without a blowout in the number of gambling machines and an increase in the numbers of those, then that’s the best deal. But I’ve not seen any deal at this stage. It’s premature to talk about that. If there’s a trade-off then it may well be something that occurs at the time, but if you’re saying to me do I say ‘I support this in return for your doing that’, it’s not that crude.

JESSICA So you haven’t worked out any kind of agreement with-

PETER Well, it doesn’t work- I haven’t seen the details, so there is no agreement at this point, other than I’ve indicated the general view that I’ve just expressed to you. But it doesn’t work in the way of saying, ‘you give me this and I’ll give you that’. It works in the way of saying, ‘OK, I’ll give you this thing. Now, when there are things that arise that I might want, I suppose you could say there’s money in the bank’.

Video: Peter Dunne on the balance of power (9:48)

Kevin Hague on referenda

In response to Asset petition good, smacking and marriage petition bad Green MP Kevin Hague has responded.

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.

It’s good to see MPs prepared to think and engage.

I don’t think there is a single rule that covers everything.

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.

Yes, and that is complicated by the process of coming up with questions that are balanced and comprehensive.

Similarly where the question is ambiguous or requires interpretation to be applied to public policy (which is most of the CIR to date).

The smacking referendum being the most recent example. I could have given legitimate Yes and No answers.

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 being in a minority clear and comprehensible questions could probably be constructed but certain response options may be unethical.

I agree again.

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.

And again. Especially because of the ease that angry crowds can be whipped up with devious and dishonest means, which are widely known. I’m sure you’ve seen many of the tricks on the marriage bill.

And another factor often forgotten is the influence of the media, they can swing public sentiment quite quickly and easily, and if sensationalist momentum cranks up it’s very difficult to influence in any reasonable way.

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.

They sound good in theory but in practice can be quite flawed. Especially if they are designed to be toothless by politicians. Like CIR.

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.

That’s just about the only thing I disagree on.  Yes, Government could have delayed their asset share sales even longer and waited for a referendum result. And if they had agreed it was to be binding and lost, what then? Half way into a term and their flagship policy is canned, and they have to rethink all their plans, projections and budgets. Not much time to do anything significant in the remainder of the term.

I know that’s exactly what the opposition want. But if referenda become a normal party tactic what of a hypothetical Labour Green government from 2013? FBT? Minimum wage? If a referendum is cranked up by National or a proxy will Labour-Greens wait for that before implementing major policies?

Is the Green Party prepared to commit to abiding by the result of future referenda? If you prefer to look at each on it’s merits then it’s very hard to escape criticism for self interest.

I can guarantee that if opponents of a Green-Labour government decide to use a CIR to oppose or delay they will be as convinced of their right to do it as you are on the asset sales.

And I don’t think the intent of CIR was ever for parties to contest opposing party policies.

If using CIR as a party political weapon succeeds once  it will only lead down a bad path. Greens can’t suddenly become anti CIR becasue it looks likke it suits.

Apart from the ease with which referenda can be misused by parties, a major problem with CIR is the timeframe. Look at the current one as an example. A year to organise and gather signatures. Two months to check. It would take a minimum of a few months to organise and hold the referendum.

The quickest you can expect a result is half way through the term. What if National lose and come up with a variation? Crank up another petition?

We have a representative democracy for good reason, even if we could have sensible and fair referenda they have many flaws, too many in my opinion, except for things like the MMP one held during the election. Monarchy, flag change etc are also suitable for a referendum.

But referenda on policy is too problematic. I was keen on them for more direct deocracy but have gone cold on them, too impractical.

I have ideas on what might work better, but that’s for another post, this one was for a respnse to your comments

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?