Every time I hear someone advocating a referendum I cringe. Surely the $9 million anti-smacking charade is evidence enough that asking the great unwashed to say yes or no to a complex, many-faceted conundrum is a dumb way to go.
In recent weeks we’ve had Labour leader Phil Goff demanding a referendum on the Auckland Super City, and now Labour’s Auckland issues spokesman, Phil Twyford, is introducing legislation requiring a referendum before any publicly owned community assets are sold. But, oddly, only when Auckland assets are at risk.
Yes Labour should have the courage of their convictions and try and implement that policy for all of New Zealand. They would have an uprising from local bodies telling them to naff off.
“Aucklanders are worried,” explains Mr Twyford, “that assets such as water, transport and many others, which ratepayers have built up over generations, are now under threat from the Government’s changes to Auckland governance.”
Perhaps I’ve been snoozing of late, but the only Aucklanders I’m aware of who worry themselves to sleep about such things are professionals hand-wringers like intrepid water rights campaigner Penny Bright and a few old-style lefties who keep Roger Douglas voodoo dolls on their mantelpieces to remind them of the bad old days.
Indeed. But let us follow Labour’s logic here. They say a decision to sell an asset is so monumental there must be a public referendum on that. Well if we accept that logic, then you should also demand that the purchase of any major asset be illegal unless the public get to vote on it through a referendum. It is illogical to require public consent only for sales, and not for purchases.
I’d almost be tempted to vote for a bill that required consent both ways. The public I am sure would shoot down some of the more daft spending proposals by Council. I suspect Mr Twyford is less keen though on letting the public have a say in purchase or construction of assets.
Referendums are expensive, and easily manipulated. In his Super City poll, what question is Mr Goff proposing? How do you decide such crucial details as the powers of the local boards by referendum? The issue of asset sales is slightly more complicated than a simple yes or no.
Back in 2007, I saw nothing wrong with selling Auckland City’s 12.75 per cent of airport shares, as long as the cash was spent on new infrastructure, something like the restoration of the St James Theatre, or repairs to the Aotea underground carpark. But I backed full public ownership of the port because I saw that as a way of ensuring future waterfront developments would be done for the good of all Aucklanders.
It’s impossible to reflect these kinds of nuances in a referendum. What we need to concentrate on is creating a truly democratic, ward-based model of governance, in which every Aucklander feels represented. That way the perception that referendums were a good thing would fade away.
The referendum bill is basically scare mongering. Labour are deeply disappointed that the Government isn’t selling lots of assets (as am I but for different reasons), so they are trying to make people think it is just around the corner.