Armstrong on asset sales referendum

September 7th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in the NZ Herald:

The time has surely arrived to dump New Zealand’s failed two-decade-old experiment with American-style citizens-initiated referendums.

Anyone questioning that recommendation should look no further than some of the self-serving behaviour following last Monday’s official authorisation of such a plebiscite on National’s partial privatisation programme.

The will of the people – David Lange once observed – was a fickle beast. It could be an awful tyrant; it could be a terrible slave.

Someone should have told the . They are happy to accept the will of the people when it comes to the results of the forthcoming on . But not so when it came to the 2009 on smacking. That is hypocrisy, pure and simple. If you accept the will of the people once, you have to accept it for good. And that is not a recipe for good government.

If you do accept it, you accept your Cabinet decisions are going to be proscribed by referendum. The Greens would not like that happening to them. So why impose such restraints on National.

Thank God someone is calling it for what it is – flagrant hypocrisy.

If there was a successful on lowering income tax rates, would the Greens drop their opposition to lower taxes? Of course not.

When the law allowing voters recourse to these devices was passed by Parliament 20 years ago, Labour’s Michael Cullen described the measure as “an ill-thought-out piece of political flummery” and predicted correctly that it would end up satisfying no one. He was too kind. Making it mandatory for governments to implement the results of referendums risks making good government nigh on impossible.

Making such referendums non-binding on governments, however, renders those referendums as next to useless.

And making them binding can be a good way to bankrupt a state!

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35 Responses to “Armstrong on asset sales referendum”

  1. RightNow (6,841 comments) says:

    But but but…

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  2. Judith (8,442 comments) says:

    And making them binding can be a good way to bankrupt a state!

    Yeah, and who cares what the might majority want, as long as the Trickle Down keeps working aye?

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  3. Redbaiter (8,022 comments) says:

    Good to see some media push back against the endless propaganda of the Watermelons. Doubt it will continue. NZ’s media is besotted with these red on the inside charlatans.

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  4. Keeping Stock (10,177 comments) says:

    One of my Green Party commenters has left a lengthy comment on my post re Armstrong’s piece; the usual stuff about National not having a mandate, and being undemocratic.

    So I’ve asked him three simple questions:

    Do you support MMP?

    Do you accept that the National-led government was democratically elected under MMP?

    Do you accept that a democratically elected government (of any hue) has the right to implement policies it campaigned on?

    Don’t baffle us with bullshit and long paragraphs. Three yes or no answers will suffice :)

    I won’t hold my breath waiting for an answer :D

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  5. kowtow (7,945 comments) says:

    States are bankrupted by governments seeking popularity ,spending money they don’t have ,on programs and policies the majority would probably rather not fund.

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  6. Chuck Bird (4,765 comments) says:

    And making them binding can be a good way to bankrupt a state!

    That would only apply if binding referenda were allowed to let militants have a second bite at the cherry.

    Binding referenda on moral issues instead of allowing MPs, many without much of a conscience would hardly bankrupt New Zealand. It would increase democracy. As well as allowing everyone a say it would greatly increase voter turnout if done at a general election.

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  7. peterwn (3,213 comments) says:

    ‘bankrupting the state’. This is also a risk when ‘human rights’ are taken to extreme, such as the questioning of the scope of ‘Working for Families” or arguing that New Zealand must abide by international conventions concerning welfare benefits. In this regard, various demands for what should go into a NZ constitution (eg minimum wages, generous health and welfare provisions, etc) have the potential to bankrupt NZ.

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  8. hannity (152 comments) says:

    Another one to add to the long list of failed National policies.

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  9. Tom Jackson (2,518 comments) says:

    They shouldn’t be binding, but it is a chance for people to vote on a particular issue rather than for a candidate or party, and to thereby move that issue front and centre in the national debate, and to have it officially recognised as being a matter of public concern.

    If you think of it as a mechanism for making policy, it doesn’t work. But if you think of it as a way to highlight issues that a significant proportion of the electorate thinks are important, then it is working as intended. If the government then ignores the referendum result, that gives a political opportunity to its opponents.

    I didn’t complain about the smacking referendum, even though I personally oppose corporal punishment.

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  10. Jack5 (4,895 comments) says:

    DPF reckons making referendums binding “can be a good way to bankrupt a state!”

    C’mon, consider Switzerland. Five referendums so far this year and another four planned.

    Then note the World Economic Forum’s global economic competitiveness report:

    2013-14 Switzerland 1, NZ 18
    2012-13 Switzerland 1, NZ 23
    2011-12 Switzerland 1, NZ 25
    2010-11 Switzerland 1, NZ 23
    2009-10 Switzerland 1, NZ 20
    2008-09 Switzerland 2, NZ 24 (USA 1)

    Also GDP per capita: Switzerland (USD) 46,200; NZ (USD)30,200.

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  11. ross69 (3,652 comments) says:

    Armstrong obviously trusts voters to make the right call come election time, but not when it comes to voting on referenda. The big H surely applies to him and others who make such a silly distinction.

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  12. greenjacket (436 comments) says:

    I’d be happy to adopt the Swiss system. Citizens have a personal stake in ensuring that their government has responsible economic and social policies – as a result, Swiss voters tend to be extremely conservative.

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  13. ZenTiger (425 comments) says:

    Such is he mental power of the giants of the liberal media that when they notice that political parties support referenda when it suits them and ignore the results when it doesn’t, what is the conclusion?

    That we scrap referenda.

    Typically stupid. It would be more logical on that result to scrap the current political parties and start again.

    The liberal “educated” mindset does not want democracy, they want rule by their own elite.

    So why not use the same logic on elections – oh dear, we might bankrupt the country if we elect the wrong party, let’s not risk an election.

    Churchill said “Democracy was the worst form of government, except for all those other forms of government that had been tried.” So stop trying to work out ways to end democracy and start thinking of ways of living by it. Switzerland shows democracy in action and uncovers widespread criticism from the liberal elites. The fact that people might vote against human rights, or minarets. Or that they vote against things the government has already “promised” as part of international obligations – showing sovereignty of the people, and rule by the people just hollow words.

    Armstrong was right to point out the hypocrisy with the Greens. But make the call to scrap the Greens, not the results of a fair and free election or referendum. Don’t punish the people for the actions of the political parties. And National shouldn’t chuckle – they have a habit of ignoring the majority.

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  14. UpandComer (523 comments) says:

    Well Ross69, lets have a referendum tomorrow based on abolishing Maori or any other race based seats, and we’ll use tax payers money to get the signatures in, and we’ll frame it like the Greens framed their, with a slant that says – end special treatment for New Zealanders based on race. Then when it gets the signatures like a wildfire and comes in, will you support the result of that referendum you silly prick? I know, there are a lot more ‘other people’ then there are students – how about we have a referendum that abolishes the ‘interest free’ element of student loans? A lot of parents would resist that one, but there’s a lot of people out there with no kids, or who would just like those kind of loans for themselves – same div. When the results came in, would you be happy to accept the result, reinstating interest on your loan in woman’s studies? you silly prick?

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  15. ZenTiger (425 comments) says:

    Pork barrel politics is a different issue – parties need to be made accountable for the bribes they offer to get elected. I think a first offense punishment would be having to watch Gareth Morgan movies of how wonderful North Korea is, a good start.

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  16. ZenTiger (425 comments) says:

    UpandComer – there are rules around what kinds of changes can be put to a referendum, and the mere hurdle of making the 10% threshold will stop a lot of referenda in their tracks.

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  17. UpandComer (523 comments) says:

    Well ZenTiger, having been involved in businesses that collect data information, I’m very confident that with sufficient taxpayer funding behind my ‘citizen’s initiated’ drive, and the right slant on the questions ;) like the Greens, as well as the right framing of the subject matter, like the Greens, I could push through my narrow agenda equally as well. Actually I’d do it a lot better. You’re dreaming if you think that a referendum on Maori seats or student loans wouldn’t a) be topical and allowed under the rules and b) wouldn’t get the 10% cut-off. Hell the taxpayer would be paying for it, so no worries.

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  18. ZenTiger (425 comments) says:

    The gathering of signatures for a referendum is not tax payer funded. There is also a $50,000 cap in promoting it, and the Clerk of the House of Reps determines the wording, not the people who initiate the referendum. They (referenda) are non-binding.

    If we allowed binding citizen initiated referenda, then things that conflict with the BOR or the parliamentary make-up would more than likely be excluded. The tax payer only pays for the referendum if it gets past the hurdles – and so they should. I don’t see you suggesting we cancel elections because they cost tax payer money.

    All that is a side issue – you clearly do not support the idea of direct democracy. That is your prerogative. I don’t support the idea that representative democracy has so few checks and balances in this country, and their actions are a constant reminder of this.

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  19. Reid (16,111 comments) says:

    There was a movie in the 80′s where a politician got elected on the basis of having electronic voting on every single thing and after awhile the people got so sick of the trivia he deliberately placed before them they willingly gave him dictatorial powers.

    That’s one issue.

    Another is that, sadly, most people are morons, politically speaking. They are. This is not a comment on their IQ, it’s a comment on their understanding of politics and how it works in actual, real life. Even educated people have no idea of what the ramifications would be on a given political policy. Sure they might be a great programmer or statistician or whatever but they have no idea of how a given political policy would play out.

    Take immigration, for example. Most people would let their stupid ignorant hearts bleed all over the place if you let them have a referendum on boat people. They’d go absolutely nuts wringing their stupid hands all over the place, imagining in their idiot hallucination that every single person who rocks up in a boat is by definition, fleeing horrendous injustice and persecution. Which is not the case, at all. Most people in that situation are simply seeking a better life in a rich country because they’re sick of living in their mud hut with no telly. They’re not persecuted, at all. And they rock up with no identity with who knows what health issues and expect we, the taxpayer, to feed them, house them, educate them and their children and pay them the dole for the rest of their lives.

    But none of that REALITY would come out if we had a referendum on it. The media would be full of the ‘oh the humanity’ line which even the well educated would swallow, and the result would be an economic debacle.

    And that’s just one, small issue. The same thing would happen on most of them. We saw it for real on the first CIR we ever had. Remember that? Let’s pay firefighters more. Well who doesn’t think that’s a good idea? Why, only people who don’t like their mothers and Apple Pie, that’s who. And the debacle ensued accordingly.

    If people weren’t such political morons, it would work. But they are, so it won’t. Ever.

    The gathering of signatures for a referendum is not tax payer funded.

    Yes, it is. The Gweens just did it, with this asset sales one.

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  20. UpandComer (523 comments) says:

    “the gathering of signatures for a referendum is not taxpayer funded” – ZenTiger, I think you’re wrong, because the Green’s have used taxpayer funding. Maybe that is a parallel universe.

    “The cap is $50k” – wrong again, the Greens have spent more then $50k

    “The Clerk of the house determines the wording” – ah, so it’s the Clerk of the house who determined the wording on the Green’s stunt – I’ll go and ask the Clerk and see if you’re correct, because I think the Clerk actually just accepts what they are given with the proviso of some basic checks. I’d be very surprised if you were right.

    “referenda are non-binding” – if that’s the case, then why are Labour/Greens acting like this one is so binding? I guess that only applies to say, the anti-smacking legislation?

    There is a big difference between ‘elections’ where voters vote with reference to ‘everything’ and referendums where they don’t.

    With respect to the BORA and Electoral form, I’m sorry, but the latter is clearly affected when a duly elected party is being asked to break it’s election promises on the basis of a slanted, taxpayer funded, non-citizens initiated ‘referendum’. A referendum on student loans would not breach the bill of rights or deal with electoral issues – neither did the anti-smacking legislation. You’re making an amorphous reference to ‘the Bill or Rights’ because you, personally, would disagree with the outcome of a referendum on an issue that didn’t fit your political suasion.

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  21. ZenTiger (425 comments) says:

    The same “morons” vote in parties. Or actually, to some extent, morons are less likely to bother voting, and the issues become self-selecting. There are always reasons and stories for and against principles. I’m not convinced the people elected are any more moral and any more suited to understand the ramifications of their decisions. We have judges, and we also have juries. Running scared from referenda presents no convincing arguments – it just highlights a person’s world view.

    “Yes, it is. The Gweens just did it,”

    My fact is essentially correct. All you’ve done is highlight how corrupt with tax payer funded money our elected elites are. This is actually another argument in my favour. The solution is, again, not to ban referenda but make the political elites responsible for their unethical behaviour.

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  22. ZenTiger (425 comments) says:

    Quote – “referenda are non-binding” – if that’s the case, then why are Labour/Greens acting like this one is so binding?

    Answer – Because they are adept at political games. And the media rarely call them out on it – or in Armstrong’s case above – he makes a point and then backs away from holding the Greens to account, and instead figures we’ve got too much democracy. But hey, let’s go with the idea that the people should have no direct say and we should not hamper our political masters. Actually, no, the more you argue on how the political parties manipulate the processes, the less I am convinced we should therefore just STFU.

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  23. ZenTiger (425 comments) says:

    @UpandComer – you make this conjecture about me: “You’re making an amorphous reference to ‘the Bill or Rights’ because you, personally, would disagree with the outcome of a referendum on an issue that didn’t fit your political suasion.”

    There you are totally wrong. I suspect many referenda would not go my way, as my political views are varied and just as likely to go against the main stream. More importantly, I have strong opinions on things, but I respect the democratic process. As I said before – it’s not a great system, but it’s better than all the others.

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  24. Rightandleft (655 comments) says:

    I absolutely refused to sign onto the petition for this one, even though I knew many people promoting it, because I saw it as a silly waste of money. Non-binding referenda are completely pointless. But allowing binding referenda on certain types of issues doesn’t have to lead to a bankrupt state. Every election in the US I get to vote on several binding referenda. Last election they were on legalising medical marijuana and doctor-assisted suicide. The state of Massachusetts hasn’t gone bankrupt yet, despite allowing these for decades now. I would especially like to see one on the Maori seats.

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  25. Random Punter (65 comments) says:

    Reid: “There was a movie in the 80′s where a politician got elected on the basis of having electronic voting on every single thing and after awhile the people got so sick of the trivia he deliberately placed before them they willingly gave him dictatorial powers.”

    I was reminded of that movie too. It was called The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer, and starred Peter Cook.

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  26. Reid (16,111 comments) says:

    The same “morons” vote in parties.

    Which is why the country never gets anywhere. Everytime we make a step forward, the opposition reverses it. And the people vote for this crap.

    Socrates is correct: the best possible govt is a benevolent dictatorship. The issue is, with humans, their ego gets carried away and their benevolence isn’t sustained. Ironically, given the Western press he gets, Castro has been an extremely good example of this principle, albeit he’s been atypical. Cuba would have been a lot better off if his huge neighbour hadn’t suppressed his country economically. But the PTB won’t allow a nation to show up their paucity, will they.

    I’m not convinced the people elected are any more moral and any more suited to understand the ramifications of their decisions.

    I agree. Almost all of them are egotistical idiots. That just goes to show how politically ignorant most people are, to elect such buffoons. I bet if everyone knew politics like you and I and most people on this blog, the politicians we get, regardless of stripe, would be far, far superior to the current crop. Simply because we’d expect, nay demand it from them.

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  27. Reid (16,111 comments) says:

    Cheers RP, most appreciated.

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  28. CharlieBrown (924 comments) says:

    Rightandleft – completely agree. If we had binding referendum only on policies that didn’t affect a governments ability to function then that would be great. That way referendums to tax hard workers more wouldn’t pass but referendums on legalising drug use would. Also, maybe 80% of parents wouldn’t be clasified as child abusers if we had that rule.

    Don’t know why Russel norman hates John Key so much, they do have some things in commons, like they are both C$nts that make this country slightly worse every day.

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  29. Harriet (4,614 comments) says:

    “…..Yeah, and who cares what the might majority want, as long as the Trickle Down keeps working aye?…”

    Ohhhhh dear!

    Judith,

    ‘Base pay’ is simply the cost on a business to replace you.

    Anything above that is charity! :cool:

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  30. Camryn (551 comments) says:

    Representative democracy and direct democracy are both democratic systems. They just don’t tend to mix well (see California).

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  31. SPC (5,473 comments) says:

    Referendums exist for the people, not for political parties. Parliament is free to ignore them, and the people are free to say what parliament does not want to hear.

    Whenever a bi-partisan consensus exists that the people oppose, there is the option of a referendum.

    I get it that this referendum is a partisan one – but that is no reason for questioning the role of referendums as a way for people to object to any bi-partisan consensus of the two major parties.

    And nor is the embarrassment of the economic elite or their media apologists to popular dissent at asset sales a reason to end resort to referenda.

    Removal of a vehicle for popular resistance is Putinesque.

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  32. itstricky (1,696 comments) says:

    Didn’t Key say, when asked, that he “wouldn’t rule out” (as they are want to reply) using the same tactics in the future? Or am I confused and that was something else?

    Be interesting to see how hypocritical/nasty/horrible it is when the next Government are in…

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  33. Duxton (590 comments) says:

    Let’s hope so, itstricky. I, for one, am fed up with National voluntarily operating to a higher standard than Liarbour. I suspect that it would be every easy to get enough signatures on a petition to force a referendum to require prisoners’ food and electricity to be charged back to their families, or deducted from future superannuation entitlements.

    I wouldn’t mind betting that such a referendum would return a resounding ‘Yes’.

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  34. ChardonnayGuy (1,184 comments) says:

    Obviously, I agree with Armstrong about this.

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  35. adze (2,002 comments) says:

    Even left-wing law academic Andrew Geddis (on Radio NZ Afternoons) declared that the CIR legislation should be either made binding or removed entirely. I tend to agree, although I don’t think they should be made binding without judicial oversight (so that they are not ambiguously worded and/or have obviously disastrous unintended consequences).

    We have social media these days, in addition to a poll-happy MSM, so we don’t need expensive opinion polls.

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