Council votes for a policy impossible to implement

December 1st, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Taranaki Daily News reports:

A monumental decision made by the new guard of New Plymouth’s council has been revealed as an embarrassing botch-up.

Last week the New Plymouth District Council narrowly voted to allow legally binding citizen initiated referenda to happen under its watch.

The proposal was suggested on the spot by first-term councillor Len Houwers and was quickly passed by fellow first-term councillors Keith Allum, Murray Chong, Grant Coward, Richard Handley, Richard Jordan and returning councillor Shaun Biesiek.

However, the Taranaki Daily News has investigated the decision and can reveal the council move is a major blunder.

The Department of Internal Affairs, which oversees local government in New Zealand, has said the council had passed a policy that was impossible to enact.

“According to the department, legally-binding citizens initiated referenda are not possible under the current legislation except in relation to reorganisation proposals, electoral systems and Maori wards,” a spokesperson from internal affairs said.

Yep.

Mayor Andrew Judd, who voted against the proposal, said this outcome highlighted why making policy “on the hoof” was not the way to do things.

Indeed. Didn’t anyone say hey shouldn’t we check if this is legal?

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Craig demands binding referenda

July 20th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Conservative Party leader Colin Craig says he would not form a Government with National unless it agreed to introduce binding referenda.

Mr Craig confirmed the party’s bottom line for potential coalition talks at its annual meeting in Auckland this afternoon, attended by around 120 delegates.

In his keynote speech, he said: “We are not playing a mystery game. We are being upfront with the electorate.

“The thing that we want, that will be required if a party wants our support, is that they are going to need to agree to a change whereby that the people of this country have the right on those rare occasions … to tell the government where to go and what to do.”

One can try and lay down bottom lines but it isn’t that easy. What do you do if say the Conservatives hold the balance of power and National won’t agree to binding referenda. Presumably Labour won’t agree to them either, so Colin Craig them has three choices:

  1. Make John Key Prime Minister
  2. Make David Cunliffe Prime Minister
  3. Force a new election

It is unwise for any party to try and lay down bottom lines before an election. One should indicate priorities. But what you get in any negotiation will be a factor of how many seats in Parliament you get, and whether you are necessary or just desirable for forming a Government – and if you can credibly form a Government with the other major party.

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Final CIR results

December 19th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The final results are here.

  • Not Vote 54.93%
  • Vote No 30.30%
  • Vote Yes 14.59%
  • Informal Votes 0.14%
  • Invalid Votes 0.05%
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Dom Post on referendums

December 17th, 2013 at 5:54 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

The referendum on state asset sales was not the first held under the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993. It was the fifth.

If opponents of partial privatisation believe the Government is now honour bound to reverse its position on state asset sales, then previous governments were presumably honour bound to give effect to the popular will expressed in referendums on firefighter numbers, the size of Parliament, tougher prison sentences and smacking.

Yes I look forward to Labour and Greens announcing that the first act of a Labour/Green Government will be to reduce the size of Parliament to 99. If they refuse to do so, then by their own rhetoric they are being arrogant and out of touch.

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The Press on referendum

December 16th, 2013 at 7:35 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

There was never any chance the present Government was going to take any notice of the latest one.

In any case a botch-up by the organisers meant it was delayed so that by the time it was held, the programme it was meant to influence was almost over.

Incredible they had such a high proportion of duplicate signatures.

The latest referendum was not strictly a citizens’ initiated one.

Unlike earlier referendums – on the number of MPs there should be in Parliament, on the proper punishment for violent offending, and on smacking of children – it was not led by any great popular groundswell.

Instead, it was largely promoted by the Green Party.

It spent a significant sum organising the petition for it.

Not sure the Greens spent any of their own money on it. They used their taxpayer funded parliamentary budget. The main purpose of doing so was to collect e-mail addresses from the petition.

To the loaded, if muddled question, a clear majority of voters signalled their opposition to asset sales, although not in such large numbers as some had expected.

In all the previous referendums, the vote for the position supported by those promoting the issue has been won by majorities of at least four to one, and in one case (in the poll on violent offending) by nine to one.

In the latest poll the margin was two to one.

Considering the concerted campaign run by those supporting the no-vote, who would have been expecting better, it was not a striking result.

It was a confusing question. Some of those who voted no might want more than 49% of assets sold. Some might want four of the five companies sold, but not all five. And yes the margin was way less than most expected.

Referendums are a crude instrument for influencing public policy. They require simple yes-no answers.

Most political questions are more complex than that and involve trade-offs.

It is for that reason that few countries bother with them. The latest one was a prime example.

The issue it dealt with was decided with the result of the last general election. Whether voters are still happy about that will be properly judged at the next one.

Labour declared the last election was a referendum on asset sales. They were right.

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Referendum stats

December 14th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The breakdown by the 70 electorates is interesting. The turnout by group was:

  • Below 30% – five electorates
  • 30% to 35% – five electorates
  • 35% to 40% – seven electorates
  • 40% to 45% – 14 electorates
  • 45% to 50% – 30 electorates
  • Over 50% – nine electorates

In terms of the no vote, the breakdown was:

  • Below 50% – two electorates
  • 50% to 60% – 11 electorates
  • 60% to 70% – 29 electorates
  • 70% to 80% – 19 electorates
  • 80% to 90% – 3 electorates
  • Over 90% – 7 electorates (Maori seats)

In terms of overall stats:

  • Not Vote 56.10%
  • Vote No 29.48%
  • Vote Yes 14.25%
  • Informal Vote 0.13%
  • Invalid Vote 0.03%

And comparing the results (the desired percentage voting with them) the petitioners got with previous CIRS:

  1. Reform of justice system 91.8%
  2. Firefighters 87.8%
  3. Anti-smacking law 87.4%
  4. Size of Parliament 81.5%
  5.  Asset Sales 67.2%

So it is the closest result of any CIR. No other CIR was below 80% and this was below 70%.

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Much higher yes vote than I expected

December 14th, 2013 at 9:07 am by David Farrar

I was expecting the yes vote in the referendum to be around 15% to 20%. I’m amazed it was 32.1% and the no vote won by 2:1 rather than 4:1.

There wasn’t a single party or organisation campaigning for a yes vote. On the other side Labour, Greens and the unions spent hundreds of thousands first promoting the petition and collecting the signatures and then campaigning for no votes.

There was little reason for yes voters to vote. I actually never got around to it. You knew what the result would be, and more to the point you knew that the referendum was pointless as three of the five companies have already been sold down to 51%.

On the other side there was a lot of reason for a no voter to vote no – it was a way to punish the Government, and try and stop any further sales.

I honestly thought they’s get over 80%, maybe as high as the anti-smacking vote at 85%. Instead they got 67.2% and turnout was well under 50% at 43.9%.

Sure it is still an official victory for the no vote, but far from the crushing blow they wanted – especially considering that they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on getting this referendum. How can Labour and Greens demand National implement the result of a 67% referendum result when they remain 1000% opposed to implementing the results of the 85% referendum result on smacking law.

But hey, if Labour thinks the referendum result trumps the last election result, I look forward to their clear policy pledge they will buy back every share sold.

Yeah, Nah.

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Sanity in Switzerland

November 26th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

TVNZ reports:

Swiss voters have rejected a proposal to cap the salaries of top executives at 12 times that of a company’s lowest wage, heeding warnings from industry leaders that the measure could harm the country’s economy.

The wealthy nation, which is home to some of the world’s biggest companies including food group Nestle and commodities giant Glencore Xstrata, voted 66% against imposing the limit, according to a projection from Swiss television.

The so-called “1:12 initiative for fair pay,” was brought about by the youth wing of the Social Democrats (JUSO). The idea behind the proposal was that nobody should earn more in a month than others earn in a year.

Possibly he most economically stupid idea since the 50 year trial of communism.

In a way it is a pity the referendum failed. It would have been hilarious watching the impact on Switzerland if the referendum had passed. Imagine the chaos as companies flee overseas as billion dollar companies can’t pay their chief executives more than say 200,000 euros a year.

Opponents to the proposal had warned it would harm Switzerland by restricting the ability of firms to hire skilled staff, forcing firms to decamp abroad, resulting in a shortfall in social security contributions and higher taxes.

It would have been such a disaster, it would have killed the idea ever being implemented anywhere else. Their tax base would get decimated or worse.

 

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The $9 million waste of money dates

October 1st, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

3 news reports:

A citizens-initiated referendum into National’s asset sales will be held by postal vote in November.

Prime Minister John Key confirmed the referendum will cost about $9 million and is the cheapest option to hold the non-binding vote. Voting in person would cost taxpayers $39m.

That’s a relief!

Voting will be open from November 22 and close on December 13.

By which time there may only be one sale to go! Ridiculous. Phil Goff said the 2011 election will be a referendum on asset sales. He was right.

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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 Greens. They are happy to accept the will of the people when it comes to the results of the forthcoming referendum on asset sales. But not so when it came to the 2009 referendum 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 CIR 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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The Press on CIRs

September 5th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Press editorial:

When the act allowing for citizens initiated referendums to be held was passed in 1993, it provided that they could only be started after a petition to Parliament signed by 10 per cent of registered electors within 12 months.

The provision was designed to be, and has been, an effective deterrent to single-issue cranks getting their pet obsession on to a ballot paper. It means that anything that does make it to a referendum has some public support already.

It has not, however, prevented the four referendums held so far from being a waste of time and money. All four have produced the answer their proponents wanted and all four have, quite properly, been ignored by the governments of the time, both Labour and National-led.

People should keep asking those who claim a CIR should trump an election, when they will vote to amend the anti-smacking law in line with the 87% vote in that referendum.

The referendum is even more pointless than usual. Not only will it have no influence on the Government’s stance on the issue, it is also on a matter on which the Government undoubtedly gained a mandate at the last election – the fate of state assets was one of the foremost issues of the election campaign. The partial sale of state assets is, furthermore, an issue for which the Government will be answerable at the general election just over a year from now.

That is how it should be. You put up a policy at an election. You keep your word and implement it. You get judged on your record at the next election.

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Cheek indeed

September 5th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in NZ Herald:

The week’s prize for barefaced cheek must surely go to the Greens.

With Parliament’s Clerk of the House yesterday finally giving the okay for a non-binding referendum on National’s asset sales policy, the Greens listed the costs to the taxpayer so far of the Government’s partial privatisation programme.

Included in the total, which the Greens estimate as close to $125 million, was $9 million to pay for the referendum.

That sum is certainly a cost the Government has to meet. But it is a cost forced on the Government by virtue of the successful efforts of the Greens and the other Opposition parties.

They force the referendum, and blame the Govt for the cost. Incredible.

The logic for citing this as a Government-imposed cost on the taxpayer was that the referendum was only being held because National has an asset sales policy.

On that basis, the Greens should have included the nearly $50,000 in taxpayer-provided money drawn from its parliamentary funding to pay eight staff to collect signatures for the petition needed to force the referendum.

The $50,000 was only the cost of the extra staff. I estimate the total cost to the taxpayer was around $400,000 when you include all the full-time staff who worked on co-ordinating the petition.

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Asset Sales referendum is go

September 2nd, 2013 at 1:58 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A referendum will be held on asset sales after confirmation that a petition under the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act gained the support of 10 per cent of eligible electors.

The petition, organised by the Keep Our Assets coalition and led by Grey Power president Roy Reid, asked: “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?”

Shares in Mighty River Power were first floated on May 10 this year.

The Clerk of the House of Representatives, Mary Harris, today said she was satisfied the petition had more than the 308,753 signatories required on March 12, the day it was delivered.

The Clerk was originally expected to announce the results at 1pm.

But an embarrassing mistake by Greens co-leader Russel Norman has marred the release for Opposition parties.

Dr Norman tweeted the news this morning, having missed the embargo.

He then tweeted an apology.

Whoops!

The coalition had two months to collect 16,000 valid signatures after the initial count was deemed just short of the number required. After a thorough checking process, it was estimated that 327,224 eligible electors signed the petition, about 18,500 more than required.

This is the fifth petition under the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act to proceed to a referendum.

The Speaker is expected to present the petition to the House tomorrow.

The Government will then have a month to set a date for holding the referendum or specify that it is to be a postal referendum.

The date of the referendum must be within a year of its presentation to the House, unless the House by a 75 percent majority vote agrees to postpone it for up to a further year.

If I were the Government I’d do a postal referendum as soon as possible – say December.

Labour’s SOE’s spokesman Clayton Cosgrove said the asset sales programme must be halted until after the referendum.

“John Key must respect the democratic process. Over 327,000 Kiwis have called for a referendum. Their voice must be heard,” he said.

What nonsense and hypocrisy.

If Labour and Greens are now claiming a referendum trumps an election, then why did they vote against allowing parental correctional smacking when 87% voted it should not be a crime? They voted down a bill to allow it, just weeks after the referendum. National voted against also, but at least National has never claimed a non-binding referendum should trump an election policy.

The point of the referendum is to politically damage the Government. Now fair enough, but let’s not pretend it is anything else.

Of course taxpayers now pick up the cost of the referendum, on top of the hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars spent on collecting signatures.

The reality is that National got a mandate for its policy at the election. This was not some minor obscure policy. It was a policy debated for 10 months after it was announced in January 2011. It was at the centre of the election campaign. Labour’s entire campaign almost was focused on stopping the partial sales, and the result was they failed.

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Why the assets sale petition failed

June 10th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The assets sale petition that failed (but can be re-submitted) had the highest number of non valid signatures of any CIR since the 1990s. I was interested in why this was the case so requested documents from the Office of the Clerk, Electoral Commission and Stats NZ under the OIA.

There were 393,778 signatures submitted.  They needed 308,753 to make 10%. Stats NZ found the estimated number of valid signatures was 292,291 with a standard error of 2,579.  That meant 26% of signatures were invalid.  Stats NZ commented:

The probability of there being enough valid signatures in the full petition given the results of our sample is (negligible) less than one in a billion.

So why were so few signatures valid. The sample stats were:

  • Signatures checked 28,127
  • Unique electors 23,031
  • Ineligible signatures 4,909 (not on electoral roll)
  • Illegible signers 21
  • Duplicate 166

Now that level of duplicates may not sound high, but that is the number of people found as duplicates just in the small sample tested. If you checked the entire sample, you would get far more. Stats NZ estimates that all up, 11% of those who signed the petition signed it at least twice. That is a very high proportion, and significantly higher than any other CIR where the figure has ranged from 5.1% to 8.8%.

The proportion of ineligibles was 17%, and the range in other CIRs has been between 12% and 18%. So the key difference with this CIR was not the proportion of ineligible signing it – but people fraudulently signing it more than once. 11% means one in nine signers signed it twice!

There is a case to be made that if you sign a petition twice, both signatures should be struck out – rather than just one of them. Just like with double voting.

Incidentally I didn’t sign the petition any times. To the best of my memory I’ve never signed any CIR petition except the one for a referendum on the flag.

Maybe when the Greens spent all that taxpayer money on hiring people to (get people to) sign the petition, they should have told them to tell people to sign it once only.

It will be interesting to see how many duplicates are there when they resubmit the petition in two months. If they target the same people and areas as the previous 12 months, then they may end up just getting more duplicates.

My thanks to the agency staff who compiled the info for my request.

6. Briefing Notes for GS 02.05.2013

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Hamilton City Council votes against science and people

June 6th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Daniel Adams at Stuff reports:

Health authorities say removing fluoride from Hamilton’s water will result in at least half a million dollars of extra dental treatment costs in the city every year.

In a major victory for the anti-fluoride lobby yesterday the city council voted by 7-1 to make Hamilton the second-largest unfluoridated city in the country.

I don’t support compulsory medication such as the requirement to have folic acid in bread. But I do support the right of the majority of a district to vote to have fluoridation in their water supply. That is not making it compulsory for people to drink flouridated water. People can do do get water from other sources, and can do so if they really don’t want fluoride in their water.

The science is absolutely clear that it is not harmful at the levels used (and in fact exists in water naturally anyway, but at lower levels).

But New Zealand Dental Association president Geoff Lingard said the “crazy” decision was one the city would rue: “Hamilton is going to regret this. It will increase poor oral health. . . It’s going to hit people in the pocket, or there’ll be more people unable to afford care. There isn’t a reputable health body in the world that doesn’t support water fluoridation as a safe and effective means of reducing tooth decay.”

Who needs science.

The decision, reached after less than an hours’ debate, followed a lengthy tribunal which heard the weight of public submissions, many from outside the city, argue for the removal of hydrofluorosilicic acid from the water supply.

It overturns the outcome of a binding referendum in 2006 which saw 38 per cent of eligible Hamilton voters, more than typically vote in council elections, overwhelmingly ask for fluoridation of the city’s water to be continued.

This is what rankles. The Councillors have voted to over-turn the decision of the people. It was a binding referendum. Any change to the result of a binding referendum, should be another referendum. Hamilton voters voted 70% in favour of keeping fluoridation, and they have been over-ruled by seven Councillors.

A Dental Association spokesperson has said:

“The World Health Organisation, the World Dental Federation, and the International Association for Dental Research have all stated that ‘universal access to fluoride for dental health is part of the basic human right to health’. In New Zealand, a central part of the universal right to fluoride is community water fluoridation. The New Zealand Ministry of Health Guidelines and Statements (2010) on fluoridation are clear: community water fluoridation is effective and safe, and community water supplies in New Zealand should be fluoridated at 0.7-1.0 parts per million (ppm) wherever feasible. The 7 Councillors who voted against this in Hamilton were either unaware of this, or disregarded it (as well as disregarding the opinion of their own citizens from a 2006 referendum).

“Those who are unwilling to drink fluoridated water should not be permitted to impose the risks, damage, and costs of failure to fluoridate on others. The ethics and science in support of fluoridation are clear, but antifluoridation arguments often present a highly misleading picture of water fluoridation.

“While the extent of tooth decay has reduced in recent decades, the disease remains more prevalent than other significant health conditions in New Zealand (such as asthma), particularly in unfluoridated areas and among disadvantaged New Zealanders. The recent New Zealand Oral Health Survey found much less tooth decay in fluoridated than non-fluoridated areas. There is generally 0.3 ppm background fluoride in New Zealand (although it varies), and adjusting that to Ministry of Health-recommended levels has a significant effect of reducing tooth decay among people of all ages.

It is nice to see a professional association advocate for the public good, over the interests of their members. More tooth decay would actually mean more income for dentists in dealing with it.

If the majority of residents in an area vote they don’t want their community water supply fluoridated, then that is their right. But to have seven Councillors remove it is wrong.

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Will the Greens take their own advice

May 10th, 2013 at 12:06 pm by David Farrar

In April 2008, the anti-smacking petition fell short of the required signatures for a referendum, just as the asset sales one did.

The petitioner can resubmit it with more signatures up to two months later. But what did the Green Party say at the time:

Green Party response to petition shortfall – time to move on

So will they take their own advice and move on?

Hat Tip: Bob McCoskrie

 

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Massive fail for Labour and Greens

May 7th, 2013 at 3:29 pm by David Farrar

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.

Around 25% of their signatures were found to be invalid. That is a massively higher proportion than other petitions have had, and makes you wonder about their tactics. Did they sign up children? The Clerk has stated there were also duplicate signatures.

But surely they were intelligent enough to determine for themselves how many signatures were probably invalid, to work out how many they needed to collect. Both parties have access to an electronic electoral roll so they could have done exactly what the Electoral Commission did – take a sample of a few thousand names and check how many are on the roll.

Now the law provides that they can resubmit their petition with more signatures in the next two months, so if they persist, they can still qualify. But it means they have lost any moral claim that the Government shouldn’t proceed until the referendum – because they have failed (for now) to qualify.

It also means that the referendum may now occur after all the energy companies have been sold – making it even more of a farce.

It is bad enough they have wasted over $200,000 of taxpayer funding on trying to by signatures for their petition, and failed. Even worse to use more taxpayer money to gather the extra signatures and waste millions of dollars on a pointless referendum which may not even be held until a few months before the general election. They should instead go into the election with very clear policies on whether they wil buy back the shares or not and let the public decide at the ballot box.

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!

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Herald on Auckland transport funding

April 30th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

The first of the group’s two recommended solutions to plug a $10 billion to $15 billion funding gap in the council’s 30-year integrated transport programme fails to meet that criterion. This option suggests that from 2021, the money should come from hefty increases in rates, a regional fuel tax, tolls on major new roads, further government contributions and small public transport fare increases. The financial burden would, in effect, be widely spread. An advantage of this approach is that it would be reasonably simple to implement. But that does not outweigh the fact that much of the funding would be drawn from homeowners.

Neither home owners or taxpayers should be primarily funding roads and public transport. The users of roads and public transport should fund them.

The second option is better targeted. It envisages the introduction of road pricing supplemented by smaller increases in rates and fuel tax, further government contributions and small public transport fare increases. Motorists would be levied to use existing roads through motorway tolls, or charged to pass through cordons on other congested arterial routes. This would be more expensive to implement but the approach has several benefits, as well as drawing most of the funding from the major beneficiaries.

Most importantly, it would prompt immediate behavioural change by drivers, a feature not associated with the other option. Virtually overnight, there would be less road congestion.

Claiming overnight cures to congestion is silly, but the point about behavioural change is important.

The Super City was established ostensibly to provide the people of Auckland with strategic direction and leadership. If the council can convince them to supply the bulk of the funding on the basis that there will be a dramatic improvement in traffic movement, the Government should get out of the road.

The best way of achieving that outcome would be through a referendum run as part of October’s local-body elections. It cannot be a yes or no vote on the public paying more for transport. Such a vote would always see higher charges rejected. The question would have to be carefully tailored so as not to simply provide a chance for the venting of spleen. In essence, it should be boiled down to a vote on what is preferable – increased rates or road pricing.

I agree with a referendum, but disagree that you only ask people how they want to pay, and not how much they want to pay?

Why not do a referendum on the City Rail Loop, with funding options for it? Tell Aucklanders the cost of it, and get them to vote on say one of say these options:

  1. Fund $2.9b CBD rail loop by rates impost of $250 a year for 10 years
  2. Fund $2.9b CBD rail loop by a petrol tax of 25c a litre for 10 years
  3. Fund $2.9b CBd rail loop by road charges of $4 a day (assume 300,000 vehicles charged)
  4. Not build CBD rail loop

Not quite as simple as that, but Aucklanders should get to vote on how they pay for the CBD rail loop, if they want it.

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What if Labour lost the referendum?

March 22nd, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Adam Bennett at NZ Herald reports:

Almost one in five New Zealanders who oppose the partial sale of Mighty River Power intend buying shares in the company anyway, according to a Herald-DigiPoll survey.

But the survey also indicates opposition to the sales plan is softening, with just over half of the 750 respondents saying they are against it compared with almost two thirds a year ago, and as much as three quarters before the 2011 election, which was largely fought on the issue.

According to the poll, conducted between March 11 and March 17 during the Government’s initial Mighty River Power advertising blitz, 52.2 per cent of respondents opposed the sale and 41.9 per cent supported it.

That’s a big change – from almost 75% against to just over 50%.

I have always assumed that any referendum vote would be a massive vote against.

Every CIR to date has always had a massive vote in favour of the desired outcome of the petitioners. The results have been:

  • Firefighters 88%
  • Size of Parliament 81%
  • Justice reform 92%
  • Smacking law 87%

How much of a political disaster would it be for Labour and the Greens if they lost the referendum? They’ve spent $400,000 of their parliamentary budgets on getting people to sign the petition. The referendum may cost the taxpayer up to $10 million to run. They’d be laughing stocks if they lost the vote they spent so much money on trying to achieve.

Of those opposed almost a fifth intended buying shares while 30 per cent of all those polled said they would buy shares. The survey has a margin of error of 3.6 per cent.

Turnout could be fascinating. Those who have purchased shares and support partial asset sales may be highly motivated to vote in the referendum as if the referendum endorses the sales it would discourage Labour, Greens and NZ First from confiscating their shares back after the election. And those against may wonder what is the point when one or two companies have already been floated by the time of the referendum.

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A tale of two petitions

March 19th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I’ve blogged on the leaked comments showing that Labour, Greens and the unions spent probably around $400,000 (mainly taxpayer funded) on gaining enough signatures for their referendum petition.

I thought it would be useful to contrast that with the previous successful petition, on the smacking issue.

I e-mailed the organiser, Larry Baldock, on how they got enough signatures and they did it the old fashioned way. They didn’t use taxpayer money to hire people to collect signatures. Larry says:

My wife and I spent almost 16 months travelling around NZ almost 4 times, some of the time in a sign written camper van collecting signatures in towns and cities, at AMP shows, field days and any events like V8’s, home shows etc.  Many days on the beach at Mt Maunganui. Some elderly supporters, spent many days each week right through winter sitting at a table outside a Post shop and collected thousands of signatures.  There are many stories! 

Such a contrast to having 10 paid staff work on co-ordinating the petition and using taxpayer funding to pay people to collect signatures. What Larry and others did is what CIRs are meant to be about – the public petitioning Parliament. Not the losing parties in an election trying to over-ride the election result.

Now the smacking petition got their signatures and a referendum was held. The result was beyond over-whelming. In response to the question:

“Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

87% voted no. Now one can quibble that the use of the term “good” is a bit loaded, but anyone who seriously thinks the result would have been vastly different with deletion of that word is deluded.

The referendum was held at the end of a two year high profile debate on the anti-smacking law. It is silly to suggest that NZers did not know exactly what they were voting for.  Maybe a slightly differently worded question would have got say 80% in favour instead of 87%. But that result was a massive landslide, You just can not credibly suggest that there was not a majority against the ban on correctional smacking.

Also polls every year since the referendum has shown a vast majority think that the law should allow correctional smacking that is reasonable (the old law allowed reasonable force). Family First have released the 2013 one which Curia did for them. I think the question is quite fair. In full it says:

In 2007 Parliament passed a law that removes a defence of reasonable force for parents who smack a child to correct their  behaviour, but states the Police have discretion not to prosecute if they consider the offence was inconsequential. 

Do you think the anti-smacking law should be changed to state explicitly that parents who give their children a smack that is reasonable and for the purpose of correction are not breaking the law?

So the question include what the law change was, specifically mentions the inclusion of the Police discretion and asks if they think correctional smacking should be legal, if reasonable. Now I am sure some can and will quibble over exact wording but considering the results were 77% said yes and only 18% no I am utterly confident that any alternate wording would produce much the same result, so long as it wasn’t totally slanted (such as should parents be able to assault their children).

There can be no doubt that the majority of New Zealanders want correctional smacking to be legal, and there was a referendum that said so by a massive 7:1 margin.

Now one can have the view that a party’s policy should triumph over a non binding referendum. I certainly hold that view.

But what is absolute hypocrisy is to be a party that ignored the results of this 2009 referendum, and then two years later to then demand that the Government should break its election policy on the basis of the asset sales referendum.

What many do not know is that a bill was selected for first reading in Parliament in 2010, just a couple of weeks after the referendum result. The bill would have implemented the referendum result by amending the law so that:

it is no longer a criminal offence for parents, and those in the place of parents, to use reasonable force for the purpose of correcting their children’s behaviour and there are clear statutory limits on what constitutes reasonable force

The law was basically identical to what the referendum called for. Now how did Labour and Greens vote on this bill, just three weeks after the referendum? The voted it down (along with every other party except ACT) at first reading.

Now I think National should have voted for the bill, but at least National is consistent that their party’s policy over-rides a referendum result. They have never ever said that referenda should trump elections.

But the actions of Labour and Greens in 2010 show that they are happy to ignore referendum results – unless it is a result they personally agree with.

Their asset sales referendum is nothing to do with democracy. It is mainly a device for them to use taxpayers money to get people onto their e-mail and direct mail lists.

So every time Russell Norman or David Shearer demands that the Government should not proceed with asset sales due to the proposed referendum, someone should ask them when will they be voting to amend the Crimes Act to allow correctional smacking. There is no response they can give which isn’t hypocritical.

And we should change the law to stop parliamentary parties from spending their parliamentary resources on promoting a referendum petition. CIRs are meant to be initiated by citizens, not by the losing parties in an election campaign.

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Have Labour, Greens and unions broken the CIR Act?

March 15th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

S42 of the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act states:

Every person commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $20,000 who, either alone or in combination with others knowingly spends, on advertisements published or broadcast in relation to an indicative referendum petition, more than $50,000

It is clear that Labour, Greens and the unions have spent well over $50,000 in promoting the petition. They have trampled over the intent of the CIR Act which is to stop people or groups from purchasing a referendum. Even worse, they have done it with our money. We see the hypocrisy where they are the ones who demand spending limits on all electoral issues, yet often flout them – remember the $400,000 overspend in 2005.

Whether they have broken the actual CIR Act will depend on what gets classified as an advertisement.

We know from their leaked strategy document they have spent the following on the petition:

  • 30 hours a week from Labour parliamentary resources – estimated value $40,000
  • Greens have permament staff working on it – assume $60,000
  • Union paid national co-ordinator for three months – $15,000
  • 10 FT Labour/Green staff planning for their national day of action – $50,000
  • Carfuls of paid union organisers – say 200 people x 4 days – $150,000
  • $75,000 on Greens paying petition signature gatherers

So I’d estimate conservatively they have spent $390,000 of which $225,000 is from the taxpayer.

Now what we don’t know is how much of this could be counted as an advertisement? If the staff collecting signatures were wearing t-shirts promoting the referendum than they could be walking billboards. And I’ve seen a lot of people wearing those t-shirts.

What difference is there between paying for an ad in a newspaper for people to sign the petition and paying someone to wear a t-shirt and harass passerbys to sign a petition?

I suspect a number of lawyers will be taking a very keen interest in the return that the petitioners file, and there could well be complaints to the Police about their possible over-spending.

Sadly though the maximum fine for over-spending is $20,000 so maybe they have just decided to ignore the spending limit and risk a $20,000 fine. time will tell.

What we do know is never before has there been such a massive use of paid (mainly taxpayer funded) staff to purchase a referendum. The four other CIRs have all been genuine grass-roots efforts, with the exception of the Firefighters Union one.

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The taxpayer purchased referendum

March 13th, 2013 at 1:11 pm by David Farrar

A mole has leaked to me a couple of strategy documents from Labour and Greens on the referendum they have just purchased with our money. The documents are embedded below, and they show the extent of taxpayer resources used to purchase this referendum.

CIRs are meant to be about the public being able to send a message to MPs, not MPs using taxpayer funds to relitigate an election result. Some key revelations:

  • They aimed for 400,000 signatures as they knew a fair proportion would be found to be invalid.
  • At the 300,000 mark the Greens collected 150,000, Labour 105,000 and Unions 40,000. The Greens are the ones who used taxpayer funding to hire petition collectors.
  • Labour pledged 30 hours per week staff time from their taxpayer funded budget
  • Greens were using their permament taxpayer funded staff to co-ordinate
  • The unions had a paid national co-ordinator
  • They refer to unions gathering “car loads” of organisers and activists to travel to areas
  • For their day of action, Greens said they will committ five full-time staff – presumably all taxpayer funded, if Labour does the same. That’s 10 taxpayer funded organisers.
  • A list of unions to pressure to do more, including PPTA, NZEI, Nurses Organisation – minority shares in power companies of course being key education and health issues!

It is very clear that there has been very few ordinary citizens involved in this petition – mainly a legion of taxpayer funded staff and union staff.

Asset Sales Petition Strategy Docs

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According to Labour the 2011 election was a referendum on asset sales

March 13th, 2013 at 9:53 am by David Farrar

Labour said in January 2011:

Election Will Be A Referendum On Asset Sales – Goff

Mr Goff said Prime Minister John Key had made this year’s election a referendum on whether New Zealanders wanted to see their most important strategic assets sold.

Labour and the Greens are using taxpayer funds to try and relitigate the election result. As the Labour Party Leader said, the 2011 was to be a referendum on asset sales. It was the most debated policy of the campaign with 11 months of campaigning about.

I do look forward to seeing media asking David Shearer if he agrees with his predecessor that the 2011 election was a referendum on asset sales.

Well done Inventory2 for finding this gem at Keeping Stock.

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Guest Post: Colin Craig on whether he would vote for “Abortion on Demand”?

March 5th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

I blogged on the 20th of February on Colin Craig’s call for MPs to vote on same sex marriage in accordance with the wishes of their electorate. He was reported as saying:

Mr Craig said that if he was elected, he would vote for gay marriage if his electorate demanded it, in spite of his strong opposition to the law change.

I asked:

Okay so does this mean if Colin Craig was an electorate MP and a poll showed the majority of his electorate support abortion on demand, Colin Craig would vote for the law to be abortion on demand – no matter how strongly he personally feels it is murder?

I’d like to see an answer to that question. Would Colin Craig vote for abortion on demand if a majority of the electorate backed it?

Colin has kindly responded to the question and sent in a guest post, where he outlines his views on the role of referenda and what should happen if an MP and their electorate do not agree. His response is:

This question, of course, could be proposed for various controversial socially liberal pieces of legislation, and is really a question of “how do I see democracy working, and how does representation happen”. So in a nutshell here is my view:

Government initiated referenda: (including general elections). The people vote and their will is done even if there is a single vote in it.  I believe these should be limited to major issues such as elections, constitutional/ electoral arrangements, and major social changes (such as redefining marriage). However, as this is at the discretion of government, it could be used more extensively if the government saw fit.

Citizens initiated referenda: Such referenda are proposed by the citizens themselves. Our party policy is that where such a referenda achieves two-thirds support from the voting public it should be binding on government.  Existing legislation needs amendment not only to bring in the binding aspect, but also to limit proposals to simple questions in the affirmative. 

Vote in Parliament by List MPs: In my view a list MP should always vote consistent with the Party Policy. If no policy exists (such as on redefining marriage for National MPs) then the best option would be for them to consult with members of the party and thereby accurately represent the membership. As our Party has three clear policies on abortion (“Proper Application of Existing Law”, “Free and Informed Consent”, and “Parental Consent for Minors”) which are all aimed at reducing the number of abortions, no Conservative Party List MP would vote for abortion on demand.

Vote in Parliament by Electorate MPs :

A challenging situation could arise if a Conservative Party candidate is elected as the MP  for an electorate. He is then being sent to parliament to represent an electorate (not a party). I do believe that an MP is required to faithfully represent those who sent him even if he does not agree with them. A simple servant-master situation.

If the electorate required the MP to vote in a way that was against his conscience (and “yes” abortion on demand is against mine), he has in my view the following options:

  1. To vote as directed by the electorate (against his own conscience)
  2. To abstain on the issue
  3. To go back to the electorate and negotiate with them. If there is an impasse then to offer his resignation.
  4. To ignore the electorate and vote as he pleases

The first and last options (1 & 4) I believe to be incorrect choices. The first, because it breaches conscience, and the last because it usurps the servant role of the representative (it would be unfaithful to those who sent him). This leaves only 2 & 3 as options in my view. Personally I would elect the third option.

To close then, “no” I would not vote for “abortion on demand” but I would recognise that as an electorate MP this might require my resignation. If so then I would be pleased to stand aside so that a representative who was “more in tune” with the electorate could take my place.

A simple case of the people wishes being done and that my friend is democracy.

It’s a thoughtful nuanced response. I understand the attractiveness of (3) but I wonder about the practicality. How do you determine what is the opinion of the electorate? Is is through random polls like my company does? Is it based on write in responses? What is the response is 51% one way and 49% the other? do you take into account intensity of feeling? And how exactly do you negotiate with an entire electorate?

But it’s good to have had Colin elaborate more fully on his views of how referenda and MPs consciences and electorate wishes should work together. Lots of stuff to consider there.

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Dom Post on asset sales referendum

March 1st, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

The Government now has the authority to sell a 49 per cent share in the power company. To those who say the public are opposed to the process, Prime Minister John Key and his ministers can offer a simple rejoinder: “We said we were going to do it before the last election; if you really didn’t like it you shouldn’t have elected us.”

It’s a difficult argument to counter and the referendum the Green Party and Labour are promoting will change nothing. Nor should it. Whatever the pros and cons of selling state assets, governments are elected to govern. If governments were only able to do things that had popular support at the time they were done, New Zealand might never have given women the vote, decriminalised homosexuality or made the wearing of seatbelts compulsory.

The referendum is an abuse of what is meant to be a law to allow citizens to petition Parliament to get a referendum. It has been hijacked by the parties that lost an election to try and over-turn the election result.

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