How the flag referendum got hit by partisan voting

April 2nd, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar


Thomas Simpson blogs:

However interestingly enough there seems to be another factor which acts as an even stronger predictor of support for the fern – namely the proportion of the party vote received in the 2014 election by the National Party.

The coefficient on NAT is statistically significant at a 1% level but neither of the other two factors are. As a result it may be the case that the apparent association of young people with the old flag is an artifact of a correlation between youth and not supporting National. Obviously there are many more uncontrolled for factors which could be correlated with supporting National and voting for the new flag – but the strength of the correlation and the apparently weak explanatory power of the other factors has me wondering whether New Zealand missed a chance to have a proper discussion on a change to how we present our identity as a result of party politics.

It was meant to be about the flag, but some chose to campaign against their own election policy and make it a partisan issue.

Why the flag vote was for the status quo

March 24th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Later today we will get the results of the flag referendum. I have little doubt the current flag will win comfortably. If I’m wrong, I’ll be very happy, but I don’t think I am.

As I’ve got better things to do at the start of Easter long weekend than wait for the results and write the blog post tonight, I’m doing it in advance. Why do I think the status quo won.

First of all, let me say that it is very possible that regardless of all the factors, it is more than likely the vote would have been for the status quo. There has never been a poll showing a majority for change, and few if any countries have ever ever voted to change their flag. It is normally done by fiat from Government, or as a result of constitutional change such as becoming independent.

I’m proud of the fact we are one of the few countries where we have actually got to have a vote on what our flag will be.

However it may have been a lot closer than what the actual result will be. A number of factors basically doomed any chance there was of a change. Here’s what I think they were:

Partisan Politics

If the referendum had not been been advocated by John Key, then it might have gone very differently – say if it has been a CIR.

But the parties of the left were so obsessed with a chance to give Key a loss, than they did everything possible to ensure a no vote.

Almost universally it is the more progressive side of politics that is keenest to throw away colonial symbols.  You would normally expect the biggest support to be from the Greens, then Labour, then National, then NZ First. NZ First as a nationalist party was always going to oppose any change. But look at how Green and Labour MPs declared they would vote.

Only one Green MP out of 14 and one Labour MP out of 32 are backing a change. This is purely because they see the referendum as about bashing up Key, not the best flag for NZ. It is impossible that 44 out of 46 left wing MPs really prefer a flag with the union jack over one with the silver fern.

And their supporters have gone along. If you are on the left and support a flag change, you get monstered on social media. Anyone supporting a flag change gets vile messages on social media.

Normally I would say support and opposition for a flag change would be approx:

  • National: 35 for/65 against
  • Labour 70 for/30 against
  • Greens 80 for/20 against

Instead I’d estimate support and opposition is around:

  • National 55/45
  • Labour 25/75
  • Greens 30/70

So the maths is simply impossible. National voters are divided more or less equally (Key in favour has shifted some to favour) but Labour/Green voters are almost block voting against. Unless National voters backed it 75/25 it can’t pass.

The Process

Overall the process was very sound. I do have some niggles, but the Government did everything possible to have it non partisan. Basically it was:

  1. Form a cross-party group open to all parties
  2. Have them decide broad process and nominate independent panel
  3. Select panel and have them run detailed selection process

Labour created a nonsense campaign that there should be a yes/no vote before you know what the alternate design is. This was bonkers but created lots of noise to have a backlash against the process. It is bonkers because it is impossible for peopel to vote to change the flag without knowing the alternative.

Eventually this will bite Labour as it means they can now never ever in the future hold a flag referendum without having a yes/no vote at the beginning, which will automatically fail. In fact I think there is no prospect of there ever being another referendum until NZ becomes a republic.

But I do have one significant criticism of the process. It was around selecting the short-listed flags.

I would have had the panel select three of the four (or five) flags and have them run a public “poll” to decide the 4th and/or 5th designs. They’s day these are the three we have selected and you select the last one or two. People could vote on their website, on Facebook, on twitter, via e-mail, via text. This is how flags like Red Peak could have got into the 1st referendum without a law change.

The fact the voting isn’t scientific doesn’t matter – it is only choosing one or two extra options for the referendum. If they don’t have the most support, they wouldn’t get through to the 2nd referendum. If one of them won, then it would shaw they should have been there.

I think if the panel has done that, it would have resulted in a much greater sense of ownership of the options put forward for the first referendum, and helped significantly.

The designs

I have some criticism of the final four/five designs but let me say that I think there is a large amount of insincerity from people saying they want change, but want a better design than the Kyle Lockwood one.

Can they point to any of the 10,000 designs submitted that they say was better, and had any public support at all? Red Peak trailed massively to the Lockwood designs. The Lockwood designs had a massive 82% of the vote. It is unlikely any other design would ever have won the 1st referendum.

But I do think the panel made a couple of errors with their selections, which alienated some.

The first is putting two similiar Kyle Lockwood designs forward. I know why they did this – half the panel liked the red one, and half the black one. I liked both, and went backwards and forwards on which one I preferred.

So I can see why the panel put both forward – to let the public choose which one they preferred. But the problem is that blocked another design from making the referendum, and made it look like less of a true choice,

The other critique is not selecting the design which was most like the wonderful Canadian Maple Leaf Flag. The simple silver fern on black. They let worries about it being too close to Islamic State, to stop it being selected. I think it should have been one of the first referendum options, to let NZers decide. That is the design I would most have liked to see, and still do, as our flag. It is our de facto national symbol.

So overall I’d have had five flags in the 1st referendum, and they’d be:

  1. Simple silver fern on black
  2. A Kyle Lockwood fern an southern cross flag
  3. A Koru flag
  4. Selected by public vote (maybe Red Peak)
  5. Another selected by public vote

I think that would have been a better range of choices.

The future

There will be no flag change for at least a generation, and probably longer. No Government will want to go near this again. I’d like to think NZ will become a republic in the next 20 years, but I doubt it.

The parties of the left have been hoping this will be the start of the end for John Key. I think they will be disappointed.

There certainly has been a lot of anger and opposition to the referendum and its cost. But this has been more polarising than changing people’s opinions of Key. Those who dislike him, dislike him even more. But there’s been no sign of a change in the polls, and it has been apparent for some time there will be no change. The cost has been known for over a year, and is an issue with many. It will give other parties a cudgel when the Government won’t fund something, but again they’ve bene trying to use the cudgel for the last year and it hasn’t worked.

National in February averaged 47.8% in the polls to 29.5% for Labour. A year ago it was 49.0% to 30.5% and three years ago it was 47.4% to 33.4%. So the gap has been:

  • Feb 2013 – 14.0%
  • Feb 2015 – 18.5%
  • Feb 2016 – 18.3%

The big winner from this has been NZ First. It has allowed Winston to be de facto Opposition Leader for a few months and get much more publicity than normal. NZ First has gone up consistently in the polls and may be able to stay up. They could even replace the Greens as the third largest party.

This is not necessarily good for the left (or NZ). Peters hates both Key and the Greens. He could go either way. But what he likes most is power. He is far more likely to go into a two party coalition than a three party one.In a two party coalition he can demand a policy or funding win for every bill the Government wants passed. In a three party coalition Labour can’t guarantee Greens support on any legislation, so Winston is in a weaker position to demand stuff.

Peters may get 10% next election. If he does, Labour is really only viable as a partner if they are at around 38%.

UPDATE: The result is 56.6% for the current flag and 43.2% for the alternative flag. Closer than I expected. 0.2% informal and 2,119,953 votes (so far).

Voter turnout was a massive 67.3%.

Six electorates voted for the new flag – Tamaki, Selwyn, Bay of Plenty, East Coast Bays and Ilam.

The electorates that least voted for change were the Maori seats and South Auckland.

Kelly calls for a cannabis referendum

January 11th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Terminally ill former trade unions boss Helen Kelly wants a referendum on whether cannabis should be legalised, and says she is talking to MPs about making it happen.

Kelly, who has lung cancer, has been taking cannabis oil sourced from the black market to relieve her pain and believes it is “absolutely ludicrous” New Zealand’s laws have forced her to do so.

“If we can have a referendum on the New Zealand flag, then we can have a referendum on this issue,” she said on Saturday. …

Kelly said she had talked with some MPs about getting something on the ballot in 2017, and they were on board with the idea.

The issue of whether or not cannabis should be decriminalised could also be addressed, she said.

My only issue would be the timing. I’d like to see the results of the legalisation in Colorado and Washington states, before we make a decision. Evidence based decision making. But generally I favour it being legalised and treated as a health, not criminal, issue.

We have a winner

December 11th, 2015 at 8:49 pm by David Farrar


By an incredibly narrow margin the black, white and blue silver fern has beaten out the red, white and blue design.

Turnout was 48.2% and of the 1,527,042 votes received there were 148,022 informals.

The first round of counting saw:

  1. Red, white, blue fern 41.7%
  2. Black, white, blue fern 40.2%
  3. Red Peak 8.7%
  4. Black & white fern 5.7%
  5. Koru 3.8%

The second round of counting saw:

  1. Red, white, blue fern 42.4%
  2. Black, white, blue fern 40.9%
  3. Red Peak 9.7%
  4. Black & white fern 7.1%

The third round of counting saw:

  1. Black, white, blue fern 44.8%
  2. Red, white, blue fern 44.4%
  3. Red Peak 10.8%

The final round of counting saw

  1. Black, white, blue fern 50.5%
  2. Red, white, blue fern 49.5%

Overwhelming support for the two Kyle Lockwood designs. You can see why they were both included.

The winning flag  is now the distinct underdogs under the current design, but New Zealanders now have a binary choice and three months to debate and decide.

What will turnout be?

December 11th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar


Despite one less week of voting, turnout is well up on the 2013 asset sales referendum, both in gross terms, and as a percentage of the population. Votes received today yet to be counted.

So turnout so far is 47.4% and might hit 48%. How does that compare with other stand alone referenda. In order the turnout rates have been:

  1. 1995 Firefighters 27.0%
  2. 2013 Asset Sales 45.1%
  3. 2015 Flag 47.4% (with one day to go)
  4. 1992 Electoral System 55.2%
  5. 2009 Smacking 56.1%
  6. 1997 Compulsory Superannuation 80.3%

So the flag referendum is ahead of both the union initated referenda.

Now there is a difference between binding and indicative, but this is only semi-binding in that it is choosing an option, not a final decision. The best comparison is to the 1992 vote to choose an electoral system.

That vote got 55% turnout and the flag referendum looks to be around 48%. Now considering how massively more important the electoral system is than the flag, that’s not a massive gap.

Voting starts today

November 20th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Voting starts today. For those interested here is how I will be voting in the first referendum:


For the last two weeks I was preferring the black, blue and white fern, as black is our de facto national colour. But it was seeing the flags all flying outside the Westpac stadium that swung me back towards this one. The black looks better on a screen, but the red better in real life – and stands out more on darker days.


My very close second choice.


Red Peak has grown on me, and if it wins the first referendum I’d vote for it over the current flag.


Doesn’t do a lot for me. A pity the simple silver fern on black design was not chosen. I understand the concern ISIS has a black flag also, but I still love the simplicity of it. This design though just doesn’t quite work for me. If it won, would probably vote for the current flag to remain.


Sorry Koru. Someone has to be 5th.

So Little says a referendum needs 50% turnout to be valid

July 30th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Andrew Little has said:

Labour has moved to have the second flag referendum canned if the first attracts fewer than half the eligible number of voters, Opposition Leader Andrew Little says.

This is the same Andrew Little who said last year he favours a referendum on the flag and it should be changed. But anyway is this the leader of the Labour Party who forced a referendum on the partial asset sales in 2013 that had only a 45% turnout. So is Andrew Little say the referendum Labour, Greens and the unions forced on the public was a waste of time as it got under 50%?

And how about the union organised referendum in 1995 that had a 27% turnout only?

The problem with binding referenda

April 1st, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

For advocates of binding referenda, consider this story from The Atlantic:

California has always done democracy a bit differently than most other states. Every other year, voters in the Golden State cast ballots not just for people to represent them, but for many of the actual laws that govern them. It’s not quite the ancient Athenian model of citizens gathering on a hill to make decisions, but it’s a version of direct democracy deeply-embedded in California’s political culture. Over the years, voters have answered for themselves weighty questions of taxation, same-sex marriage, election laws, and the legalization of marijuana, among many others.

Yet that system is now facing something of a threat from an attorney named Matthew McLaughlin, who wants to use the ballot initiative to authorize the mass murder of gays and lesbians. He has formally proposed the Sodomite Suppression Act, which refers to homosexuality as “a monstrous evil” and an “abominable crime against nature.” It would ban communicating messages of tolerance to minors; bar gays and lesbians, or anyone who voices acceptance, from holding government jobs or public office; and authorize mass murder

His specific proposition:

the People of California wisely command, in the fear of God, that any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.

I suspect he is deeply repressed. At a minimum he is deeply fucked up.

The fear isn’t that McLaughlin’s proposal would ever pass—he is highly unlikely to secure anywhere close to the 365,880 signatures needed merely to get the referendum on next year’s ballot, much less to secure a majority at the polls. And the courts would immediately throw out the law, as they have with a number of less extreme measures that Californians have approved. But the mere possibility that McLaughlin could get formal clearance from state officials to begin collecting signatures for a genocidal proposition is raising questions about California’s permissive ballot initiative system.

The NZ CIR Act doesn’t seem to have any prohibitions on questions, so presumably someone here could also submit a proposed question for approval, and then gather signatures for it.

Overall I much prefer representative democracy.

A binding referendum on superannuation

February 23rd, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

ACT wants a binding referendum on the future of New Zealand’s superannuation and raising the retirement age.

Leader David Seymour says a public vote would end the “Mexican stand-off” between National and Labour, as pressure on the system grows. He believes it is untenable to keep paying out super from aged 65.

In a speech to his party’s annual conference yesterday, Seymour pitched the idea of an independent body to oversee a series of referendums on future of superannuation. And he pointed to an upcoming public poll on changing the flag.

“National won’t address the issue, Labour tried and are now backing away. This is a political Mexican stand-off, with the guns pointed at the younger generations,” he said. 

I’m very supportive of the ACT proposal, especially because it is not just about the age of eligibility.

The idea of a two stage referendum, as we had with MMP and upcoming with the flag, is very sound.

Let an expert panel put up say four different future superannuation schemes, each fully costed. Then New Zealanders can vote on which of the four we prefer and have that go up to a final vote against the current scheme (which is unaffordable).

A key aspect is the current scheme would remain in place for current retirees, and those near retirement. A new scheme would apply say to those aged under 50 only.

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.


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?

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.

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%

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.

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.

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%.

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.

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.


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.

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!

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.

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.

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.


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.

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

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.

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