Why I think asset referendum represents a political stalemate


The No campaign has won with a 67% vote for no to selling down NZs assets. For the politically aware, the message is clear to the Government that thinking NZers with some grasp of economic sovereignty see the hollowing out of public assets to be a terribly stupid idea.

The insanity and economic vandalism to actively amputate the States ability to generate revenue to redistribute into society by selling public assets that we all own and have built with our taxes down to a small elite who have the money to snap up these once public goods is the very definition of ideological fanaticism.

Unluckily for those who voted no, Key has no interest in our vote, Key is focused only on the vast majority of FM radio listening voters who are either tuned out or are politically unaware…



…with a low 43.9% turn out I think this referendum result is effectively a political stalemate. I believe that the next election will be razor close with either the left or the right faction winning by only 1 or 2 votes, (a scenario painted out by the latest Roy Morgan Poll), and that closeness is being reflected in this result.

Yes the turn out shows a massive geographic advantage to fight National…


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…but the reality is that’s still only 43.9% of those eligible to vote.

The problem is that the disaffected, disengaged, apathetic masses don’t feel any real sense of empowerment in the decisions being made. In a culture of cynicism where Russell Brand’s call to unplug as an intellectually justifiable position gained massive social media traction, the solutions have to be genuine to draw any engagement.

We live in a post-Obama world where soaring oratory has bled us jaded, if the solutions don’t match the rhetoric it doesn’t spark hope in the electorate of the disengaged. The reason Key succeeds is because his laid back vacant aspiration and empty optimism fills that void, the left need to do a better job of generating a narrative for their political promise while reminding the soft blue vote that they may be empowering an extremist like Colin Craig.

Finally, I think trying to make a Colin Craig: 1.4million – Labour/Greens 0.895 million comparison is disingenuous. The farcical mass hysteria over the repeal of section 59 was our mainstream media at it’s manufactured worst, trying to compare a Nanny state gone politically mad talk hate radio knee-jerk to a discussion about economic sovereignty is like comparing online porn site ratings to BBCs HardTalk.

Let’s be pleased that a 67% no vote robs Key of any pretense of a moral mandate to sell our assets, but be under no illusion how difficult engaging those citizens who are listening to the Edge, the Rock, More FM and watching Seven Sharp. Against that ocean of apathy, this result is a bobbing cork.


  1. The election of Cunliffe came from empowering the membership. The election of Labour to power will come from empowering the electorate. The turnout and vote NO would have been much higher if people felt they had a direct stake in these assets.

    Public ownership of assets has no more than a general emotional pull unless the public has control over them and can see the actual benefits in their lives.

    Labour should be spelling out the benefits of taking the assets back and putting them into the hands of the people.

    Buying them back concedes that privatisation confers private property rights. This should be rejected but without penalising small investors unduly.

    Labour should distinguish between small investors who have been sucked in by National, and offer to buy their shares back at market value, and institutional investors who should not get that privilege. Their assets should be taken back without compensation.

    Objections that this would deter foreign investment should be welcomed where such investment is motivated by the expectation of monopoly profits.

    But to make re-nationalisation positive in the minds of working people, the public ownership and control of these assets should no longer be in the form of SOEs but rather cooperatives.

    Cooperatives would mean that the people not government agencies directly own and control these assets. This removes the rightwing criticism that state ownership is centralised and bureaucratic.

    Boards of management could be elected during general elections just like MPs and sacked if they perform badly.

    The primary objective would be to run these assets sustainably, reinvesting surpluses to achieve efficiencies and carbon neutrality.
    There would be no dividends syphoned off into the Governments books by means of monopoly pricing.

    In this way, the re-nationalisation of assets back from private into public hands would have clear public benefits spelled out in such a way as ordinary electors could see the immediate and long-term benefits to them as individuals and as citizens.

    • >> Cooperatives would mean that the people not government agencies directly own and control these assets. This removes the rightwing criticism that state ownership is centralised and bureaucratic. <<

      I absolutely agree, and I'd love to see all existing "state assets" turned into democratically-run organisations which manage commons for the public interest. The only problem is, exactly what kind of co-operative models, and who will run them?

      What I've discovered though, is that there's a real shortage of people on this country experience in both running organisations co-operatively and democratically, and managing large-scale resource bases. Part of the problem is a risk-averse, conservative society sitting on all the resources, especially land and buildings, making it hard to people to experiment with co-operative models and make a living at the same time.

      Over the years I've been involved in setting up heaps of co-operative projects in Aotearoa. As long as they remain small, self-funding, and not-for-profit, they can truck along as informal collectives. But as you start to do more stuff, you deal with larger cashflows and more equipment. When that happens – especially if you try to create jobs – there is a lot of pressure to incorporate, and you get hit with a shit-storm of red tape. I know that sounds like populist right-wing argument, and I'm somewhat surprised to be saying it, but it has been my experience with both small-to-medium non-profits, and business co-ops.

      • Danyl a nation of 4.5 odd million is equal to a medium sized city elsewhere. But that is a whole different scale to what you are talking about.

        But I am sure that this is not beyond the capacity of ordinary NZers once they feel that they can have a voice and a vote. The alternative is a dis-empowered and alienated mass walked over by self-promoting leaders.

        • >> But I am sure that this is not beyond the capacity of ordinary NZers once they feel that they can have a voice and a vote. <<

          Again, I agree, and I think jury service is a good example that people are willing to think critically and make good decisions in the public interest when placed in a group environment which expects and supports this. I guess the question I'm asking is how we make the transition from the current social environment to one which expects and supports people to behave like their participation matters, not just on jury service, but all the time.

          As I said in my comment further down, I think making the country itself subject to day-to-day democracy might be a step in the right direction.

  2. I voted, but I understand those who didn’t. The boys in blue had already made it absolutely clear that they weren’t going to take any notice. (They clearly expected a strong ‘No’ vote – they sure would have taken notice if it was ‘Yes’!) If the referendum had been tied to an election and the turnout had been higher then people would have had to openly confront what they were voting for if they voted for Key and his cronies. It may well have affected voting decisions, although I wonder how many would have split their votes (NACT, but not asset sales)? Of course, it couldn’t happen that way – all the sales would have been over and done with. Perhaps it would be possible to start the process again, requiring a pledge to sell no more assets without a referendum?

  3. Isn’t it also just fantastic that the government can buy these assets back at LESS than they sold them for?
    I did a value analysis on both Mighty River Power and Meridian, and neither seemed like good buying opportunities to me. Turns out I was right. Meridian especially, appears to be BORROWING to pay its 10% dividend: their actual operating profits support at best a 4-5% dividend. IMO 50c/share for Meridian would present “fair value” (a 40% drop from here). $1.80ish is about right for Mighty River Power (still has 10% to fall).

  4. The fact Key made it clear he would not change his policy regardless of the result highlights the problem with referendums. But its a tricky issue, if they were binding it would be possible for potentially damaging ideas to get traction in parliment, even if they were supported by a million plus people, minority groups would be vulnerable. The last 3 or 4 referendums were also largely ignored. The anti smacking bill I think got well over a million against it, maybe it should have been the anti bashing bill to make it more clear. Asset sales is a much easier subject to discuss, but not all issues are as easy to take a position on.

    • Non-binding referenda are nothing but dip-stick tests for political parties, funded at public expense. Binding referenda would have to be worded as a requirement to take a specific action, not just a populist opinion poll. The actual piece of paper people voted on for have to explain exactly what laws would change if they vote yes, and what that would mean in court.

      In the case of the anti-child abuse referendum, people would have to read the small change in the Act, and what would happen differently in court if it was changed, and if it was unchanged. I think presented with that information, in neutral and simple language, most people would have voted to keep the law change made by Sue Bradfords Bill.

      However, as I’ve said to Binding Referenda supporters, if we can make decisions this way, why not use this process all the time, instead of (or as well as) using elected representatives to make them for us? Clay Shirky gave a great TED Talk about reviewing law using similar systems to those used by open source communities to develop free code software, or those used to develop and improve Wikipedia:

  5. Hi Martyn,

    I had the same response to the referendum as you do here: – a stalemate “Oh nooo, more endless discussions about whether National had a ‘mandate’ or not” ….until someone pointed out the clearest fact:

    1 058 363 voted for Nats in the last election and only approx. 400 000 people supported the selling of these assets in the referendum. There was never any public support for these assets and this referendum unequivocally proves it.

    “But but what about the people that didn’t vote because Key said he would count it as a ‘Yes’ vote” an obedient follower objects

    Just shows you shouldn’t listen to the bugger – who appears to have no appreciation of how democracy functions.

    Ultimately only approx. 400 000 felt strong enough to support this failure of an approach toward managing the economy of our country.

  6. John Key in his usual arrogant demeanour has again given Kiwis the two finger salute, this time on the referendum.

    But that’s OK, his response was expected. However, come the election, albeit a possible close one, the PM just might find he is delivered the same salutation from voters as retribution for the past five years!

    If politicians were performance rated, Key and his rancid bunch of Gnatsy bullies would receive a massive “F” for failure and anything else it stands for!

  7. The asset sales have been conducted intemperately, and without respect for public equity. What are really needed are class action lawsuits to recover damages from the privateers, and make future privateering unacceptably risky.

  8. Jesus ! Brilliant Bomber . Just superb . What a great writer you are . Respect . And you’re correct in my view . You’re trying to convert the Masses to the Light Side .
    Sadly , I’m motivated by a lesser emotion . Vengeance .

    Thankfully , we’re on the same course . Tally Ho !

  9. Yep … quite a few good points raised there, and some great replies.

    Running through it all is … education on the issues. The real issues at stake.

    With most people getting their feed from the news, predicated as it is on soundbites, and dare I say it, programs like Seven ‘Sharp’ …

    I seriously wonder what would have happened if this whole asset issue had been thrashed out properly under the programming we would have seen on TVNZ 7, which was given more to ‘radio’ style long-format, multiple-slot programming looking far more in depth at what issues actually meant… but that was gotten rid of quickly. It was replaced with yet more mindless programming, all a distraction and one less outlet to discuss and look into things with a little more detail. I also wonder what many of the issues that we’ve faced over 2013 would have been made of in the same way, and what the real outcomes might have been.

    The Vote, it’s alright, but again – reduces things down again to a Yes No dichotomy and that’s just limiting.

    People continually say they “don’t have time” to look into these things. Between two or more jobs keeping people busy to make ends meet these days, that’s little wonder. Tack on the idea that the present government made much of its desire to press ahead with no regard to the outcome on this particular issue, I guess it is little wonder at the low turnout – as unfortunate as this is, I think the weight of it all and too much of the “why bother” syndrome probably set in.

    And it’s worthwhile as this article pointed out that with this in play, people felt somehow they didn’t have a stake in it, even if they didn’t think much of the selling of assets.

    Going back to having time to look into the issues, well, in my view you simply can make time to do that. After all, 10-15 minutes a day looking at things a little more than what you’re getting on the nightly news does add up over a week. A good hour to hour and a half to explore something properly over seven days … and people have at least *that* much time on their hands I’m sure.

    Sloganeering is so easy to swallow, and unfortunately people have been slowly coerced into thinking of this as a substitute for facts on the ground.

    And to top it all off, the continual weight of “looking after number one” these days at all costs bears down heavily. That’s the National line, the tax cuts were predicated on that. The message was “Get yourself a holiday!” , “Spend up on a new car!” — little thought about what you were not doing, ie. reducing available spend on long term requirements such as schools, education and the like. The continual bleat of satiating oneself in the here and now, because “times are tough”, without thinking that long term, times would be tougher still. And then people get whacked with a GST rise, ACC rise and the whole nine yards.

    People are, these days, actually afraid that they’ll be next for the chop if they speak out, whether that’s speaking out in their job against their employer for bad conditions, because unemployment and under-employement is at such a parlous level, not conforming to the majority viewpoint even if they personally might find it disquieting if they are honest with themselves … they still give in to their fear.

    There is a great reliance on the official outlets to tell the truth and dispel this, and this duty they have most certainly taken leave of. With what I’ve seen, the editorial in last weeks Herald, the continual baying of the simplistic “All the Greens want to do is print money” and the day-in day-out call that Labour simply wants to scare off investors … all these messages and more, they come to the public by way of the officially sanctioned “authorities”. To misguide people, to not publish salient facts, is pretty low. But, it’s done with a certain gusto by certain writers. Who happen to be the majority cheerleaders unfortunately for the National/ACT message.

    It’s not a pretty sight and all this means there is still a hell of a lot of work to do.

    We’re either behind businesses and indivduals who want to contribute or we’re not. For every investor, business or individual who wants to exploit our downward spiralling wages, I’m positive there is also investors, businesses and individuals that can make up for those supposed numbers that would be lost. Besides, as any good business knows, competing on price is just not good business sense anyway, as there is always somewhere cheaper to go if that’s the only way they are able to compete and get things done.

    I’d far rather have us compete on the basis of quality and I’m sure we’d attract the numbers of businesses we needed to make up for the shortfall if people were to leave. I mean, if predatory businesses left, would we be worse off as a country? I think not.

    As Cunliffe has already tried to point out several times, Labour for example isn’t about meddling in the market to the point of all businesses leaving due to some spectre of an overbearing government. But what he has said is that where the market fails, the government has a duty to intervene and correct it – to ensure it remains fair. That message, and its pretty obvious, gets lost in the noise that’s turned up by the likes of National and Act, and amplified a thousand times more on talkback radio, with the lie about this being a statement that Labour is “against business”. So for Labours part (only using them as an example for this statement by the way) needs to turn its message back with even more force, really put it out there front and centre.

    Which brings me to the one thing that has to be hammered home and that is a united front, a continual on-message stand – and far less of the self-imploding that has gone down on the left in the past. If there is one thing the Right are good at doing, it’s getting in behind a message, as simplistic as those messages are, they hammer the same message time and time again, over and over and over again, with pretty much no deviation. Yes, messages need nuance, and there is more than a simplistic message to think out – but the average voter with no time between the jobs, the kids, the making ends meet – will have to be addressed in, dare I suggest it, a pretty simplistic way then if needs be.

    Clear, decisive, messages.

    Relying on people to take the time to look through the nitty gritty will take time. And I’m beginning to think we don’t have that time any more – or certainly we are fast, fast running out of that time.

    It’s complacency in general that will see National back in for a third time.

    And quite simply, the country won’t survive that.

  10. The layers of gold paint are rapidly peeling off to reveal the feet of clay beneath – the rhetoric from JK becomes more and more inane by the day as he struggles to secure his personal long-term dreams.

    • It was gross ministerial negligence. The ‘shareholding minister’ completely failed in his duty to protect the equity he was responsible for. Even by neo-liberal standards the moron should be shot. Warren Buffet does not allow the companies he part-owns to screw up so badly.

  11. “…while reminding the soft blue vote that they may be empowering an extremist like Colin Craig.”

    Agreed. IMO Colin Craig comes across on TV (and this is where it matters) as a pleasant, non-threatening individual with a nice smile and disarming honesty.

    • Which is why attacking Craig personally – as well as being gutter politics – is very unlikely to work. Chances are he has National’s best spindoctors moonlighting for him to help keep the Nats in government, and they’ll be working hard, as they have with Key, to make sure he comes off like the affable guy-next-door.

      The best way to undermine the Conservatives is to actually have a good look through their website, and point out the devils in the details of the political positions they offer. The Cons would abolish gay marriage and re-legalize selected forms of child abuse. The Cons would expand Charter Schools and Nationals mad highway building in the fact of peak oil and climate change. The Cons would exempt all residential development from the RMA, allowing an elite of property developers almost total control of the built environment we live in, and potentially leading to leaky-building style problems affecting whole neighbourhoods. The Cons want to formalize a wilful misreading of the Te Tiriti o Waitangi, abolish Māori seats, close down the Waitangi Tribunal, claw back the limited concessions made to hapū and iwi over foreshore and seabed claims, and shut down the constitutional review. Finally, the Cons compared themselves to the UK Independence Party, whose own founder left the party saying “they are racist and have been infected by the far-right” and “doomed to remain on the political fringes”:

      These are the areas to attack them on, not the populist policies designed to appeal to NZ First supporters, and non-voters cynical of both National and Labour; binding referenda, snapper quotas, GCSB etc or the “no comment” tactics intended to dog whistle those with non-mainstream opinions on controversial topics.

  12. “the left need to do a better job of generating a narrative for their political promise while reminding the soft blue vote that they may be empowering an extremist like Colin Craig”

    It’s always the left that have to do all the work, as if they have all the time and energy in the world. Time for the lumpen proletariat to get off its fat arse and think for itself.

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