Prime Minister John Key says the asset sales referendum
will be an "utter waste of money" and the sales process could
be completed before it is even held.
The Clerk of the House of Representatives today confirmed a
petition, organised by the Keep Our Assets coalition, had
attracted 327,224 signatures - about 18,500 more than
required to force a citizens initiated referendum on asset
The petition is due to be tabled in Parliament tomorrow,
after which the Government will have a month to set a date
for the referendum, or declare a postal referendum.
Mr Key said the referendum would have to be held by September
3 next year, but he was still taking advice on when it should
He said the non-binding referendum - likely to be a postal
vote at the cost of $9 million - would be a waste of money.
"We had a referendum - it's called a general election, and
National won that election on the back of this major policy
plank with an overwhelming majority, the biggest result we've
received in MMP history," he said.
"It's a complete and utter waste of money because it's just
about sending a message."
Asked if he would ignore the referendum result, Mr Key said
it might be too late because the mixed-ownership model
programme was already going ahead.
He would not postpone the Government's float of Meridian
Energy until the referendum was held.
"I think it will be fairly politically driven anyway - the
turnout is likely to be relatively low, and those that vote
are more likely to be those who are opposed."
Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the referendum
should take place as soon as possible, and argued that the
partial sale of power companies should be suspended until the
vote was held.
He defended the cost of the referendum, which Mr Key said
could be between $9m and $30m.
"Let's put it in perspective - the Government has spent over
$100 million already on an asset sale programme which is
extremely unpopular," Dr Norman said.
Labour's state-owned enterprises spokesman Clayton Cosgrove
said the asset sales programme, including the Meridian float,
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," Mr Cosgrove said.
The Keep Our Assets coalition had two months to collect
16,000 valid signatures after the initial count was deemed
just short of the 308,753 required.
After a thorough checking process, it was estimated that
327,224 eligible electors had signed the petition.
The petition, 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?"
The Speaker is expected to present the petition to the House
The date of the referendum must be within a year of its
presentation to the House, unless the House - by a 75 per
cent majority vote - agrees to postpone it for up to a