Victory (just) for asset sales opponents

Bryce Edwards
Bryce Edwards
Anti-asset sale campaigners can claim a victory, but only just, University of Otago politics lecturer Dr Bryce Edwards says.

Last night's preliminary referendum result showed 67% of voters said ''no'' to asset sales.

But Dr Edwards said the result fell short of unofficial targets set by anti-asset sale campaigners, and although it was ''undeniably'' bad for the Government, Prime Minister John Key would probably heave a small sigh of relief it was not worse.

''I think some of the anti-asset sale campaigners will be disappointed with only 67%,'' Dr Edwards said.

''There's been a lot of news lately about problems in the Government's asset sale programme, so in light of that I thought it would have been more like 70% or possibly as high as 80% saying no to asset sales.''

Dr Edwards said the first unofficial target set by campaigners was to get a 50% voter turnout.

Just 44% (1.3 million) of eligible voters participated.

''It's quite a bit lower than the anti-smacking referendum, which had about 56% voter participation, which indicates the depth of feeling is not as high in this referendum,'' he said.

There was ''no way'' the Government could present the result as good in respect of the asset sale programme, but the referendum was not likely to faze Mr Key, Dr Edwards said.

It would make selling Genesis Energy slightly harder, although there was already uncertainty about whether the state-owned enterprise would go on the market.

''I don't think it will terribly faze the Government. It's not the bloody nose they might have expected.''

Dr Edwards said the referendum result would be presented positively and negatively by different political parties.

Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens would herald two-thirds (67%) of voters saying no but the two-thirds statistic was also likely to be used by National.

''Taking into account the low turnout, about the same proportion (two-thirds) of New Zealand either voted in favour of asset sales or chose not to vote. Both statistics are true but they say very different things.''

Dr Edwards said the second unofficial target campaigners hoped would be reached was more people voting ''no'' than the number of votes National received in the 2011 election - more than one million.

''It was purely a symbolic target, but in the end they fell short with just under 900,000.''

Green co-leader Russel Norman last night described the result as an ''overwhelming majority'' against asset sales, while Minister of Finance Bill English said fewer than 30% of eligible voters turned out to oppose the asset sale programme.

The final referendum result was due next week.

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