Asset sales referendum dates revealed

Prime Minister John Key has confirmed the Citizens Initiated Referendum over asset sales will take place in late November and early December this year.

Mr Key said the referendum would take by postal ballot, opening on November 22 and closing on December 13.

The referendum would cost $9m, he said.

Mr Key also announced the Christchurch East by-election triggered by the resignation of Labour's Lianne Dalziel would take place on Saturday November 30.

The referendum will ask whether New Zealanders support the Government's sale of up to 49 per cent of Meridian, Mighty River Power, Genesis Power, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand.

It is not binding on the Government.

"It will be interesting to see what the results look like", Mr Key said this afternoon.

"We'll be putting them next to the million people that voted for us and for this policy in the last election.''

Justice Minister Judith Collins said the Government was required to hold the referendum by September 2014 but had had decided to conduct it as soon as practicably possible.

"Completing it before the traditional holiday period begins will help us get maximum voter participation.''

The Government was required to hold the referendum after the Labour and Greens-led Keep Our Assets coalition secured 327,224 signatures in a petition.

Greens' Co-leader Metiria Turei said the referendum was "a victory for democracy'' and called on the Government to halt assets sales until it was completed.

She said Mr Key had not only refused but had "tried to sell as much as he can before the public has its say''.

"The Prime Minister believes he has a mandate for these sales; that mandate will now be tested,'' Mrs Turei said.

Labour Leader David Cunliffe said his party was pleased Mr Key had announced a date for the referendum, "but the timing is cynical''.

"He wants the referendum buried before summer beer and barbeques washes it away.

"We expect voters to send the Government a powerful message about its partial privatisation programme. The result will kick the last leg out of John Key's moral authority to sell public assets.'' 

By Adam Bennett of the NZ Herald

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