The Nats’ lines on the citizens-initiated referendum on asset sales are very weak: ‘we don’t care because we have a mandate’ and making up stories about invalid signatures. Those lines will only hold until the petition is certified by the Clerk of the House later this year. Then, they’ll have to grow up a little. Their first decision will be when to hold the referendum.
The Keep Our Assets Coalition is pushing for it to be as early as possible, which would be early next year before the sale of Might River. National doesn’t want that, of course. They would prefer to push it past two of the sales if they can. So, the logical option, according to the conventional wisdom, is to hold the referendum in conjunction with the local body elections at the end of 2013.
But has the conventional wisdom considered what National’s allies in Citizens and Ratepayers would have to say about that?
Local body elections have turn-outs of around 45%, heavily weighted to the conservative end of the spectrum.
Turn-out at the last citizens-initiated referendum was 56%.
Naturally, a referendum is going to encourage turnout – primarily among those who feel strongly opposed to asset sales. With a proper campaign behind it, and the Keep Our Assets Coalition has proven it can run one of those with the petition-collection, turnout among anti-asset sales/Left voters will be even higher.
And that’s bad news for the Citirats. What happens to them if turnout of Labour and Green voters, usually low at local body elections, is boosted by half because they’re voting against the asset sales and voting in the council elections at the same time?
What happens to rightwing candidates in council elections, particularly in Auckland and Christchurch, if the question of council asset sales comes up again and again against a backdrop of a national campaign against asset sales?
Will National really risk a massacre of its local body wing and strongly anti-asset sales councils? Surely not.
But it still won’t want to hold a referendum in the first quarter of 2013 and holding one in the middle of the year would seem like a perverse attempt to avoid holding it either before the first sale or in conjunction with the local body elections – and National would be punished for its transparent cynicism. What’s an asset seller to do?