Ministry advised against concurrent referendum/election

Written By: - Date published: 11:15 am, June 26th, 2008 - 44 comments
Categories: child discipline, election 2008, slippery - Tags:

In line with Ministry of Justice advice, the Government has decided not to hold the child discipline referendum at the same time as the election. You can read the entire advice document here:

Holding a referendum at the same time as the general election is not recommended because 

“From 1999, we know that voters would be confused by the additional voting papers and would ask polling place staff questions about the issues and the process. Voters would take longer to mark their papers They would require help to find the right ballot box in which to place them.This would cause congestion and delays in the polling place.. [ and the count]…More polling place staff, including more inquiry officers, would be required to manage the additional workload…Combining CIR with the general election would increase the complexity of election day staff roles, the length and complexity of the training and the risks of staff training being inadequate “

Which is true. I was a Polling Clerk in 1999 and it was a nightmare.

The myth, invented by David Farrar, that holding a referendum separately from the election is more expensive is dispelled:

“To conduct referenda in conjunction with the 2008 General Election… would cost $7.3m… conducting referenda by postal vote in 2009 [would cost] $6.5m to $8.1”

Why isn’t a concurrent referendum cheaper? You don’t need polling place staff for a postal ballot but need more for one held with the election. 

Predictably, National has used this as another hit and run attack, despite the fact that Key himself said on KiwiFm yesterday “we’ve got no intention of changing the legislation unless we see good parents being criminalised for lightly smacking a child, and we don’t see any evidence of that”.

Is this really the level our politics has sunk to? Dishonest attacks over the timing of a referendum on a law that doesn’t affect most people and was never intended to affect most people? Does anyone really think this matters? How about a serious debate about wage levels? Of course, National will do anything it can to avoid a debate on serious issues like that, which is why it fills the void with this pathetic pap.

44 comments on “Ministry advised against concurrent referendum/election ”

  1. coge 1

    Steve, would you like me to outline the real reason Clark is fearful
    of this referendum happening on polling day?

  2. Electoral signs are taken down in the last few days to stop swing voters choosing the first sign they see on the way to polls as the party they’ll support. In turn I think a referendum where Family Fist may be writing the question (please correct me if I’m wrong on that) could distort the democratic process.

  3. coge. knock yourself out but don’t pretend that the Chief Electoral Officer hadn’t already advised against it back in April.

  4. Matthew Pilott 4

    IT, they already wrote the question, and it’s as poor as if I forced a referendum saying “Do you think the players of a game of rugby should be made criminals by the 1969 Crimes Act” (as is the case as I understand it). So yeah.

  5. “Should a loving smack be used as part of good parental correction?” – Or something to that effect. Full of rhetoric and I’m sure a professor of semantics like George Lakoff would be able to tear it to pieces.

  6. T-rex 6

    When they send out this referendum paper, is there going to be a 3rd box you can tick which says “That is the most f*cking retarded question I’ve ever heard”?

    I mean come on. “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”.

    By definition, no, because you specified “Good parental correction”. It is flat out stating that there are circumstances in which a smack is good, which is contrary to the views of a whole bunch of people.

    “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”.

    Damn that makes me mad. It forces a subjective judgement, and it’s leading, and it’s a dirty f*cking trick to play.

    Asking questions as terribly phrased as that should be a criminal offence in New Zealand.

  7. IT. Correct. the question is “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in NZ”

    Arguably, the question as written doesn’t require a restoration fo the law as it was before the amendment to s59 last year or any law change.

  8. Essentially, the question asks whether something ‘good’ should be illegal. A first principle of any justice system should be that ‘good’ things aren’t illegal.

    Whether there is such a thing as a ‘good smack’ is another question.

    And the question gives us no clue as to whether the current law does an adequate job of seperating ‘good’ smacks from ‘bad’ smacks.

  9. T-rex 9

    Matt/Tiger – Glad I’m not alone here!

    “Do you think murderers should be put in jail, even if they’re great people and it wasn’t their fault and they’re guaranteed never to ever hurt anyone again and there will be a huge social cost to imprisoning them and no good will ever come of it because they’re really good people”.

    How about the REAL question, which is

    “Do you think it should be legal to strike a child in New Zealand if can be argued to be a corrective action”.

  10. Exactly. No where in the amendment to S59 did it talk about smacking. All this law does is stop people like the “Timaru Lady” from getting away with giving their kids the bash with implements and getting away with it.

    The far right found an area which would always be protected by common sense, stripped it and exploited the public with a lie. If we are to have a referendum it should be on whether these groups should be held accountable for not telling the truth.

  11. mike 11

    It’s less about smacking and more about the Government undermining the judgement of good parents and simply reinforces the nanny-state label.
    If Helen had known how much damage this would cause Labour she would not of gone near it.

  12. Anita 12

    Your cost difference discussion is really confused.

    Firstly $6.5m greater than $5.9m – so you have reinforced the point it’s more expensive, not “dispelled the myth”.

    Secondly, I think you’ve used all the wrong figures, with might explain that 🙂

    Concurrent 2008, current legislation – conservative estimate $7.3m
    Concurrent 2008, amended legislation – conservative estimate $5.9m
    Postal 2009 – $4.8m to $6.4m
    Postal 2009, including advertising costs – $6.5m to $8.1m

    So some numbers are bigger than other numbers, and some are smaller 🙂

    It’s worth also noting

    Amended legislation – MoJ are not recommending this, they are saying it’s possible but would be “likely to be controversial”.

    Advertising costs – it’s unclear why they weren’t added to the concurrent cost, perhaps they could/should/might be.

    Ranges for postal – the higher number was the budget last time, the lower number was the actual (both then adjusted for inflation). They never explain why the difference, so it’s not clear whether we should expect the lower or the higher end.

    Given all that I think the strongest statement one can make is:

    The costs will be dependent on a variety of factors, and neither option looks reliably cheaper or more expensive.

    Perhaps followed by a somewhat facetious:

    If cost is the key driver we should change the law, not advertise the referendum and tell the electoral commission to do more with less.

  13. Liam 13

    I think that a lot of this issue has come through the general public’s poor understanding of what the law actually changes. I think that on this blog we are ‘preaching to the converted’.

    As far as the question goes it is just terrible. I really hope that the question is not placed like this when it comes time to vote.

    As someone that is doing research, formulating the question is no easy task. The question will need to be transparent and ever word needs to be clearly defined. There can be no assumptions.

    The word good is a terrible choice. Even the word smack. We all feel like we know what the words are, but defining them is a tough task.

    The worst thing about this whole bill is that Labour are the ones who are being hammered by it. Despite the greens starting it. National voting for it (and still support it because to change would mean another flip-flop and they have had enough of them). The media are clearly wanting a fresh new government with fresh new faces with fresh new stories. When in reality it is the 2005 policy with 1990’s MP’s.

    But like i said i am just ‘preaching to the converted’.

  14. Anita 14

    The question is completely consistent with the tradition of CIR questions so far.

    Starting with Norm Withers’:

    Should there be a reform of our justice system placing greater emphasis on the needs of victims, providing restitution and compensation for them and imposing minimum sentences and hard labour for all serious violent offences?

    Paraphrased to: Do you love your mum, think summer is warm, wish the All Blacks well, like fluffy bunnies, and want the elderly put through a mincer to make sausages?

    Not to mention the firefighters’ no means yes:

    Should the number of professional firefighters employed full time in the New Zealand Fire Service be reduced below the number employed on 1 January 1995?

    Do you not want the government to not consider not being mean to firefighters (not)?

  15. vto 15

    mike’s onto it at 12.10

  16. Anita, as you point out, the highside numbers for a postal referendum are inflation-adjusted numbers for the amount budgeted for the 1998 postal referendum, the low-side is inflaiton-adjusted actual cost – I went with actual cost.

    You’re right about the amended vs current legislation issue, I’ll correct.

    Basically, the cost of a postal ballot is insignificantly different from the cost of doing it with the election.

  17. Anita 17


    1998 was a local body election year, I did wonder if that reduced the postal ballot referendum cost as some of the electoral role work would’ve been needed for the local body vote. Next year is not a local body election year, so that wouldn’t help.

    That said, it’s pure speculation, MoJ haven’t told us 🙂

  18. vto 18

    Actually, following from mike’s 12.10 post – imo this sort of legislation is at the core of many problems with todays society in that people’s responsibility for themselves and for their family and those around them is removed to a distant unrelated party – namely central govt.

    This legislation says that sorry good parents of NZ but you are not doing the job right and we are going to do part of it for you, by telling you how to raise your kids. Responsiblity is dislocated.

    Less responsibility = more societal breakdown.

    Just like the dpb removed much of the responsibility of dads for looking after their kids.

    It is a fundamental flaw in an otherwise well intentioned approach by those that push these things.

  19. Anita 19


    I think you’ve corrected your post incorrectly – sorry mate 🙂

    $7.3m is under current legislation (not amended).

    I reckon we should write to MoJ and suggest they use tables in future briefings 🙂

  20. bill brown 20

    imo this sort of legislation is at the core of many problems with todays society in that people’s responsibility for themselves and for their family and those around them is removed to a distant unrelated party

    Does this also mean that you don’t believe a “distant unrelated party” should get involved if you lovingly smack your wife for not cooking your tea the way you like it?

  21. Vanilla Eis 21

    vto: where is there less responsibility? The law simply means you can’t make excuses for beating your children – in fact, it makes you more responsible for you actions. Or you think a horsewhip is an appropriate tool for discipline?

  22. Matthew Pilott 22

    mike’s onto it at 12.10

    Good. So the religious nuts can get out of it, we agree. Now the debate’s back to reality.

    What has the law done? No frivolous prosecutions. No criminalised parents. No police state. A huge increase in domestic violence reporting. A massive debate around the ethics of corporal discipline. Increased advocacy of non-violent parenting. A step in the right direction for our children.

    The stats won’t chagnge for years, I’ll be the first to admit. It is a step in the right direction.

    So I’ll question one of mike’s premises – that Labour would not have done it – you might be right, with hindsight it might not be worth it in terms of political expediency. But it was the right thing to do, unpopular or no.

    I’ll settle for ethics over political expediency any day.

  23. mike 23

    “Or you think a horsewhip is an appropriate tool for discipline?”

    That’s the the sort of comment you expect from a socialist, trying to govern to lowest denominator.
    Scaremongering to mask their craving to control everything. Pathetic

  24. vto 24

    ah yes bill and Vanilla, go ahead and assume that I am for the smack. That is not what I said.

    A strongly held opinion of mine is that increasing govt responsibility for much of our lives is a significant part of the cause of much of society’s breakdown. Responsibility for as much of our lives as is possible should rest at the coal face – be it individual, family or local community. Dislocate that and consequences follow. This legislation imo is a prime example of that dislocation.

    The ins and outs of both your points have been debated far and wide and I’m not going into it now. That was not the point I raised.

  25. bill brown 25

    go ahead and assume that I am for the smack. That is not what I said

    So what are you worried about then? You’ll never be affected by any of this.

  26. Renee van de Weert 26

    113/121 MPs voted for the Amendment which repealed the defence of reasonable force in the case of an assault on a child.
    Voting against repealing S59 were NZF, Peters, Paraone, Mark; UF Turner; ACT Hide, Roy; and Ind Copeland, Field.
    For repeal of S59 were Labour 49, National 48, Green 6, Maori 4, Prog 1, UF 1.
    The question as written on the Petition is ridiculous; it’s entirely subjective and achieves precisely nothing.

  27. Quoth the Raven 27

    vto – I’ve said it before about this hollow personal responsibility mantra of National supporters; if National acutally believed in personal responsibility they would call for an end to drug prohibition they would have voted for, instead of against prostitution reform, they would have voted against parental notification for abortions, for civil unions, etc, etc. The National party does not actually believe in personal responsibility, many of their conservative members views and their voting records show that.

  28. Matthew Pilott 28

    Renee – I think you’ll find Copeland was outside giving a press conference – or have I mixed events up?

    Agreed, I’d like to see if they’d be able to ask a useful question by changing it from its present form, but I guess that’s not what people signed for (though if you signed that petition without calling them out for a loaded and meaningless question, you’re not likely to be aware of what you were signing for in the first place).

  29. Vanilla Eis 29

    Mike, vto:

    Read my post again. The law, as written, allowed one person to successfully defend themselves for beating a child with a horsewhip. Removing this defense was, in my opinion, a credible reaction to such a ruling.

    I’m not accusing you of anything. I’m querying whether you think that it is appropriate to have such a defense available in the law.

    As has been stated, no one has been charged for simply smacking a child. When National agreed to vote in favour the bill, it was widely accepted that the police would use discretion whenever applying the law. What the bill did was remove the defense of ‘discipline’ to hitting a child.

    So, without attacking me for being a dirty socialist who just wants to interfere with the lives of good parents: Do you think that it was appropriate to have a legal defense for beating a child with a horsewhip?


    MP: Copeland was outside at the time of the vote, but they allowed him to retrospectively have his vote against the bill added to the record. If it had been the difference between the bill passing or failing, I imagine they wouldn’t have.

  30. vto 30

    Quoth you have a point. It is a matter of degree of course. My opinion is that this govt goes too far. nats as you say arent a lot different. But that doesn’t detract from my point. The growth of central govt is an internationally slowly expanding bubble that I think has a way to go yet before it starts to leak and reduce its reach.

    Vanilla, I agree the law needed changing. To this? I am not convinced it was the best solution.

  31. Vanilla Eis 31

    Why, when it simply removed any possible defense? The problem really arises in the execution of the law – and the fear is that we will see a spate of frivolous assault charges laid against parents. I can understand that, but that doesn’t mean that there should be a legislated line of ‘allowed disciplinary measures’ in the sand that parents can’t cross. Isn’t that just interfering even more?

    My biggest problem right now is that I don’t think the question in the referendum accurately reflects the nature of the bill, and I fear that we will end up with the same backwards law we just managed to get rid of.

  32. Matthew Pilott 32

    The growth of central govt is an internationally slowly expanding bubble that I think has a way to go yet before it starts to leak and reduce its reach.

    Allow me to say the same of capitalism and unfettered power of corporations. I know which I prefer.

  33. Scribe 33


    I think a referendum where Family Fist may be writing the question (please correct me if I’m wrong on that) could distort the democratic process.

    First off, it’s Family First, not Family Fist. (Do you complain about people calling Labour “Liarbore”? I think they’re equally childish and unfunny.)

    And I will take you up on the offer to correct you, because FF had nothing to do with the drafting of the question. They did encourage people to support the CIR, though, which (please correct me if I’m wrong on this) is their right.

  34. dave 34

    Steve has got a good handle on this, and for a change, is remarkably balanced as well.

    Essentially, the question asks whether something ‘good’ should be illegal. A first principle of any justice system should be that ‘good’ things aren’t illegal.

    Whether there is such a thing as a ‘good smack’ is another question.

    And the question gives us no clue as to whether the current law does an adequate job of seperating ‘good’ smacks from ‘bad’ smacks.
    Neither did the old law. but if a first principle of any justice system should be that ‘good’ things aren’t illegal, those “good things”, should most consider them to be good, are defined as good in the eyes of the public and should not be illegal, not just unprosecutable. Because we have police discretion, the lighter end of the scale of smacking has been unprosecutable for political rather than legal reasons.

    But a third principle is that upholding a law should not be based on police discretion – it should be based on clear law. The law isnt clear. It’s not good law.

    And the final principle is that if something is good, and most people, including the politicians and police, think it is good, it shouldn’t be illegal/unlawful and people shouldn’t be dobbed into the police for breaking that law. But as leaders have made it illegal, citizens should have a democratic right to confront it, and that’s what the referendum is trying to do.

  35. had enough 35

    So this government is confused. In the advice document about the CIR it says,

    “26. Finally, holding the CIR with the general election will compound the already difficult questions which are arising around the relationship between the different election finance rules set out in the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993 and the Electoral Finance Act 2007.”

    So the Government has admitted that their own EFA is confusing them and is using this as an excuse about not having the referenda at the election.

    It will not cause voter confusion it will only cause government confusion and headaches.

  36. Draco TB 36

    But a third principle is that upholding a law should not be based on police discretion – it should be based on clear law. The law isnt clear. It’s not good law.

    The law can’t be that black and white because then you end up with too many loopholes and the law not working at all. It was this ‘black and white’, ‘letter of the law’ type thinking that allowed large anonymous donations to the National party in 2005 even though they were illegal. The answer to this method of getting around the law is to make the law as general as possible so that everything is caught up in it and then legislate for the few exceptions that are expected.

    The legislation that repealed s59 is excellent law because it’s flexible enough to be enforceable. An example of bad law is the 1993 electoral act that was so rigid as to be worked around effectively nullifying the intent of the law. It may as well not have been there.

  37. KK 37

    Had enough? “So the Government has admitted that their own EFA is confusing them and is using this as an excuse about not having the referenda at the election.”

    As pointed out over and over on the Standard, the EFA will inevitably run into problems. It’s not a simple act. I don’t how anyone can try to make this EFA/S59 connection … clearly just like your mates on the right in Parliament just make stuff up like any good reactionary.

    Your mates BE and TR yesterday, in criticizing the Settlement yesterday pretty much said exactly the same thing. One second it was settlement critique, then watssup! watssup! watssup! (sorry spelling haven’t seen the badge) (that was their best argument), then moved into govt waste and arrogance (too predictable) and concluded with their reactionary, hit and run, referendum attack.

    Simplistic, unrelated …

    “It will not cause voter confusion it will only cause government confusion and headaches.”

    Not even worth arguing with, especially the former – I think that SP made this pretty clear

  38. Lew 38

    Just ignoring the very good reasons not to hold a referendum on election day (and there are very good reasons in political theory, as well as those given by MoJ), only one factor needs to be taken into account: electoral advantage.

    The government is free, like it or not, to hold the referendum at any time within the next 12 months. The calculation it has to make is whether the number of people who would typically not vote but would vote against Labour if given a strong reason to go to the polls (ie, the referendum) are greater in number than those who would be so incensed by the government’s refusal to hold the referendum and the election together that they would vote against Labour on that basis alone.

    I’m sure the government is taking other factors such as logistics into account, but ultimately nobody would have any recourse against them if they held it on the 364th day after the petition was presented, except recourse to the ballot box. Since National-aligned moral minority lobbies like Family First, the Sensible Sentencing Trust and parties like the Kiwi Party and the Family Party are all counting on the referendum to call out their mostly apathetic, politically unaware constituencies, Labour would have to be facing a fairly bloody big backlash against delaying the referendum for them to even consider holding it on election day.

    It’s DPF’s and the aforementioned moral minorities’ and others’ jobs to create this backlash and they are presently setting about doing so. But when an electorate isn’t worried that the main opposition party has declined to release any meaningful policy, that’s hoping for quite a lot.

    National is playing smart politics by holding off on policy; Labour will be playing smart politics if it delays the referendum. You and I and some others might see either or both courses of action as undemocratic, cynical or just plain wrong – but ultimately the final arbiter on these questions is the electorate.


    Captcha: `preaching yes’. This thing is scary smart.

  39. KK 39

    Well, depends how well informed they are

    “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in NZ’

    A subjective question like that certainly does not help.

    I don’t think that you really can compare labour’s decision not to hold a referendum with national’s policy strategy.

  40. Lew 40

    KK: “A subjective question like that certainly does not help.”

    What doesn’t it help? Accurately gauge the views of the electorate on the matter of child discipline? That’s not the purpose of a Citizen-Initiated Referendum, as Anita has explained.

    “I don’t think that you really can compare labour’s decision not to hold a referendum with national’s policy strategy.”

    I could and I did. I’m open to persuasion as to why my comparison is invalid.


  41. Anita 41


    I think that it should be the purpose of a CIR, we just don’t seem to be very good at them 🙂

    I reckon MoJ (or whoever’s job it is to approve CIR questions) should have a broader remit to reject bad phrasing and suggest better phrasing.

    Should the law be changed to explicitly allow parents to use physical force to discipline their children?

    We’d probably all vote the same way, but at least we’d know what we were voting for/against.

    [Pedant request – if the plural of referendum is referenda, what is the plural of CIR? I had to mangle one of my sentences to avoid CIRs :]

  42. Lew 42

    Anita: “I think that it should be the purpose of a CIR, we just don’t seem to be very good at them”

    An important distinction, yes, but doomed in my somewhat jaded eyes. This is of course why CIRa (see what I did there?) shouldn’t be binding.


  43. Anita 43


    Indeed! Although I kinda love the idea of a binding referendum about loving smacks – just imagine someone trying to draft legislation including a definition of love 🙂

    CIRa – awesome! (but probably wrong 🙁 )

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