Campaigners seeking to force a referendum on the Government's part-sale of state assets are in a celebratory mood, saying they have collected the required 300,000 signatures. They should think again. If their petition is presented to Parliament when it reopens in the last week of this month, it will do nothing more than trigger a process that further discredits the concept of citizens-initiated referendums.
This petition, organised by a coalition including Grey Power, the Council of Trade Unions, the Green Party and Labour, has been an absurdity from the start. Much of its success is due solely to the Greens using $76,000 of taxpayer funding to hire people to collect signatures. That was far from the intent of the leader's office allowance or of the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act, which is meant to provide an option for the public, not political parties, to press the government on issues that are seen to be being ignored.
This referendum will cost millions of dollars, only to be ignored by the Government, which can say, with complete justification, that the issue of the part-sale of the three power companies, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand, has already been put to the popular vote in a general election. The Greens and Labour made asset sales a major issue of that poll. Their view did not prevail.
All their pursuit of the issue will achieve is a further diminution in the substance of the citizens-initiated referendum process.