John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: National hopes Friday 13th will kill fight

Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Unlucky for some? Maybe. But National clearly does not think it is in danger. Its version of Friday the 13th is designed to be a horror story for its opponents.

In choosing Friday, December 13 as the day the result of the citizens-initiated referendum on asset sales will be announced, National is intent on burying this political nuisance along with its promoters, rather than being buried by it.

The target time for release of the preliminary result of the three-week-long postal ballot is 8.30pm that evening. That will be far too late for the early evening television news bulletins. The result will thus be revealed at what is the deadest time of the political week. By the following Monday, the outcome will be old news.

That Monday kicks off what is one of the busiest weeks of the political year. The referendum result may instead drown in the usual flood of pre-Christmas announcements as ministers and public servants clear their desks before going on holiday.

Worse for the opponents of asset sales, Parliament may have risen for Christmas by December 13, making it impossible for Opposition parties to exploit the referendum result in the House. The outcome will be ancient news by the time Parliament resumes in late January or early February for the election year session. It will be ancient news by the time the Government is readying Genesis Energy for a partial share market float in the New Year.

All this assumes the result of the referendum favours opponents of National's partial privatisation programme. Judging from opinion polls, the anti-asset sale vote could be double the size of the pro-privatisation figure.

The crucial factor will be voter turnout - whether the opponents of asset sales can claim a credible victory based on a reasonable majority of those registered to vote rather than just a majority of those who fill in their ballot paper and post it back to the Returning Officer.

Given the Government has made it clear it will pointedly ignore the outcome, turnout may be on the low side.

Somehow Opposition parties have to turn the referendum into something more than just a plebiscite on asset sales. They have to turn it into a referendum on the Government's performance as a whole. Then it may have some meaning and relevance after all.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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