Editorial: That was then, this is now, eh?

Last updated 05:00 04/09/2013

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OPINION: The Government doesn't want a referendum because it's arrogant. Out of touch. It doesn't like New Zealanders being able to express their view on democracy.

Strong words. Withering words. John Key's words.

He issued those scornful rebukes when he was in the Opposition, assailing Helen Clark's Labour Government over the anti-smacking legislation.

Leftish commentators are already revisiting those comments with gleeful reproach. Why wouldn't they?

There's a whiff of political halitosis to them now that Mr Key's perspective has ever-so-slightly changed.

Opponents have forced a referendum of his own administration's partial asset sales programme. Listen to him now. Referendum? Pah! An utter waste of money. We've already had a referendum - it's called a general election. Nothing to be gained here anyway, because its non-binding and the Government's pressing ahead with the sales so this vote will be after the event.

On the face of it, the plebiscite does seem a waste of time and effort, given the implacable resistance that the Government is communicating.

But it really is important. Because enough people want it. And however entrenched Mr Key may appear, perspectives don't only change once. They can change back.

Yes, it's entirely possible that the result of this exercise may be only that people will make themselves heard, not heeded. Even if that's all that happens, they will have had the chance to counter Mr Key's line that by voting National into power, they had shown support for this agenda.

Which is nonsense. Voters don't cast their party vote based on a single issue, but on policy platforms and, yep, personalities. They vote for the most impressive. Or the least objectionable, anyway.

As for the lack of urgency over the timing of the referendum, Mr Key should do us the courtesy of dropping the pretence that this is anything other than a matter of deliberate governmental choice, rather than pure practicality.

It would be more expensive, but still possible, to hold the referendum before the next general election. The timing has much less to do with expense than with the Government truculently doing all it can to increase the odds that the PM's prediction of a low turnout will come to pass.

Asset sales opponents should encourage Mr Key to keep saying things like that, by the way. The more he minimises the significance and value of the referendum, the more his comments sound like taunts.

People should vote. The programme should be resisted at every turn. It doesn't make sense. They're selling part of our assets to pay off debt for which the interest rate is lower than the dividends they're already getting.

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Finance Minister Bill English said before the previous election that the huge profits (and huge returns to the Government) wouldn't continue. Except they're happening again, this time around.

And they will continue to do so.

- The Southland Times

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