Asset sales poll a test of numbers and apathy levels

It's not how people vote, it's how many people vote, apparently.

Acknowledging yesterday that his Government's asset sales programme was unpopular, Prime Minister John Key said he was under no illusion there would be a resounding "no" vote to the referendum that is now under way.

But he suggested that the true measure of public opposition would be whether people bothered to vote.

The referendum asks people: "Do you support the Government selling up to 49 per cent of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genesis Power, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand?"

Since the Government has already sold stakes in Meridian, Mighty River Power and Air New Zealand, proponents of the referendum are likely to come up against public apathy because of the view that it is already too late.

But Green Party co-leader Russel Norman believes there is still time to save Genesis from sale. Rumours were rife in the stock market that National was thinking about abandoning that sale after the disastrous sales so far, he said.

But Key insisted that there had been no change to the Government's plans to sell a stake in Genesis early next year.

A million people voted for National at the last election, during which it campaigned openly on its asset sales programme.

"It'll go against us, everybody knows that. The question is what will the turnout look like.

" If there's more than a million people who vote 'no', then that would be interesting, because that would be a different result to the [2011] general election, but let's wait and see," Key said.

That would require a turnout of 40 per cent, about the same as at the recent local body elections, and would require 100 per cent of those taking part to vote "no".

The poll was petitioned under the name of Grey Power president Roy Reid, but the hundreds of thousands of signatures collected to force the vote were gathered with support of Labour and the Green Party.

Voting papers for the referendum have started arriving in letterboxes around the country.

Voting closes on December 13. Fairfax NZ

The Press