My friend, like most ‘normal’ citizens, does not support the new s59 law and thinks it is ridiculous that a smack in now legally on par with child abuse. She would like to see the law restored or changed so that smacking is not a criminal offence. However, she will not be voting in the referendum because she is not happy with the cost of the referendum and because John Key says he will ignore the result regardless. Her view is that voting is a waste of time and by not voting at least that is one less vote to be counted which might help to reduce the cost of the exercise.
I explained to her that it is in the interests of those who support the new law to ensure the voter turnout is as low as possible. A low turnout is much easier to justify ignoring than a high one. If the turnout is high and the margin separating the yes votes from the no votes is wide then no matter what John Key says now, he will not be able to ignore the result.
The last referendum on tougher penalites for crimes (somewhat vague) was largely ignored and the government took a lot of stick for it. This one is being held in the age of the blogosphere and on an issue for which the precise action the electorate wants the government to take is much clearer. It will be very hard for National to ignore the result if the result is large and loud and ignoring a big turnout with a very clear margin could be politically very stupid. Key knows this, so he is trying to prevent this from happening.
In addition, the cost could have been kept down by tagging the referendum to the election but those who support the current law had strong reasons, turnout being one of them, for ensuring it was not tagged to the election. The cost of this referendum is pretty awful, however, this should not be a reason to not vote – why not ensure that if we have to pay this cost regardless that something positive comes from it?
While these things may seem obvious to we the bloggers who pay close attention to things political, we know that a politician’s yes or no can be as changeable as the climate – look at the internet blackout campaign – so I do think it is worth pointing out to our readership that by not voting you are not remaining neutral and just protesting the cost; you are in fact ensuring that the status quo continues. We all know which way this vote is going to go but it is how many who vote that will be crucial. Do you want John Key to be able to say “well, so few New Zealanders voted that it wouldn’t be fair to take any action from the result”?
Everyone who does not support the new s59, who wants a legal differentiation between smacking and child abuse, where one is legal and the other not, needs to get past their issues around the cost of the referendum, the not so optimally worded question, etc and vote.