John Armstrong: Election needn’t delay smacking referendum

NZ Herald June 25, 2008

Unless the Prime Minister is planning to go to the country much earlier than everyone expects, her assertion that it is not possible to hold the anticipated citizens-initiated referendum on the anti-smacking law on election day simply does not stack up. Helen Clark claims there is not enough time for the referendum to run alongside the general election “just in terms of sheer organisation”. The real reason, of course, is Labour does not want its election campaign sullied by periodic discussion of the smacking law whose “nanny-state” connotations have proved to be so damaging to her and her party. Better to take some flak now for delaying the referendum than see the debate resurrected over the amended section 59 of the Crimes Act which removes the defence of reasonable force for parents who physically discipline their children.

….In case the Prime Minister has forgotten, the 1984 snap election was called by Sir Robert Muldoon just four weeks before polling day. Somehow, electoral officials coped. In fact, the law covering citizens-initiated referendums specifically allows Parliament to shift the date of a referendum to the day of a snap election. That suggests there is sufficient time and it is not a problem.

….In 1999, the-then National Government took only a week to determine Norm Withers’ petition for a referendum on violent crime would be held on election day.