Story: Referendums

Page 4. Consultative referendums after 1990

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The 1992 referendum on electoral systems

In late 1991 Parliament passed the Electoral Referendum Act, introduced by Prime Minister Jim Bolger’s National government. This brought about a two-part referendum on the electoral system in September 1992. Part A asked electors whether they wanted to retain or change the country’s first-past-the-post electoral system. Regardless of their vote on the first question, Part B asked electors which one of four alternative electoral systems they would prefer if the country opted for change.

Although the referendum was a consultative – or indicative – one, the government made clear its intention to hold a binding constitutional referendum if a majority voted for a change. Of the 55% of registered electors who took part, 85% chose change, triggering a binding constitutional referendum in 1993. In the September 1992 indicative referendum, 71% of those who voted favoured the mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system. At the 1993 constitutional referendum, MMP was chosen in preference to first-past-the-post.

The voice of the people

In a comment made in Parliament four days after the 1992 referendum on the voting system, acting Prime Minister Don McKinnon called the result ‘probably one of the most momentous this country has ever had.’ Opposition Labour leader Mike Moore said of the vote, ‘The people didn’t speak on Saturday. They screamed.’1

The 2011 electoral systems referendum

In November 2011 New Zealand held a consultative referendum that was almost an exact copy of the 1992 referendum. Part A asked voters whether they wanted to keep New Zealand’s MMP electoral system, while Part B asked them to choose one of four possible alternative voting systems.

A clear majority (58%) favoured the retention of the country’s current electoral system. The 2011 referendum did not, therefore, result in a binding run-off constitutional referendum. Around 74% of registered electors voted in the 2011 referendum.

Compulsory retirement scheme referendum 1997

In September 1997 a referendum asked electors if they supported a proposed compulsory retirement savings scheme. An overwhelming 92% of voters opposed the proposal, with 80% of registered voters taking part.

Flag referendums

In 2015 and 2016 New Zealand held a two-stage consultative referendum on the future of the New Zealand flag. In 2015 voters ranked five alternative flag designs from a shortlist developed by the Flag Consideration Panel in consultation with the public. Then in March 2016, voters had a choice between the preferred option from the first referendum and the current New Zealand flag. As a result of the referendum process, the current New Zealand flag was retained. Around 49% of registered electors voted in the 2015 referendum and around 68% in the 2016 one.

Recreational cannabis referendum 2020

Alongside the 2020 general election, voters were asked if they supported legalisation of the growth of small quantities of psychoactive cannabis for personal use, and its controlled sale at licensed premises. The proposal was narrowly defeated.

  1. Evening Post, 21 September 1992, p. 2. Back
How to cite this page:

Nigel Roberts, 'Referendums - Consultative referendums after 1990', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 June 2024)

Story by Nigel Roberts, published 20 Jun 2012, reviewed & revised 30 Aug 2016, updated 1 Dec 2020