Labour, Greens, NZ First, & Mana – A Bright Idea with electricity!
A part of me is mightily pissed off at Labour.
Like, really ticked off.
From 2000 to 2008, they had ample opportunity to safeguard state assets and remove them from any prospect of privatisation by ideologically-driven, rightwing elements in our political system.
But perhaps, I suspect that most folk – including the Left - had believed that privatisation had been abandoned by National as an ideological dead-end experiment, leading nowhere except eventual foreign ownership and profits remitted to offshore investors. Which, as a consequence, worsened our already shabby Balance of Payments deficit.
More importantly, we had every right to expect that National believed that asset sales would be a sure-fire way of losing an election.
However, someone – some bright, zealous, political strategist working in some back-room somewhere – must’ve come across a “cunning plan” to make asset sales palatable to at least half the voters.
That’s all the Nats needed; 50% of voters.
To pay for tax cuts in 2009 and 2010. Those tax cuts dug a $2 billion-plus hole in government revenue (see: Govt’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting, see: Outlook slashes tax-take by $8b). The shortfall could only be made up by borrowing more – or selling something. National opted for the latter.
Post 2011 Election, has demonstrated that National has not changed it’s free-market stripes. Given an opportunity, they would hock off as much of the country as possible. For “the good of the nation”, you understand.
At the 2011 election, National were handed that opportunity, on a gold plate*, by a voting public who seemed to be distracted by smoking magic mushrooms. Whilst voters expressed disdain at National’s privatisation – they voted National regardless.
(Call me old fashioned, but I tend not to vote for things I disagree with.)
Note that I said “they voted National” – they didn’t vote for National. It may seem as if I’m splitting hairs on a molecular level – but bear with me.
Consider the facts;
- 1. In 2011, National won 1,058,638 votes – or 47.31% of votes cast. That gave them 59 seats.
- 2. The 2011 election was the lowest voter turn-out (74.21%) since 1887.
- 3. Whilst Labour’s vote dropped from 2008 to 2011, overall the anti-asset sale bloc gained more popular votes in 2011 than the pro-sale bloc,
|National , ACT, United Future Party Votes||Labour, Greens, NZ First, Maori Party, Mana, and Conservative Party votes|
National – 1,058,636
Labour – 614,937
ACT – 23,889
Greens – 247,372
United Future – 13,443
NZ First – 147,544
Maori Party – 31,982
Mana – 24,168
Conservative Party* – 59,237
TOTAL – 1,095,968
Total – 1,125,240
* Whilst the Conservative gained no seats in Parliament (because of the 5% threshold), their numbers are included because they gained over double the electoral-support for ACT.
In effect, Key could claim an mythical “mandate” simply because the MMP rules in 2011 gave ACT a seat, but no representation for the Conservatives – even though support for the latter was double that of ACT.
- 4. Voting patterns are reflected in polls which consistantly show public opinion opposed to asset sales. Generally, the figure is around two thirds opposed and less than a third supporting. (see: Most of us oppose selling NZ)
In fact, this blogger cannot find any reputable poll favouring National’s privatisation programme.
However, the harsh reality is that, for politicians, unless faced by a populist revolt and tens of thousands taking to the streets (see: Huge protest says no to mining on conservation land) , the only numbers that really count are bums-on-seats. Parliamentary seats.
Political machinations in Epsom and Ohariu gave Key the two seat Parliamentary majority he needed, and that’s what counts as a “mandate”. For the Nats, that’s the end-of-story.
As Dear Leader has oft been quoted,
”On the mixed-ownership model debate, the Government has been very clear about its intentions since well before the 2011 election.” – John Key, 24 June 2012 (see: Most of us oppose selling NZ)
Thus far, 200,000 have pre-registered (see: Mighty River pre-registrations top 200,000) – which, whilst a sizeable number, is still only around five percent of those who voted for National in 2011. And I suspect many are pre-registering for a variety of reasons,
- self interested naked greed
- a desire to keep shares in local hands
- and a few bogus pre-registrations to subvert the process (a surreptitiously organised covert resistance? You might say that, but I couldn’t possibly comment)
The 200,000 pre-reguistrations is still dwarfed by signaturies to the petition, which is fast approaching 400,000 (see: Asset sales referendum likely)
So, did all 1,058,638 voters who voted National in 2011 also endorse asset sales, either in whole or partial?
The answer is a clear no. In a poll just over a year ago (see: Poll shows asset sales unpopular), around 32% – about one third – of National supporters disapproved of asset sales.
That’s 338,764 voters who opposed asset sales who ticked the box for National in 2011, despite knowing full well that Key was promising partial floats on Meridian, Genesis, Mighty River Power, Solid Energy (now in doubt), and a further sell-down of Air New Zealand.
338,764 people who voted for something they didn’t want.
As Marcus Lush said on Radiolive on 28 February this year (2013),
[click on image to access Radiolive link]
The answer, I think, can be distilled down into two categories of voters.
- The first group simply either didn’t taken notice of the asset sales campaign, or, more likely did not believe that Key would go ahead with the policy. They may even have thought that Key’s coalition ally(ies), United Future and/or the Maori Party, would stop the sales from proceeding. There was a kind of “in denial” mentality going on here.
- The second group is perhaps more complex. Whilst they don’t support asset sales per se, they perhaps believed National Party rhetoric that shares would remain in New Zealand hands. Considering the consequences of Contact Energy’s privatisation – where the majority of shares are now in Australian hands – this would seem to be a forlorn hope.
Having spoken with National Party voters belonging to Group 1, I believe that asset sales will impact to varying degrees on National’s support at the next election. Having woken up to the fact that Key has no intention of backing away from sales, there are 300,000 National voters who may think twice before voting National again.
Expect National to drop in the next few polls following the sale of Mighty River Power.
However, unless something totally unanticipated happens between now and May, the partial sale of Mighty River Power will probably proceed. Followed by Genesis and Meridian. Followed by hefty power price increases if past history is anything to go by.
Where (to from here?)
NZ First’s Winston Peters has promised that any government he is part of will buy back state assets. (Which, by the way, if he’s not telling lies, means that any coalition deal with the Nats is off the table. I’m not holding my breath on this. The 1996 election is still fresh in my mind.)
On 4 March this year (2013), Peters announced,
“New Zealand First will use its influence on the next coalition Government to buy back our state-owned power companies which are being flogged off by National and we are committed to buying back the shares at no greater price than paid by the first purchaser.”
This is do-able. Especially if NZ Superannuation funds are used, which would not impact or have any bearing on a new Government’s books.
By announcing that the shares would be re-purchased “at no greater price than paid by the first purchaser” – Peters is effectively putting all purchasers on notice: expect to incur a loss if you buy into National’s thieving (and let’s be clear – selling goods that don’t belong to you is theft) programme.
And a year earlier, in March 2012, Hone Harawira had promised the same in an open letter to investors,
“So today I think it only proper to send a warning to overseas investors – steer clear of any share offer in the above SOE’s. The purchase of these shares is likely to see you caught up in legal battles and direct action from citizens determined to protect their own interests, both of which will be lengthy and costly and have an adverse impact on the value of your investment.
As the leader of the MANA Movement and Member of the New Zealand House of Representatives, I wish to advise that MANA is opposed to the privatisation of state assets and will strongly argue for any shares sold to overseas investors to be returned to New Zealand hands.”
By contrast, in an attempt to appear “fiscally responsible” to Middle Class voters, Labour and the Greens were luke-warm, at best.
Green co-leader, Russel Norman said,
“We just can’t make the promise that Winston is making. We will do whatever we can, but it is two years away, the books are getting into a terrible mess because of National, and closer to the time we will make an announcement but at the moment we can’t.”
And Labour’s Clayton Cosgrove effectively went, ‘ditto’,
“… I can’t commit to an open-ended fiscal envelope. That would be fiscally irresponsible in my view.”
Which is all pretty timid stuff.
This, my fellow New Zealanders, is why the Centre-Left lost the 2011 Election: no boldness in vision; no measurable difference to the Nats; and no unshakeable courage of their/our convictions.
All that Labour and the Greens said was “no” to asset sales.
And when Cunliffe suggested that a future Labour-led government would re-nationalise these SOEs – he was firmly slapped down by his Party.
On 4 December 2011,
“I don’t stand for a paler shade of blue, and I want to look down the barrel and say this: if the Government is going to sell off precious state assets then we would not rule out re-nationalising some of them. And people need to be aware of that regulatory risk.”
When asked by host Guyon Espiner whether he would buy them back, Mr Cunliffe replied “we would look very hard [at buying them back].” - Source
On 5 December 2011,
Labour leadership aspirant David Cunliffe has moved to clarify his position on the buyback of state assets.
He believed comments he made in a weekend interview, where he didn’t rule out buying back partially privatised SOE’s, had been misinterpreted.
Mr Cunliffe said it was not an explicit promise to buy back all shareholdings National may sell. - Source
That’s not “manning the barricades” stuff – that’s an open retreat in the face of a remorseless enemy.
Which, in turn, emboldened National to openly mock and taunt the Labour Opposition, seven months later,
” Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) : I move, That the House take note of miscellaneous business. We are still waiting, this week, for the Labour Party to commit to buying back the shares of the 49 percent of the energy companies that the Government is planning to sell, mainly to New Zealanders. New Zealand First has made that undertaking. New Zealand First has shown that the Labour Party has persuaded New Zealand First that its arguments are so strong, New Zealand First should go and buy them back if it has a role in a future Government. But the Labour Party has not been able to persuade itself. Labour members have been in the Chamber arguing, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, that these proposed share offers are fiscally irresponsible, economic nonsense, and a sell-out to foreigners, but they are not so fiscally irresponsible that they are going to buy them back. They are not such a sell-out to foreigners that they are going to buy them back. They are not such an economic nonsense that they are going to buy them back.” – Source
At a time when Labour should be tearing strips of National and setting their own counter-agenda – we’re getting precious little of that. Instead, the agenda is being set by Key and his cronies with bugger-all opposition. The Greens and NZ First have scored more ‘hits’ against the Nats than Labour.
On top of that, the Greens have become the “go to” opposition Party, for criticism of National policies. If you doubt me, check out the next 6pm TV news bulletin. Which opposition party spokesperson is interviewed? Keep tabs over a few night. You’ll quickly see what I mean.
So, what options does Labour have?
It has two options;
- Carry on with a conservative course. There is a 50/50 chance it will lead the next government, with perhaps a one or two seat majority, consisting of Labour/Greens/Mana/NZ first.
- Strike out with a strategy of aggressive and bold announcements of initiatives. Announce;
- radical policies that are a departure from neo-liberalism and declare that the Great Neo-liberal Experiment is dead; “we come to bury the bastard, not praise him”.
- focus on the message that the 30 year experiment in neo-liberalism has failed utterly, and is one reason we’re driving our young people to Australia
- a policy that all state assets will be re-purchased at cost-price (as a coalition deal with NZ First)
- a list of National policies that will be ruthlessly reviewed and dumped (eg, the Hobbit Law)
- a focus on job creation; attacking the root causes of child poverty; and a committment for decent housing for all New Zealanders
- a full review of the tax system, with a plan to reduce (or eliminate gst) and replaced with a comprehensive Capital Gains Tax; Financial Transactions Tax; and other non-income related taxes
- Comprehensive food-in-schools programmes
- looking at how our Scandinavian and Nordic cuzzies are running their economies/societies
- cheaper education for our kids
- a conversation with New Zealanders as to what kind of society we want to live in – and are we willing to pay for it and set goals to achieve it?
- etc, etc.
As part of Option 2, I have one further Bright Idea…
A Libertarian acquaintaince and I were chatting one evening at ‘Backbenches’ (prior to it catching fire – and no, our conversation wasn’t that heated) . We were talking about the three state owned power companies.
He asked me; why should there be three state owned companies; all producing the same service; at roughly the same costs and prices – have three sets of management; CEOs; offices; accounting systems; staff; etc? Wouldn’t it make more sense to combine the three and pass the savings onto consumers?
Damn it, he was right. What is the point of having three state owned electricity companies?
One could do the same job – and cheaper.
Just as we had the old ECNZ, prior to Max Bradford’s so-called “reforms” in the late 1990s. At the time, Mr Bradford promised cheaper electricity through competition. Instead, power prices have doubled sinced the start of the century. (see: The 30-year power price hike , see: Power prices over decade)
“Ministry of Economic Development (MED) statistics show average power prices rose from 13.9 cents per kilowatt-hour on average in May 2001 to 26 cents in May 2011.” - Source
The problem is not just to re-nationalise our electricity companies.
The next problem is what do we do with them?
How do we make them socially responsive to domestic consumers as well as efficient?
Do we re-combine Mighty River Power, Genesis, and Meridian back into one single unit, a new ECNZ?
Do we ensure that there are Board members elected to a new ECNZ whose constituents are domestic users? Perhaps any such Board should have directly-elected representation?
Do we entrench a new, state owned ECNZ in legislation so it’s future is protected from predatory governments seeking either maximum returns (ie, price gouging) or to privatise it?
Could a new ECNZ afford to offer each domestic household their first 300kwh per month, free, as has been suggested by Victoria University researcher, Geoff Bertram? (see: Call for free power )
These are the issues which the Opposition should be focused on.
And thus far, we’ve not heard much from them.
If Labour-Greens-NZ First are serious about being an alternative government, then by the gods, they should be serious about giving us that alternative.
When National started campaigning in the 2008 election, it began two years in advance with a series of aggressive policies. It was acting like a Government-in-Waiting.
By contrast, Labour and the other parties are an Opposition-in-Waiting. They are timidly watching and waiting for the public love affair with Key to wear off, and for National to f**k up.
Well, news flash guys. That doesn’t seem to be working too well. The Nats have been excoriated with scandal after scandal last year and this year; unemployment rising; Mainzeal and Solid Energy collapsing – and the Nats are still high in the polls?!
My message to Labour, Greens, NZ first, and Mana;
If you want the voting public to take notice of you, you have to give them something that’ll make them notice you.
Offer practical solutions.
Give the public a vision.
And at all times, work together.
If you don’t give the public an alternative, why should they look away from National?
Give the people of New Zealand an alternative, better way of living – and they will look at you.
But not until then.
(* Plate will soon be auctioned on Trademe.)
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