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Posts Tagged ‘Solid Energy’

Mediaworks, Solid Energy, and National Standards

17 June 2013 2 comments

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Solid Energy looking to sell Southland land

Acknowledgement: Radio NZ – TV3′s owners in receivership

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Stupidity heaped upon government incompetence – there is no other way to describe the fiasco that Solid Energy has become since National took office in 2008. Whether it was National Ministers  encouraging Solid Energy to expand their operations during a time of  recession or  forcing it to borrow huge sums and then pay it to the National government as “dividends” – Key, English, Joyce, et al have a lot to answer for.

It is not often that a government will run a SOE into the ground and then blame others for their incompetance. (See previous blogpost: Solid Energy – A solid drama of facts, fibs, and fall-guys )

News that Solid Energy may be planning to sell 3,500 hectares of land, and which may be purchased by offshore investors, is the final humiliation.

At this stage, I will make the following point;

  1. I don’t care if a foreign purchaser resides in Boston, Berlin, or Beijing. The negative economic consequences to New Zealand are all the same.
  2. Rightwingers maintain that it doesn’t matter if the land is sold into foreign ownership; “no one can take it away”. But that’s not the point. It’s not the land that is removed – but the profits  generated for owners. It is dividends  to overseas investors that can be “taken away”, thereby reducing our income; worsening our balance of payments; and ultimately pushing up interest rates.
  3. Land sales to overseas investors denies the birthright of  all New Zealanders to participate in land based enterprises. It is difficult for young people to buy a farm when competing with wealthy  investors from Boston, Berlin, or Beijing. In the end, those young New Zealand may end up tenants in our own country – which Dear Leader himself said was not desirable (see: PM warns against Kiwis becoming ‘tenants’ ).

The most common sense solution to this problem (I refuse to call it an “issue”) is simple and straightforward.

If local buyers cannot be found, the land should be transferred to SOE Landcorp, to hold it in stewardship. Good, productive farmland could be later sold/leased to young New Zealanders who want to get on the first rung of the ladder to farm ownership.

Selling/leasing to the next generation of New Zealanders – our children – is a sound way to give them opportunities in our own country.

Why we would deny them that birthright and instead prefer to sell to faceless foreign investors, sitting in offices halfway around the word, defies understanding.

As Bruce Jesson said in his book, about the neo-liberal mentality to sell off everything to the highest bidder, and bugger  the consequences; Only their Purpose is Mad.

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MediaWorks in receivership

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – MediaWorks in receivership

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It is a great shame that Mediaworks is in this position. Their flagship broadcaster, TV3, has raised the quality and standard of programming in this country. Unlike the mediocre rubbish on state-owned TVNZ, TV3 has treated the viewer with a fair measure of respect.

Programmes like Campbell Live, Outrageous Fortune, and Inside Child Poverty have been nuggets of gold at a time when mainstream media is dumbing down faster than John Banks’ integrity post-Skycity and Dotcom donations scandal.

This leftwing blogger wishes the company all the best for the future; fervantly hopes that no one loses their job; and looks forward to more high-quality programming  from TV3.

See more at The Daily Blog by Selwyn Manning: Breaking News: New Company Newco Positions To Purchase MediaWorks Off Receivers

Breaking News: New Company Newco Positions To Purchase MediaWorks Off Receivers – See more at: http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2013/06/17/breaking-news-tv3-radiolive-owners-mediaworks-has-gone-into-receivership/#sthash.YBRLNczb.dpuf

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Teachers to boycott trial of national standards computer system

Acknowledgement: Radio NZ – Teachers to boycott trial of national standards computer system

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The biggest problem and greatest threat from National Standards is the American phenomenon, “Teaching to Tests”. As Gordon Campbell wrote, four years ago when National Standards were first mooted by the Nats,

The main risk is that national testing will foster mechanical ways of assessing of children’s learning, as teachers get pressured into ‘teaching to the test’ – thus narrowing what they teach, and fuelling a focus on simplistic measuring rather than on creating a richer, and more child-oriented environment.

Quite simply, what this means is that for schools to “look good” in league tables (another right wing invention that inevitably follows National Standards), they will be pressured to teach  students solely to answer tests. Nothing more, nothing less.

Because otherwise, a school risks looking poorly in National Standards results. Couple this with “performance related pay”, and “teaching to the test” to guarantee a high ranking in League Tables, becomes a dead cert.

Parents should not only be worried – they should be downright angry. This undermines our education system and turns it into a farce. Kids become expert at answering tests – but not much more. Problem-solving, initiative, increased knowledge, and even more tradition curricula, become secondary.

Because, really, if we’re going to have “performance related pay”, then teachers will make damn sure that their school doesn’t fall behind in any National Standard and subsequent League Table.

Interestingly, China, Sth Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong are also at the top of the OECD PISA scale.  International education scholar, Yong Zhao (see bio here), pointed out why in December 2010;

… China has become the best education nation, or at least according to some experts and politicians. Chinese students (a sample from Shanghai) outscored 64 countries/education systems on the most recent PISA, OECD’s international academic assessment for 15 year olds in math, reading, and science…

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I don’t know why this is such a big surprise to these well educated and smart people. Why should anyone be stunned? It is no news that the Chinese education system is excellent in preparing outstanding test takers, just like other education systems within the Confucian cultural circle—Singapore, Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong…

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That’s the secret: when you spend all your time preparing for tests, and when students are selected based on their test-taking abilities, you get outstanding test scores.

Acknowledgement:  A True Wake-up Call for Arne Duncan: The Real Reason Behind Chinese Students Top PISA Performance

Is this education?. Or is this a  corruption of education and turning our children into mass-trained cogs, able to pass tests, but not much more in terms of free-thinking and expanding knowledge?

Make no mistake. This is setting us up for failure in the decades to come.

Perhaps, instead we should be looking at the Finnish experience,

In his country, Dr. Darling-Hammond said later in an interview, teachers typically spend about four hours a day in the classroom, and are paid to spend two hours a week on professional development. At the University of Helsinki, where he teaches, 2,400 people competed last year for 120 slots in the (fully subsidized) master’s program for schoolteachers. “It’s more difficult getting into teacher education than law or medicine,” he said.

Dr. Sahlberg puts high-quality teachers at the heart of Finland’s education success story — which, as it happens, has become a personal success story of sorts, part of an American obsession with all things Finnish when it comes to schools…

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Both Dr. Darling-Hammond and Dr. Sahlberg said a turning point was a government decision in the 1970s to require all teachers to have master’s degrees — and to pay for their acquisition. The starting salary for school teachers in Finland, 96 percent of whom are unionized, was about $29,000 in 2008, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, compared with about $36,000 in the United States.

More bear than tiger, Finland scorns almost all standardized testing before age 16 and discourages homework, and it is seen as a violation of children’s right to be children for them to start school any sooner than 7, Dr. Sahlberg said during his day at Dwight. He spoke to seniors taking a “Theory of Knowledge” class, then met with administrators and faculty members.

“The first six years of education are not about academic success,” he said. “We don’t measure children at all. It’s about being ready to learn and finding your passion.”

Acknowledgement: New York Times – From Finland, an Intriguing School-Reform Model

Solutions?

1. Don’t vote for National in 2014.

2. Look at Finland for our answers to improve education – not the US which is lower on the OECD PISA ranking than us. (Finland is near the top.)

3. Be wary of simplistic rightwing agendas.

Other Blogs

Gordon Campbell: National Education Tests, And Michael Jackson

The Political Scientist:  National Standards and Neanderthals – “They will know what is required …” – Part I

The Political Scientist: National Standards and Neanderthals – “They will know what is required …” – Part II

The Political Scientis: National Standards and Neanderthals – “They will know what is required …” – Part III

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Solid Energy – A solid drama of facts, fibs, and fall-guys

14 June 2013 4 comments

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Cast of Charachters

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Clayton Cosgrove, Labour Spokesperson on State Owned Enterprises

Clayton Cosgrove, MP, Opposition  Labour Spokesperson on State Owned Enterprises

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Don Elder, CEO, Solid Energy, May 2000 – February 2013

Don Elder, CEO, Solid Energy, 2000 – 2013; avid gardener

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Bill English, MP, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister for Infrastructure,  Ministerial Shareholder of Solid Energy

Bill English, MP, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister for Infrastructure, Ministerial Shareholder in Solid Energy

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Mark Ford, current chairman of Solid Energy

Mark Ford, current chairman of Solid Energy

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John Palmer, CEO Solid Energy, 2006 -

John Palmer, former Chairman of  Solid Energy, 2006 – 2012

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Simon Power, former MP; former Minister for State-Owned Enterprises, 19 November 2008 – April 2011

Simon Power, former MP; former Minister for State-Owned Enterprises, 19 November 2008 – April 2011

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Tony Ryall, MP, Minister for Health; current Minister for SOEs; Ministerial shareholder in Solid Energy

Tony Ryall, MP, Minister for Health; current Minister for SOEs; Ministerial shareholder in Solid Energy

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Dear Leader, Minister for Funny Hats, Minister for Truth

Dear Leader, Minister for Funny Hats, Minister for Truth

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The story, thus far

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30 June 2008

Nil dividend paid to government, for year ending 30 June 2008.

Source: 2008 Annual Report

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8 November 2008

General Election

National-led government elected.  John Key becomes  New Zealand’s Prime Minister; Simon Power is Minister for State Owned Enterprises; Bill English becomes Minister for Finance.

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May 2009

“The Government, in its first term, looked at SOE [state owned enterprise] balance sheets and decided many of them could carry more debt… it made a decision to allow Solid Energy to take on more debt,” Mr English said.

Mr English acknowledged that in 2009 he signed a letter to Solid Energy approving a higher debt level.

Source:  Solid Energy was allowed to increase debt

The letter, as follows,

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letter from Simon Power to solid energy may 2009

Source: CCMAU & Treasury

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Thus was set in motion a decision that would have serious consequences four years later; the near collapse of an efficient and highly profitable State Owned Enterprise.

Not only did Minister Power demand higher dividends from Solid Energy, and instructed the SOE to borrow heavily  to achieve that goal, Power also demanded that Solid Energy “release all surplus capital to the shareholder as special dividends“.

In case the reader is wondering that that means, in plain english, National Ministers wanted all spare cash to be handed over to the government.

They were looting SOEs.

Accordingly, Solid Energy’s gearing ratio rose from 13.8% cent in 2009 to 41.7% by 2012. National’s demands had been met (see: Ministers pressured Solid Energy, Parliament told ).

Mission accomplished – the pillaging of Solid Energy (and other SOEs)  had begun.

Note: On 26 February 2013, John Key would try to insist that Solid Energy was “out of control” and was borrowing wildly.

He would say, “the Government was worried about Solid Energy’s ambitious investment plans and rosy view of coal prices as far back as 2009 but was unable to order the company to steer a safer course.”

So not only did SOE Minister Simon Power direct Solid Energy to borrow more; pay higher dividends; and hand over all spare cash – but four years later, Key would blame the coal company for the consequences;  it’s inevitable financial melt-down,

The causes of the financial crisis at Solid Energy are the usual suspects in failing businesses – too much debt, unsuccessful investments and no reserves to weather a slump in coal prices.

Prime Minister John Key’s comments yesterday indicated these problems and pointed the finger at an imprudent amount of debt and investments that have not returned any cash yet.

Key said the debt had climbed to $389 million when “typically coal companies do not have a lot of debt on their balance sheets”.

Source: State miner to return to coalface

Powers’ letter also put the lie to National ministers claiming that they were powerless to intervene in Solid Energy’s activities. As Simon Powers’ letter clearly demonstrated, Ministers were  exhibiting a total hands-on control over SOE’s finances, borrowings, investments, and dividend payments.

As Key himself claimed (without evidence) on 25 February 2013,

The government blocked proposals in 2009 from its coal mining company Solid Energy for a billion dollar capital injection to allow it to become “the Petrobras of this country,” Prime Minister John Key says.

National ministers had control alright, no two ways about it.

Power might as well have been sitting in Solid Energy’s Christchurch head office, in the CEO’s chair, with  his fingers in the cash register till.

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30 June 2009

$59.9 million dividend paid to government, for year ending 30 June 2009.

Source: 2009 Annual Report

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30 June 2010

$54 million dividend paid to government, for year ending 30 June 2010.

Solid Energy paid a dividend of $24 million on 30 September 2009. In accordance with the company’s dividend policy, the Board is proposing a dividend of $30 million to be paid by the end of March 2010 bringing total cash dividends paid during the current financial year to $54 million.

Source: Small half year loss for Solid Energy

Source: 2010 Annual Report

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27 August 2010

Treasury Report shoots down Solid Energy National Resource Company’s expansion  proposal

To: Bill English, Gerry Brownlee, Simon Power, Steven Joyce

5. In order for SEL to develop into a NRC, SEL has sought the following:

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• indicative approval for total capital investment (including dividends and cash flow)
of $2-3 billion per annum with cumulative investment of $27 billion…

Source: Treasury Report: Solid Energy National Resource Company Response

Note the figure referred above: $27 billion.  Two and a half years later, Key would refer to that figure.

The question is, does the statement – “SEL [Solid Energy Ltd] has sought the following: indicative approval for total capital investment (including dividends and cash flow) of $2-3 billion per annum with cumulative investment of $27 billionactually state where the $27 billion would be sought from?

Answer: no.

And yet, by 15 March 2013, Key would insist that the Solid Energy chairman, John Palmer, sought $27 billion from the government.

See: Key says Solid Energy papers show $27b plan

John Key’s flexibility with truth is now legendary.

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8 September 2010

Then-SOE Minister Simon Power writes to Solid Energy – states support for developing resources –

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Office of Simon Power
MP for Rangitikei
Minister for Justice
Minister for State Owned Enterprises
Minister of Commerce
Minister Responsibilble for vthe Law Commission
Associate Minister of Finance
Deputy Leader of the House

08 SEP 2010

Mr John Palmer
Chair
Solid Energy New Zealand Ltd
PO Box 1303
CHRISTCHURCH 8140

Dear Mr Palmer

National Resource Company (NRC) Proposal

I would like to thank you and your Chief Executive, Don Elder, for meeting me
on 31 August 2010 to discuss the Government’s response to the Solid Energy
Ltd (Solid Energy) NRC proposal.

Ministers are encouraged by the vision of Solid Energy in developing the NRC
proposal. We also appreciate the efforts of the Solid Energy Board,
management and staff that have gone into preparing  the proposal.

Shareholding Ministers have carefully considered the proposal and at this stage
do not support the development of a single NRC to maximise the value of New
Zealand mineral resources.

Shareholding Mnisters are, however, supportive of Solid Energy developing its
current natural resources, including lignite and unconventional gas. As
discussed with you, we expect that Solid Energy will develop resources on a
project by project basis.

We also expect to be consulted on significant projects, and have the opportunity
to discuss the proposals with you. The proposals should be supported by a
business case and assessed against standard business case investment
criteria.

Yours sincerely

Hon Simon Power
Minister for State Owned Enterprises

cc: Don Elder, Chief Executive Officer, Solid Energy

Source: Letter from Simon Power to John Palmer (NZ Herald website)

Interesting…  The Minister, Simon Power,  was;

A. Supportive of Solid Energy “developing its current natural resources, including lignite and unconventional gas. As discussed with you, we expect that Solid Energy will develop resources on a project by project basis”. No reference whatsoever of the Minister directing Solid Energy not to invest  “developing its current natural resources“.

B. Insisting that he be kept advised  “on significant projects“.  It would be interesting to know if Solid Energy advised National ministers of all projects? Including the ones that have been heavily criticised by Key, English, and Ryall.

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3 June 2011

Key endorses Solid Energy expansion plans

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Prime Minister John Key speaks at the opening of the WHK building in Invercargill.

Prime Minister John Key speaks at the opening of the WHK building in Invercargill.

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“At the moment companies like Solid Energy are growth companies and we want them to expand in areas like lignite conversion,” Mr Key said.

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“We know there is lots of resource there and we know they potentially have the capability [to convert lignite to urea or diesel] and so we will see how that progresses, but the briquette plant is a good starting point.”

Source: PM backs mining south’s lignite

Key is stating  with crystal clarity;  “we want them to expand in areas like lignite conversion” and “…so we will see how that progresses, but the briquette plant is a good starting point“.

Which would be in stark contrast to Key’s statements nearly two years later, when  on 23 February 2013, he condemns Solid Energy’s “… unsuccessful investments” and  ” and pointed the finger at an imprudent amount of debt and investments that have not returned any cash yet”.

Two days later, on 25 February 2013, Keywould again condemn Solid Energy – this time specifically distancing himself from the SOE’s expansion plans,

The government blocked proposals in 2009 from its coal mining company Solid Energy for a billion dollar capital injection to allow it to become “the Petrobras of this country,” Prime Minister John Key says.

It’s hard to keep up with a Prime Minister like John Key.

You have to wonder what his views will be in three, six, or twelve months time?

Key also said  at his  Invercargill speech,

However, Mr Key said companies were controlled by Government regulations and so there were always environmental obligations that needed to be met.

Which, again, totally contradicts what he said on 26 February 2013,

The Government was worried about Solid Energy’s ambitious investment plans and rosy view of coal prices as far back as 2009 but was unable to order the company to steer a safer course, Prime Minister John Key says.

Stories, eh? They’re so hard to keep straight sometimes.

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30 June 2011

$20 million dividend paid to government, for year ending 30 June 2011.

Source: 2011 Annual Report

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9 September 2011

Bill English – Don Elder – Opening new Mataura briquette plant

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Solid Energy chief executive, Don Elder and Hon Bill English at MatauraThe first sod has been turned in the construction of Solid Energy’s demonstration briquette plant near Mataura in Southland. This was undertaken on Friday September 9 by local MP, Bill English who is also Deputy-Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. (source)

Solid Energy chief executive, Don Elder and Hon Bill English at Mataura
The first sod has been turned in the construction of Solid Energy’s demonstration briquette plant near Mataura in Southland. This was undertaken on Friday September 9 by local MP, Bill English who is also Deputy-Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. (source)

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The Hon Bill English, MP for Clutha-Southland and Minister of Finance, today marked the official start of work at Solid Energy’s Mataura Briquette Plant, by “turning the first sod” at a small event on site with neighbours, local authorities, and other guests.The $25 million Mataura briquette plant is planned to start production by June 2012. It will produce up to 90,000 tonnes a year of low-moisture and higher-energy briquettes from about 150,000 tonnes of lignite mined from Solid Energy’s New Vale Opencast Mine and trucked to the Craig Road site. The plant will use technology developed in the USA by GTL Energy.

Source: Solid Energy starts work at Mataura Briquette Plant

Which demonstrated to anyone (if demonstration was needed) that National was in no doubt about Solid Energy’s expansionary plans.

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4 November 2011

Treasury Scoping study reveals Solid Energy’s financial problems to Government Ministers

Ministers were  officially  made aware of Solid Energy’s severe financial problems. This would not become public knowledge until  two years later,  on  21 February 2013.

See: Treasury Report T2011/2373: Solid Energy New Zealand Scoping Study Report

The Scoping Study is noteworthy on these points,

  1. The considerable  number of redacted items which the reader has no way of knowing what they refer to. They could be sensitive commercial data. Or they could refer to political matters.
  2. In Paragraph 36, the Report states, “The scoping study also recommends that Solid Energy should have no debt at the time of IPO.”
  3. In Paragraph 46, fourth item, the Report states, “Indentified that the company’s free cash flow has been reinvested in the business, particularly the Renewable Energy and New Developments. As a result  dividend payments to the government have been funded by increasing debt.”

In two sentences, Treasury has just confirmed what all the evidence has pointed to; “dividend payments to the government have been funded by increasing debt“.

The very same increased debt demanded by SOE Minister Simon Powers in his letter in May 2009.

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17 February 2012

Bill English – Asset Sales – Proceeds “just a guess”

Finance Minister Bill English is attracting political flak over suggestions that some figures in yesterday’s budget policy statement for the proceeds of share floats of state-owned enterprises were “a guess”.

The Government has long estimated that the sale of up to 49 per cent of five SOEs would collect between $5 billion and $7 billion.

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Mr English said the Treasury “had to pick a number” so they picked the mid-point of the range.

“If we did get $6 billion, that would be a gain of sale [of $800 million] which is just a product of the accounting.

“I just want to emphasise that it is not our best guess; it’s just a guess. It’s just to put some numbers in that look like they might be roughly right for forecasting purposes.

Source: English admits his SOE figures just a guess

Well. Now we know why it was “just a guess”.

Because by now, the Treasury scoping study on Solid Energy had revealed to National Ministers that the SOE’s finances were a mess. There was no way English could’ve responded to journalist’s queries without either telling the truth – or outright lying (which they do anyway, but he would’ve been caught out on this particular ‘porky’).

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18 May 2012

Subsidy on bio-diesel canned – Biodiesel New Zealand – Price increase for bio-diesel

National removed it’s subsidy on bio-diesel – which Solid Energy was producing through one of it’s subsidiaries, as part of it’s   expansion plans.

Biodiesel prices in Queenstown are likely to rise after a Government subsidy to develop production of the fuel was scrapped.

The subsidy, worth 42.5 cents a litre, was introduced by the National-led Government in 2008, but was not renewed in this year’s Budget.

The Queenstown Biodiesel Consortium has more than 20 companies running more than 70 commercial vehicles on the fuel.

The consortium’s provider, Allied Petroleum, is supplied by Biodiesel New Zealand, a Solid Energy subsidiary that makes the fuel out of canola seed and used cooking oil, in Christchurch.

Source: Biodiesel loses subsidy, prices to rise

This thoroughly  undermined Solid Energy’s business projections for income and profits, as they could no longer rely on the subsidy to produce bio-diesel on a viable basis.

So not only were National ministers stripping Solid Energy of it’s cash reserves and demanding higher and higher dividends – they were now tying it’s hands and undermining potentially profitable ventures.

A year later, on 22 February 2013, English (as well as Key and Ryall) would be blaming Solid Energy’s financial collapse on, “… a drop in world coal prices, and spen[ding] too much investigating other sources of energy”.

It would be safe to say that undermining a company’s commercial venture, by moving the goal posts half-way through, and changing rules,  is also not particularly helpful.

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23 June 2012

Solid Energy Chairperson, John Palmer resigns

John Palmer is quitting as chairman of state-owned Solid Energy because at the age of 65 he is unwilling to stay on and see it through to partial privatisation.

Mr Palmer, who is also chairman of Air New Zealand, took up a strong public position in calling for the partial privatisation of state-owned companies and he welcomed the government’s plan to sell down stakes in electricity companies and Solid Energy.

Source:  Solid Energy chairman quits over asset sales

Palmer  resigned some 18 months before his contract was due to expire. The question, as always, is,

Was he pushed?

Or did he jump?

Writing on 16 March 2013, Tracey Watkins suggested a Great Big Shove helped Mr Palmer on his merry way,

There is, of course, nothing unusual about SOE chairmen and chief executives being subjected to a lengthy interrogation. But it is rare for committees to offer a platform to SOE bosses who have been manoeuvred out of their jobs by the Government.

See: Solid questions still remain unanswered

I tend to agree with her. This has all the makings of a politically-inspired, fall-quietly-on-your-sword, exit.

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SOE Minister, Tony Ryall comments on Palmer’s resignation – Acknowledges company’s developments

State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall announced Mr Palmer’s departure from Solid Energy on Friday.

“While it is disappointing to lose such a senior director, I wish to recognise Mr Palmer’s commitment to the company since his appointment in 2006, and the developments the company has made under his leadership,” Mr Ryall said.

Source:  IBID

Two months later, Bill English would be announcing that Solid Energy had  “…some fairly substantial issues” and would not be saleable.

Another six months after that, and the sh*t would be hitting the Big Fan. “Fortuitously”, Palmer would have been long-gone by the time English announced that Solid Energy was insolvent and  $389 million in debt.

Palmer would return, however on 14 March 2013,  for an encore performance before the Commerce Select Committee, to answer some hard questions.

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30 June 2012

$ 30 million dividend paid to government, for year ending 30 June 2012.

Source: 2012 Annual Report

Note that two months before English announced that  “Solid Energy faced “a number of commercial issues” and was “rethinking its business”, National ministers were  still taking dividends from Solid Energy.

Did English, Ryall, and Key not read the  2012 Annual Report which listed Solid Energy  posting a Net Profit after Taxation (NPAT) of  a  $40.2 million loss – on Page 2, under bold headlines, “FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE“???

Even though he maintains that “we wouldn’t be planning to float it any time soon”, they were still taking money out of what would prove to be a financially stricken company. This alone indicated that English and Ryall were being financially irresponsible in their role as Ministerial shareholders. As such,  Key was either ignorant of what was happening under his nose, or was irresponsible in not taking action.

Perhaps his adopted affectation as a “typical, non-political kiwi-bloke” who didn’t get his hands dirty with politics; grinned and shrugged off problems; and left matters to his sub-ordinates – had become a dangerous vulnerability for him? (See Tim Selwyn’s blogpost on John Key’s political/management style:  Rudderless Within The Great Game)

Either way, 30 June 2012 is an important date. This is when National Ministers should’ve known that something was seriously amiss.

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21 August 2012

English announces “issues” with Solid Energy

In August 2012, Bill English announced that Solid Energy had  “…some fairly substantial issues” and was not ready for sale.

Solid Energy “certainly isn’t” in shape for a partial sell-down, Finance Minister Bill English says.

English today said Solid Energy faced “a number of commercial issues” and was “rethinking its business”.

“We would only take any of these companies to the market if they are in good shape for investment and Solid Energy right now certainly isn’t. It’s got some fairly substantial issues that they have signalled. Whether it ends up being able to be floated would depend on whether they can get in suitable shape for public investors,” English said.

“We wouldn’t be planning to float it any time soon.

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English said Solid Energy needed to be in “considerably better shape than it is now” before it could be floated.”

Source: English: Solid Energy not ready for sale

Perhaps National Ministers should have keep their fingers out of  Solid Energy’s petty cash box?

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9 September 2012

Coalminers redundancies – $200 million revenue shortfall – first mention of a ‘bailout’

Steven Joyce says Government capital for Solid Energy has not been ruled out.

The minister met with the company’s group manager of coal on Friday to discuss the situation. Mr Joyce says he has not promised a bailout, but if Solid Energy has a good business plan there may be funding options.

“Ministers get approached by state-owned enterprises to invest capital at different times. The thing that they would be interested in would be what’s the reason for doing it and what’s the opportunity.

“There’s a number of things that are up in the air with Solid Energy’s business plan at the moment that they need to work through with the new chair.”

Source: No decision on Spring Creek workers – Solid Energy

If National bailed out Solid Energy, they would  – in effect – simply be returning the dividends and spare cash that Simon Powers demanded way back in May 2009.

It would not be “new” money. It would be giving back what was looted from Solid Energy’s coffers, as National desperately tried to balance the government’s books, and return to surplus by 2014/15.

This entire sad, incompetant, wasteful,  exercise has provided no  benefit to anyone. National Ministers have ended up looking inept, manipulative, deceitful, and grasping. All for what?

The sole outcome has been to damage the reputations of businessmen who were hired for their business acumen (and who had been successful in their own fields), and destroy the name of Solid Energy.

In a bizarre twist, by sending Solid Energy into near-bankruptcy, National successfully delayed the partial privatisation of that SOE. Something that asset-sale opponants would welcome with delight.

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21 February 2013

Solid Energy in crisis – debt revealed to the public

The depth of Solid Energy’s financial woes have been laid bare with the Government confirming the company is in talks with bankers over its debt levels.

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State-owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall said a number of factors had weighed against the company, in particular world coal prices dropping by 40 per cent.

“It is facing very serious financial challenges,” Ryall said.

Ryall declined to say whether Don Elder received a payout on his departure as chief executive on February 4.

Solid Energy’s debt stands at $389 million and its interim result, which is due shortly, will show additional losses.

Earlier this week Prime Minister John Key said it was very unlikely Solid Energy would be sold in the near future.

Source: Solid Energy in debt crisis talks

Time to duck – the poo has hit the fan.

Watch Ministers scurry for cover; invent fictitious tales; and blame anyone/anything they can think of. John Key’s fingers will be moving at supersonic speeds, pointing at others, to apportion blame.

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22 February 2013

English blames Solid Energy management, bonuses, coal price fall, and expansion projects

Mr English said Solid Energy’s woes have two primary causes: it failed to predict – and adjust to – a drop in world coal prices, and spent too much investigating other sources of energy.

“Four or five years ago they set out on a big programme of expenditure on alternative energy, including researching into lignite down south to coal gasification and other research-based speculation, and that hasn’t turned out the way they thought.”

Source:  No more bonuses at Solid Energy – English

And yet, English and former SOE Minister, Simon Power had actively encouraged Solid Energy to expand. (see comments 8 September 2010 and 3 June 2011)

But if there was a cause for Solid Energy’s financial woes, a $389 million debt most certainly accounted for most of it.

Even the most profitable, efficient, well-managed company will collapse if it is over-geared (borrowed too much) and too much capital is  extracted in dividends (as well as tax).

Therefore, when English blames Solid Energy’s problems on “world coal prices, and spen[ding] too much investigating other sources of energy”; and when Key and Ryall blame Labour; massive debt; bonuses; mis-management; etc – the facts  show otherwise.

.

.

23 February 2013

Key blames too much debt and unsuccessful investments

The causes of the financial crisis at Solid Energy are the usual suspects in failing businesses – too much debt, unsuccessful investments and no reserves to weather a slump in coal prices.

Prime Minister John Key’s comments yesterday indicated these problems and pointed the finger at an imprudent amount of debt and investments that have not returned any cash yet.

Key said the debt had climbed to $389 million when “typically coal companies do not have a lot of debt on their balance sheets”.

Which is  supreme irony – as nineteen days later, a letter will emerge showing that the former SOE minister, Simon Power,  instructed Solid Energy to borrow heavily and pay huge dividends to the National government. National was intent on using Solid Energy as a ‘cash cow’.

Source: State miner to return to coalface

.

.

25 February 2013

Prime Minister discloses Treasury scoping study of Solid Energy

The PM was asked when the government first became aware Solid Energy was accruing big debts, given that such businesses were not normally expected to take on large amounts of debt.

He replied that the government had undertaken a “scoping study” when they were preparing the formulation of the Mixed Ownership Model and that their examination of Solid Energy’s accounts at that time indicated a degree of poor investment, over-valuation of the expected price of coal–which neither the industry nor government agreed with—and related financial problems stemming from this.

Source: PM Press Conference Dominated by Solid Energy Debacle

.

Key claims Solid Energy wanted $1 billion cash injection

The government blocked proposals in 2009 from its coal mining company Solid Energy for a billion dollar capital injection to allow it to become “the Petrobras of this country,” Prime Minister John Key says.

Source: Govt blocked grandiose Solid Energy plans in 2009

Key’s claim is later rejected by ex-Chairman, John Palmer.

Documents released by Key – in an attempt to back up his claims – wound up shooting the Prime Minister in his foot. The documents do not show that Solid Energy (or it’s CEO or Board) asked National ministers for anything.  The documents show only that the government was informed that Solid Energy would have to borrow from somewhere.

As usual, Key had been bending facts to suit himself. (And he thought no one would notice?!?!)

.

.

26 February 2013

Ryall confirms Treasury  scoping study

Tony Ryall confirmed that the scoping study was carried out in “late 2011″,

Hon TONY RYALL: The member can repeat whatever he likes. The simple fact of the matter is when Ministers became aware of the issues raised in the scoping study at the end of 2011 we took the appropriate steps to address the issues that were raised. As the member knows, the company now has a new chair and new board, and we are currently dealing with the banks to resolve those issues.

Source: Parliament Hansards – State-owned Enterprises—Commercial Expertise

Despite that Treasury scoping study on 4 November 2011, National was still extracting dividends from Solid Energy, right up to 30 June 2012 ($ 30 million).

.

Key blames Labour

He said his support for the project in 2011 came four months before a scoping study revealed the true state of Solid Energy’s financial woes, and the former Labour government needed to take some responsibility for the situation.

“They can’t wash their hands that from 2003 on they were intimately involved when they purchased the land for lignite,” Key said.

Source: Govt forced to defend handling of Solid Energy

2003?

How far back does this man want to go in history as he tries to deflect responsibility for his government’s incompetance? It seems strange, but one gets the distinct feeling that John Key never learned how to take personal responsibility as a child.

Continually blaming others is not the mark of a mature individual. After a while, the public begins to notice.

.

Key blames Solid Energy’s expansion plans

Mr Key says his Government was cautious about Solid Energy’s expansion and said it could “take some baby steps”.

Really? Key’s government was “cautious”?

Funny, that’s not how it looked on 8 September 2010, when then-SOE Minister, Simon Power, endorsed Solid Energy’s expansion plans in a letter, stating,

Shareholding Mnisters are, however, supportive of Solid Energy developing its
current natural resources, including lignite and unconventional gas. As
discussed with you, we expect that Solid Energy will develop resources on a
project by project basis.

Or on 3 June 2011, when John Key supported Solid Energy’s expansion, when he gave a speech in Invercargill,

“At the moment companies like Solid Energy are growth companies and we want them to expand in areas like lignite conversion.

We know there is lots of resource there and we know they potentially have the capability [to convert lignite to urea or diesel] and so we will see how that progresses, but the briquette plant is a good starting point.”

Or on 9 September 2011, when,

The Hon Bill English, MP for Clutha-Southland and Minister of Finance, today marked the official start of work at Solid Energy’s Mataura Briquette Plant, by “turning the first sod” at a small event on site with neighbours, local authorities, and other guests.

.

Key blames inability to control Solid Energy

The Government was worried about Solid Energy’s ambitious investment plans and rosy view of coal prices as far back as 2009 but was unable to order the company to steer a safer course, Prime Minister John Key says.

[...]

But after getting advice on the company’s plan, Mr Key said his Government rejected it, “but of course under the SOE Act the company had the right to draw down debt and make investments and could do that without reference to the shareholder”.

Source: Govt worried about Solid Energy in 2009

Two things jump out about that statement,

A.  If  National ministers were so “worried about Solid Energy’s ambitious investment plans ” – why did they not change the Board of Directors? Or issue a new Ministerial Directive?

After all, Simon Power did just that in a letter dated 8 September 2010 (see above), when he issued an instruction to Solid Energy’s Chairman, John Palmer, not to proceed with a specific expansion plan,

Shareholding Ministers have carefully considered the proposal and at this stage
do not support the development of a single NRC to maximise the value of New
Zealand mineral resources.

B. Why did Tony Ryall acknowledge “Mr Palmer’s commitment to the company since his appointment in 2006, and the developments the company has made under his leadership” on 23 June 2012, when John Palmer stood down as Solid Energy’s chairperson – if  “Government was worried about Solid Energy’s ambitious investment plans and rosy view of coal prices as far back as 2009…“?

C.  How can Key state that “the Government was … unable to order the company to steer a safer course” - when legislation states otherwise? As the Crown Ownership Monitoring Unit (COMU) states,

Most SOEs are subject to ministerial direction in relation to the content of certain aspects of the company’s Statement of Corporate Intent and the level of dividend payable to the Crown. Shareholding Ministers may remove board members by shareholder resolution under the Companies Act 1993. Under the Companies Act 1993, an alternative process may be followed if allowed by the company’s constitution.

Source: COMU: State-Owned Enterprises

As stated above, then-SOE Minister Simon Power did just that: issued a Ministerial Directive.

Of course, “steering the company to a safer course” should have included reducing National Minister’s demands for hefty dividends.

That might have helped.

Either Key is grossly ignorant about SOEs and their ministerial oversight – or once again he’s deliberately misleading the public to suit himself.

.

Key Blames Solid Energy

At that point, the company approached his Government seeking a capital injection “in the order of about a billion dollars to turn this company into the [Brazilian state-owned energy company] Petrobras equivalent in New Zealand”, Mr Key said.

Source: IBID

As a 27 August 2010 Treasury report – released on 15 March 2013 – showed,  Key’s claim that Solid Energy approached the government for “a billion dollars to turn this company into the [Brazilian state-owned energy company] Petrobras ” would prove to be false.

As ex Chairman John Palmer was to tell the Select Committee on 14 March,

“Were we talking to the Government about the possibility of capital and receiving that from the Crown? The answer is no.”

.

.

14 March 2013

Former chairman John Palmer  and CEO, Don Elder appear before Commerce Select Committee

Now we start to hear the “other side” of the story – and much of it conflicts with what we’ve been hearing from English, Key, and Ryall.

.

National confirms big dividends paid out

For the first time it is publicly acknowledged – Solid Energy has been used as a cash cow by National, to extract big dividends from 2009 onward,

The government concedes the pressure it put on Solid Energy to increase its debt is partly to blame for the company’s financial failures.

The state-owned coal mining company owes $389 million in debt, and is negotiating a rescue package with Treasury and banks.

Government documents reveal that in May 2009, then-State Owned Enterprises Minister Simon Power wrote to Solid Energy’s then-chair, John Palmer, saying he was disappointed its profitability and dividends were forecast to drop over the next three years.

At the same time, the government wanted the company to increase its gearing (debt to equity) levels to 40 per cent and its dividends to 65 per cent of operating cash flow.

A ministerial briefing paper shows Solid Energy’s gearing level in March 2009 was 10 per cent, and was forecast to reach 27 per cent in June 2010, while its dividend was 50 per cent.

Parliamentary Library figures show Solid Energy’s gearing leapt from 9.4 per cent in June 2008 to 34.4 per cent in 2010, dropping back to 29.6 per cent in 2011 and jumping again to 41.7 per cent in 2012 as coal prices began to slump.

Finance Minister Bill English admits the government pressure was perhaps too strong.

Source:  Govt pressure on Solid Energy revealed

National had to come clean, as ex-CEO Don Elder appeared before the Commerce Select Committee to explain what went horribly wrong at Solid Energy. National’s ministers knew that the truth was coming out, and had to pre-empt any public disclosures of massive borrowings and payments of dividends,

Mr English says there was a pushback against the debt increase from Solid Energy, which he expected Mr Palmer and former chief executive Don Elder to explain when they fronted a select committee later on Thursday.

Labour leader David Shearer says the documents show ministers had a greater degree of involvement in Solid Energy’s failure than they were publicly letting on.

Source: IBID

Push back against debt“? By now we all understand that English is lying his arse off to Heaven and back. There was no push back.

The only “push” was to increase dividend payments and gearing up to 40%.

The only reason politicians tell such howling lies is because they do not expect people to remember all the facts; to connect the dots; or for an under-resourced media to tell the whole story as a continuous narrative. Politicians expect people to forget; not hear all the facts; or become confused with too much non-contextual facts and testimony from the main players.

That’s how they get away with it; we’re not paying close enough attention.

.

Don Elder appears before Commerce Select Committee – Confirmation of Govt wanting Solid Energy to increase debt – endorsed expansion

Firstly,  former Solid Energy chairman, John Palmer,  publicly confirmed that the National Government,

  • wanted Solid Energy to borrow more, and pay higher dividends to government coffers,
  • endorsed Solid Energy’s expansion plans

Labour’s finance spokesman David Parker asked whether the company was in any doubt that the Government wanted them to expand production, increase debt and dividends.

Palmer said it was “self evident” that increased gearing meant increased debt.

The Government was supportive of plans to expand, including into lignite.

Palmer’s comments contradicted Bill English’s comments on 22 February 2013 and John Key’s comments reported on 23 February, 2013, where both politicians lambasted Solid Energy for high debt and expansion plans.

According to Palmer, neither English nor Key were worried about Solid Energy’s expansion programme.

Next,

Palmer said that in late 2011 or early 2012, when it was clear what was going to happen, he spoke to minister Tony Ryall about a $200m revenue hole (twice the annual profits), which would have a dramatic effect on the balance sheet.

Which ties in with Bill English’s announcement on 21 August 2012, that Solid Energy had  “some fairly substantial issues… We wouldn’t be planning to float it any time soon”.

Now we know what he was referring to: Solid Energy was broke. He knew it then, but did not disclose the full nature of Solid Energy’s status until forced  by officials.

.

Ex-CEO rejects Key’s assertion of Solid Energy requesting a $1 billion cash injection

“Were we talking to the Government about the possibility of capital and receiving that from the Crown? The answer is no,” Mr Palmer said.

“A specific $1 billion capital injection, I’m reasonably sure we did not ask for it in exactly those terms.”

However he said the company did have discussions with the Crown about potential large investment in lignite processing but it was also talking to potential overseas partners, “because it made no sense to us to think that Crown as the sole shareholder should finance that”.

He also said the company discussed with the Crown a national resource strategy that would have required large investment.

“My recollection is there was no dollars attached to that proposal.”

Source: Solid Energy opposed Government’s debt plan

.

Curious case of politicians and executives receiving identical media-coaching

Meanwhile, National’s taxpayer funded media-staff had been busy coaching politicians and company executives;

.

Don Elder – Blame,  “Perfect Storm”

This was the perfect storm.”

Source: Palmer: Elder deserves applause

Tony Ryall -  “Perfect Storm” – blames downturn in coal prices – blames wrong investments

“State owned enterprises minister Tony Ryall blames the distressed financial state of Solid Energy on a “perfect storm” of events.

Mr Ryall says a wrong choice of investments, along with a worldwide collapse in coal prices, led to the coal mining company’s current state.”

“A wrong choice in investments, together with the most significant collapse in world coal prices in 2012 led to a perfect storm. The perfect storm has created the situation this company is currently in,” Mr Ryall says.

Source: Ryall blames ‘perfect storm’ for Solid Energy’s crisis

Bill English  – “Perfect Storm”

On TVNZ’s Q+A, on 17 March, English refers – not once, but twice! – to the “perfect storm”,

“That’s right. Look, in retrospect, they would have been better off with lower levels of debt, but as I think Don Elder and John Palmer said at the Select Committee, the board is there to make the decisions about what the actual levels of debt are. Bear in mind, in 2011 their debt had peaked and was declining, and then they got hit by the perfect storm in 2012.”

And a moment later, again,

“…And in 2011 their debt levels were actually declining from that, and then they got hit by the perfect storm…”

Source: TVNZ Q+A

Lotsa ‘stormy weather’ around? I thought we were experiencing a drought.

.

.

15 March 2013

Palmer says  Solid Energy did not want to take on high level of debt suggested by the Treasury

 Prime Minister John Key is facing claims he misled the public after former Solid Energy chairman John Palmer said the company resisted Government pressure to take on more debt – the very thing the Prime Minister said caused the company’s problems.

[...]

Appearing the day after Labour revealed former State-Owned Enterprises Minister Simon Power told the company to take on more debt and pay higher dividends, Mr Palmer said the company opposed that request.

The debt levels or gearing suggested by Mr Power and Treasury officials were higher than “we thought was an appropriate level of gearing given the nature of the industry we were involved in”, Mr Palmer said.

Source: Key under fire over Solid Energy claims

.

Key claims Solid Energy wanted $27 billion

Prime Minister John Key this morning released documents detailing Solid Energy’s ambitious expansion plans which would have required capital investment of $2-3 billion a year until 2021 or a total of up to $27 billion.

Key released the papers in response to Labour’s claims he misled the public about Solid Energy approaching his Government about a $1 billion investment to become the “Petrobras” of New Zealand, a request he says his Government turned down.

[...]

Key this morning said the documents showed the proposal “absolutely required, as Treasury pointed out, somewhere between two and three billion dollars of Government money”.

Source: Key says Solid Energy papers show $27b plan

Remember the Treasury report, dated 27 August 2010, referred above? Key is saying that the Solid Energy proposals would have required “between two and three billion dollars of Government money”.

Yet the 27 August 2010 Treasury report said nothing of the sort. Solid Energy could have obtained that money from the same commercial sources  it was already borrowing from.

And don’t forget, Solid Energy had already been borrowing significant amounts – pushing it’s ‘gearing‘ (debt to equity ratio) up:

Solid Energy’s gearing ratio [borrowings] was 13.8 per cent in 2009, but that rose to 34.4 per cent in 2010 and 41.7 per cent last year.

Source: Ministers pressured Solid Energy, Parliament told

To this day, Key continues to mis-represent the truth.

.

Key – Solid Energy wanted foreign investment and shareholders

“Key this morning said the documents showed the proposal “absolutely required, as Treasury pointed out, somewhere between two and three billion dollars of Government money”.

He said Palmer proposed selling a stake in Solid Energy to an offshore cornerstone investor “and that would involve taking more than 10 per cent of the company and not putting mums and dads first.”.

“I made it quite clear to him that we had campaigned on a mixed ownership model which didn’t involve someone having more than 10 per cent in the company”.

Solid Energy’s proposal “didn’t involve a situation where kiwi mums and dads would be first and so the only way to get that money was through the Government.”

Source: Key says Solid Energy papers show $27b plan

Now this is yet another contradiction from Key. First he tells us that Solid Energy executives wanted $1 billion (or was it $27 billion?) from Government.

But in the next breath – on the same day – he say Solid Energy wanted foreign investors/shareholders to buy 10% stakes in the SOE.

So which was it Dear Leader?! Government funding? Foreign investors/shareholders? Pixies at the bottom of the garden?

One can only conclude that former CEO, John Palmer, was correct, when he rejected any assertions that Solid Energy was looking to borrow money from government,

“I cannot recall that we have ever asked him explicitly for $1 billion dollars.”

Source: Key Must Front Up With $1 Billion Evidence

It was also interesting to note that Key derided Solid Energy’s plans for 10% foreign investors/shareholders blocks by stating that it contravened National’s policy of putting “kiwi mums and dads would be first“.

Which contradicts a statement that John Key made in a speech in 2005, on 4 March, where a private partner was something that National would welcome,

“In respect of Solid Energy, if an opportunity arose to introduce a private sector partner, we would consider that seriously.”

Source: John Key Speech: State Sector Under National

And how does Key reconcile that with other Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) such as Wiri Prison,

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley says a contract has been signed allowing the SecureFuture consortium to design, finance, build, operate and maintain the new 960-bed public-private partnership (PPP) prison at Wiri, South Auckland.

The new prison will deliver value for taxpayers and support the Government in reaching the target of a 25 per cent reduction in reoffending by 2017.

The 25 year contract is worth approximately $840 million, which is 17 per cent less than if the prison was procured through conventional means, representing a $170 million saving for taxpayers.

Fletcher Construction will build the new facility which will be operated by Serco and maintained by Spotless Facility Services. Construction will begin soon, with the prison set to open in 2015.

“The PPP will allow Corrections to draw on the experience and expertise of SecureFuture’s international partners,” says Mrs Tolley.

Source: Beehive – Contract signed for new PPP prison at Wiri

How many “mums and dads” invested in Wiri Prison?

There are many more PPPs of this nature where “mums and dads” have nil investments, and instead are the sole preserve of corporate investors – many from offshore.

.

Palmer denies Solid Energy wanted to borrow $1 billion from government

“Were we talking to the Government about the possibility of capital and receiving that from the Crown? The answer is no,” Mr Palmer said.

“A specific $1 billion capital injection, I’m reasonably sure we did not ask for it in exactly those terms.”

Source: IBID

Palmer is correct. According to the 27 August 2010 Treasury Report (referred to above),  Solid Energy did not ask Government for that money. The money could have been borrowed from any source – just as Solid Energy had already been doing.

This was also confirmed by a spokesperson for Bill English,

“We told them all to improve their performance and that, if they wanted to expand, they had to pay for it off their own balance sheet, rather than asking the cash-strapped taxpayers for money.”

Source: Ministers pressured Solid Energy, Parliament told

So it has becoming apparent that our Dear Leader Key is attempting to re-write recent history to suit his own agenda by shifting the blame elsewhere…

.

Key attempts to spin Assumption into “Fact”

“I think it is pretty self explanatory that when you come to the Government with such a very large proposal, we’re the 100% owner, that’s what’s required.”

Source: Details of Solid Energy’s expansion bid released

So let’s get this straight…

(i)  Solid Energy management presented  an expansion plan to National Ministers

(ii) The plan includes figures for said-expansion.

(iii) National Ministers had been encouraging of Solid Energy’s expansion plans (see comments 8 September 2010 and 3 June 2011)

(iv) There was no mention made of where borrowings would be made from – though up till now, Solid Energy had borrowed from private sources, and not the Crown. (See comments 27 August 2010)

(v) And from all that, the Prime Minister suggested that “ it is pretty self explanatory that when you come to the Government with such a very large proposal ” that Solid Energy expected finance from the  Crown?

I have one question: how on Earth did Key manage to amass a personal wealth of $50-$55 million when he  makes up  such fancifuul  “leaps of logic”?!?!

.

And the cover-up starts?

The head of the committee that grilled Solid Energy’s former bosses says he is unconvinced a full inquiry is needed.

Opposition MPs are pressuring for a full inquiry into the collapse of the state-owned coalminer, which is now reliant on government support to manage its $389 million debt pile.

Commerce select committee chairman Jonathan Young allowed yesterday’s appearance by former Solid Energy chairman John Palmer and former chief executive Don Elder to run for an hour longer than was originally expected.

Young, the National MP for New Plymouth, said this morning that he believed the committee now had “a very clear picture” of what had happened to Solid Energy, which was hit by falling coal prices, a strong New Zealand dollar and poor investment decisions.

In recent days it has emerged that the Government leaned on the company to take on more debt, after it warned it may pay less dividends.

Young said that “in hindsight we can look back and see if they didn’t have debt they would be in a better situation”.

Despite this, Young said he was yet to be convinced that a full select committee inquiry was needed into the collapse, saying there were “multiple levels of inquiry” already under way, with the company talking to its financiers, and the Government “looking at all of the issues”.

He told TV3′s Firstline: “I am personally yet to be convinced that we are going to uncover anything new or different that wouldn’t be uncovered” anyway.

Source: Solid Energy probe call rejected

“…the National MP for New Plymouth, said this morning that he believed the committee now had “a very clear picture” of what had happened to Solid Energy…”

That statement boggles the mind; drops the jaw to the ground; and is so, so, wrong on many levels. But wholly expected from a National member of Parliament; chairing a Select Committee; stacked with five National MPs out of nine committee members (see: Commerce Select Committee members); supposedly ‘investigating’ wrong-doing/ineptitude by National ministers.

Let’s see… what part of that is wrong? A government investigating itself and coming up with a verdict of nothing-to-see-here-folks-move-along-please? How is Young’s assertion that the Government was “looking at all of the issues” supposed to reassure us?! By what measure of common notions of justice is a  Government  “looking at all of the issues” supposed to be a non-partisan, transparent, and objective investigation into this issue?

It would be like directors of failed companies (many of whom are either in jail or waiting to be tried in Court or sentenced) investigating their own actions and coming up with the same comments as Young made,

“In hindsight we can look back and see if they didn’t have debt they would be in a better situation…”

Directors are “looking at all of the issues”.

“We are  personally yet to be convinced that we are going to uncover anything new or different that wouldn’t be uncovered”

Yeah, right, Mr Young. You can stop putting lipstick on that pig.

Listening to  the main players – especially John Key, Bill English, and Tony Ryall – there are too many conflicting statements to believe that an Inquiry is not needed. National ministers are simply unable to get their stories straight and have contradicted each other (and themselves) on numerous occassions.

Young asserts that the committee now had “a very clear picture” of what had happened.

Bollocks.

The only thing even remotely “clear” about all this is that remains remain to be asked – and answered.

As Tracey Watkins wrote on 16 March 2013,

“But something clearly went seriously wrong if those talks were not enough to stop the collapse of an SOE on an unprecedented scale.

Beneath the flurry of claims and counter claims that is the question which has still not been properly answered.”

See: Solid questions still remain unanswered

Indeed.

.

.

17 March 2013

Bill English – TVNZ Q+A

The following is a transcript from  Corin Dann interviewing Finance Minister (and half shareholder in Solid Energy) on 17 March 2013,

CORIN

All right, if we could move on to Solid Energy. Can you give us an update on where things are at with the banks? When will we know whether the government is going to have to bail out Solid Energy?

BILL

Well, that will be some months yet. There’s discussions going on with the banks now about stabilising Solid Energy. Some of the information around its cash flows is a bit more positive than we might have expected. But we will get a period of two to three months through to the end of June where we can look at all the options for recovering value for the taxpayer in the first place and, secondly, to decide whether there is an on-going viable business in the middle of this-

CORIN

Are you saying it’s making a bit more money than you thought now and that it might be able to get itself out of trouble?

BILL

Well, I wouldn’t go that far. All I’m saying is the cash flow numbers are just a bit more positive than we expected. I mean, if you look back, Solid Energy made some very substantial investments in some of its mines. Some of those worked out, such as in Stockton; some of them didn’t, such as in Spring Creek. But where they have invested, they’ve got capacity for production and for value, and if coal prices are at some kind of reasonable level, then there is a business there.

“All I’m saying is the cash flow numbers are just a bit more positive than we expected. ” – In which case, Mr English, keep your sticky hands of that cash.

I sincerely hope that if National Ministers attempt to gouge SOEs again, that Board Directors resign on masse and publicly disclose political attempts at such interference.

The public is entitled to be reassured that politicians will not use SOEs as “cash cows” simply to balance their books.  Especially after two unaffordable tax cuts – a glorified ‘lolly scramble’ – left a gaping hole in government accounts.

CORIN

Do you want the banks to take some of the heat on this?

BILL

Yes, I think that’s really important. They’ve lent money, and as lenders, they take risks. And if they lend to a company that’s affected by a very sharp downturn in coal prices and then loss of a quarter of their export sales, they’ve got the same risks as banks who leant to resource companies all around the world that have got in trouble.

CORIN

You can see the irony in that, though, because you told them to borrow more.

BILL

Well, and you were talking about it as a revelation. We did a press conference back in 2009 about the need for our SOEs to take on-

And it took Labour to advise the public, Mr English. Bill English, Key, and Ryall were more than happy to keep that 2009 letter from Simon Power under wraps.

That was part of National’s ‘spin’ that the massive borrowings and  debt were a ‘creature’ of Don Elder’s and John Palmer’s making. But as Corin Dann pointed out;

CORIN

But you know that timing is everything with these things, and that was a revelation coming at this time, given your government had tried to distance itself from this issue. You even blamed Labour for it, for what they said in 2007.

BILL

No, I don’t agree with that. In 2009, the government was facing a decade of deficits because of the Labour Party and the recession. And we quite reasonably said that our taxpayer-owned companies should contribute more cash to the coffers. That’s the point of owning them. And Solid Energy had paid barely- had paid almost no dividends for the previous five or six years, and they had very low levels of debt compared to their asset value. So, look, in retrospect-

Here we go again; more blame-gaming,

In 2009, the government was facing a decade of deficits because of the Labour Party and the recession.

English blames the recession?

In which case why did National Ministers extract 163.9 million in dividends from Solid Energy, during the worst recession since the 1920s/30s?

Is this what National calls “prudent fiscal management”?

Notice also that  English lied by  blaming “ a decade of deficits because of the Labour Party” – even though Cullen was posting surpluses from 2002-08 Labour-led period?! And paid down sovereign debt from 33.4% of  GDP to 17.4% GDP? (See previous blofpost:  Bill English – do you remember Colin Morrison?)

This is symptomatic of a National-led government that is desperate to avoid all responsibility.

CORIN

But there was a good reason for that, wasn’t there? Because they were a coal company.

BILL

That’s right. Look, in retrospect, they would have been better off with lower levels of debt, but as I think Don Elder and John Palmer said at the Select Committee, the board is there to make the decisions about what the actual levels of debt are. Bear in mind, in 2011 their debt had peaked and was declining, and then they got hit by the perfect storm in 2012.

Look, in retrospect, they would have been better off with lower levels of debt“…   “In retrospect“?!?! Little wonder that Solid Energy’s board and management resisted National’s demands for higher and higher dividends (as English concedes in his next statement).

That statement - ”Look, in retrospect, they would have been better off with lower levels of debt“  – totally destroys the argument put forward by Key, English, and Ryall that Solid Energy’s debt and subsequent crisis was of it’s own making.

Quite simply, National was desperate for cash to pay for the 2009 and 2010 taxcuts, and were prepared to bleed SOEs dry to get it’s hand on their money. Even if those SOEs had to borrow to do it.

This is ministerial incompetance at best – or outright economic sabotage at worst. (No wonder ACT and Libertarians maintain that politicians can’t run businesses. Correction: National politicians can’t run businesses.)

CORIN

But you were telling all SOEs to raise their debt to a 40% gearing, and Solid Energy told you they were not comfortable with that, and there was a good reason: because they were a volatile coal company. Surely that was too much pressure you were applying to them.

BILL

Well, clearly not, because their debt peaked at under 35%, which was the level the board set, which was lower than what the government was expecting. And in 2011 their debt levels were actually declining from that, and then they got hit by the perfect storm. So, yes, would they have been better off with no debt? Yes, just like lots of businesses and households would be better off with no debt. Then they got hit by these circumstances which may well have put the company into trouble even if it had no debt.

Yes Mr English, Solid Energy did get hit by “a perfect storm”. A storm largely made up of rapacious politicians.

It appears that by not gearing up to the full 40% demanded by National, that Don Elder and John Palmer may have done their best to prevent the collapse of Solid Energy.

CORIN

The issue also, of course, has been around their investments. Now, your government must take some responsibility, surely, for the oversight of what they were investing in. You were the one down in Southland turning the first sod with the lignite plant. You knew what they were up to.

BILL

Well, and it’s yet to be seen just whether that particular investment has on-going potential or not. Clearly, some of them don’t. Some of them may do. That’s what’ll happen over the next two to three months. But what you’ve got to keep in mind here is that under the SOE model, politicians are not there to run the companies. We do not make the investment decisions. The boards make the investment decisions, and the weakness in the model is that there’s no market scrutiny of those board decisions, and that is why the partial sell-down of the electricity companies will help with the monitoring and the performance of those companies.

But what you’ve got to keep in mind here is that under the SOE model, politicians are not there to run the companies. We do not make the investment decisions. ” – Really, Mr English? And yet Simon Power felt he had the ministerial authority to write to Solid Energy demanding higher dividends.

In reality, under the State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986, shareholding Ministers can and do issue directives to SOE Boards. So English is being disingenuous when he tries to indicate that Ministers are powerless. They are not powerless,

13.  Powers of shareholding Ministers in respect of new State enterprises
  • (1) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act or the rules of any company,—

    • (a) the shareholding Ministers may from time to time, by written notice to the board, direct the board of a company named in Schedule 2 to include in, or omit from, a statement of corporate intent for that company any provision or provisions of a kind referred to in paragraphs (a) to (h) of section 14(2); and

    • (b) the shareholding Ministers may, by written notice to the board, determine the amount of dividend payable by any company named in Schedule 2 in respect of any financial year or years,—

    and any board to whom such a notice is given shall comply with the notice.

    (2) Before giving any notice under this section, the shareholding Ministers shall—

    • (a) have regard to Part 1; and

    • (b) consult the board concerned as to the matters to be referred to in the notice.

    (3) Within 12 sitting days after a notice is given to a board pursuant to this section, the responsible Minister for the company concerned shall lay a copy of the notice before the House of Representatives.

Source: State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986 – Section 13

They have the power.

It’s the responsibility for their stuff-ups that seems to elude them.

CORIN

And are you confident there will be much better decision-making, that these MOM companies, in general, are going to have better board making decisions?

BILL

I think mixed-ownership companies will, but there’s a real challenge for government with the lessons from Solid Energy. When you look ahead, the companies that the government will own all have their challenges – NZ Post with the shrinking postal market, TVNZ and the digital media environment, a coal company if there is still a coal company. And we are going to have to change the way we work with these companies to ensure that we don’t lose taxpayers’ money. Because the taxpayers’ money in these companies doesn’t come out of the sky; it comes from the PAYE and the GST paid by NZ households. And we have a strong responsibility for the stewardship of that money.

Source: TVNZ Q+A

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22 March 2013

The NZ Herald reported that “seven years’ worth of documents about Solid Energy have been released by Treasury… It has been released after a number of Official Information Act request centred around how much the Government knew about the financial troubles the state owned coal miner was in“.

Source:  Big Solid Energy document dump from Treasury

[Note: This blogger has viewed only a fraction of documents. There's no telling what other revelations and incriminating evidence is contained therein. Perhaps something to be re-visited on a quiet, wintry evening?]

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25 March 2013

Papers confirm Govt pressure on Solid Energy

A week after English’s attempt to ‘spin’ the collapse of Solid Energy and blame everyone under the sun, Radio NZ reported,

Official papers confirm the Government put pressure on Solid Energy to increase its debt and then appeared later to criticise it for borrowing too heavily as it got into difficulty.

The state-owned coal company is in debt to the tune of $390 million.

The papers released on Friday also show that despite strongly disagreeing with the company’s business plan, the Government left it late to act.

In 2009 the then State-Owned Enterprises Minister, Simon Power, wrote to Solid Energy chair John Palmer recommending the company raise its gearing ratio – a measure of debt – to 40%.

By June 2012, when it was clear the company was in trouble, the ratio had risen to 37% and, according to the Treasury, Solid Energy had taken on significant debt.

It was only at that point, after arguing with the company for three to four years about its business plan, that the Government decided to make changes.

Source: Papers confirm Govt pressure on Solid Energy

By  this time, public attention and media focus had waned. There were other issues and problems to deal with, and National ministers could breath a sigh of relief. They were “off the hook”.

Let us recall that Treasury’s scoping report, released on 4 November 2011, confirmed everyone’s suspicions that National had cash-stripped Solid Energy;

 ”…dividend payments to the government have been funded by increasing debt“.

Source: Treasury Report T2011/2373: Solid Energy New Zealand Scoping Study Report

The ‘up-shot’ of all this?

  • A billion dollar state own enterprise had been milked as a “cash cow” and left to collapse.
  • English, Ryall, Key, et al – off the hook.
  • There would be no ministerial accountability; no resignations; no one held to account.

And for good measure,

  • Blame Labour for everything.

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8 May 2013

Bill English preps public for Solid Energy’s write-off?

In a Radio NZ story (see: English questions viability of Solid Energy), Bill English contradicted his earlier assertion that Solid Energy would not be allowed into receivership,

“We’re not going to keep propping up businesses where we don’t think there’s a long term future. Where we think there there is, we put strong support in. So Kiwirail would be a good example.Where the government’s  already invested around a billion in them in the last 3 or 4 years and they will… all of their,um, surpluses will be reinvested in the business, probably for the next decade. So the taxpayer won’t take anything out of them. But there may be… it’s possible that there’s other businesses, as has been revealed say in the  Solid Energy case where their particular mix may not be viable so we have to look at  whether they can be restructured or whether in the long run there’s a viable proposition there. But at the moment Solid Energy is the only business where that’s in question.”

Listen RNZ interview: Bill English on Morning Report

By questioning the viability of Solid Energy, English is preparing the public for the day when National announces the demise of the company.

Having gutted it of cash and forced it to borrow millions for unsustainable dividends, National is now ready to administer the coup de grâce to finish it off. (If the Nats could eliminate all witnesses to their bare-faced thieving, I bet you they’d be considering it…)

Meanwhile, a week later…

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14 May 2013

$1 billion for KiwiRail

Radio NZ revealed that KiwiRail was receiving government funding to keep operating,

Overall the Government has committed about $1 billion to the effort, and Finance Minister Bill English has said the Government is unlikely to take a dividend for the next decade so KiwiRail can reinvest any profits in the rail service.

Source:  Solid Energy problems pose risk for KiwiRail

See also: Beehive.govt.nz: Next steps in KiwiRail’s Turnaround Plan

How is it that Solid Energy,  a once viable company – earning millions in revenue from overseas exports of coal (admittedly not a very environmentally-friendly product) – may be allowed to go into receivership?

Meanwhile, National is quite happy to keep investing in KiwiRail, which has never generated a profit in modern times. (Though admittedly, KiwiRail is  an environmentally-friendly transport enterprise with a positive future, as we pass the oil peak.)

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A message to businesspeople:

National Ministers are attempting to sheet blame for Solid Energy’s financial crisis to it’s former Chairperson, John Palmer, and CEO, Don Elder.

Key, English, and Ryall  have  resorted to mis-presentation of facts; omission of facts;  exageration; and in some instances, outright lies.

This should serve as a clear warning to businesspeople. Think carefully before accepting managerial or Board positions during a National-led government.

Because if things go wrong – even if caused by political interference – then they will have no hesitation to smear your reputation.  They will hang you out to dry, whether you are at fault or not.

A message to Voters:

National has a reputation as “prudent fiscal managers”.

For the life of me, I cannot understand how they have earned that reputation.

To allow a billion dollar SOE to crash and burn; run into the ground; and now   facing bankruptcy suggests to me that Key, English, Ryall, Brownlee, Joyce, Collins could not run a corner Dairy without getting into financial trouble.

I don’t think these clowns could run a sausage sizzle without losing money by the end of the day.

Perhaps, as a test,  those voters who are disbelieving should keep voting National? Let’s see what other SOE will collapse on their watch, eh?

What the hell. After all, it’s only our property. And tax dollars.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 17 May 2013.

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References

Solid Energy: Annual Reports Index

Crown Ownership Monitoring Unit – SOE Disclosures

Treasury: SOE/Solid Energy Disclosures

Previous related blogposts

That was Then, This is Now #18 (24 Feb 2013)

National caught out over Solid Energy – changes story on coal prices, debt, and other matters (13 March 2013

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National caught out over Solid Energy – changes story on coal prices, debt, and other matters

13 March 2013 18 comments

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SOEs

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When Solid Energy’s financial crisis became public on 21 February 2013, Bill English, Tony Ryall, and John Key were quick to apportion blame. Their high-paid (by the taxpayer) media strategists had done their dirty work.

They blamed;

  1. Solid Energy mis-reading trends in coal prices
  2. The previous Labour government
  3. The Board and management of Solid Energy
  4. The Global Financial Crisis
  5. Mrs Teagle, the tea-lady
  6. Sunspots

Everyone was to blame. National’s hands were clean. The world is a bad place.

So, let’s go through the points above.

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1. Solid Energy mis-reading trends in coal prices

One of National’s constant lines -  in an attempt to smear  Solid Energy’s Board as incompetant – was the SOE’s  inability to “read trends in world prices for coal”.

As Dear Leader, John Key said on 25 February,

Asked at his post-cabinet press conference why Solid Energy was in such dire straits, he said its directors grossly over-estimated what they thought coal would be worth.

“They got it completely and utterly wrong, and up to the middle of 2012 they still rejected the international view of where coal was likely to go,” he said.

Source: Solid Energy got coal price wrong: Key

On 21 February, Little Leader, Bill English said,

“World coal prices have dropped significantly which has contributed to the deteriorating financial position that Solid Energy is in now.

“These discussions are required because the position of the state-owned enterprise has continued to deteriorate despite the restructuring that has already taken place,” Mr English says.

Source: Bill English & Tony Ryall – Statement on Solid Energy

And as Baby Leader, Tony Ryall also said on 21 February,

State-owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall said a number of factors had weighed against the company, in particular world coal prices dropping by 40 per cent.

“It is facing very serious financial challenges,” Ryall said.

Source: Debt-laden Solid Energy talking to banks

So the narrative  being spread by senior National ministers was that Solid Energy was incompetant and couldn’t understand world coal price trends.

Which, for a company that lives, breathes, and farts coal seemed… unlikely.

#1 – Rebutted

But then, on 13 March, Bill English was reported on Radio New Zealand with this statement,

But Finance Minister Bill English says it wasn’t clear that coal prices were declining, and the Government can’t be held responsible for how much debt Solid Energy eventually took on.

Source: Labour says Govt forced Solid Energy to borrow more

Okay… so despite Key, English, and Ryall insisting that Solid Energy had mis-read trends in global coal prices, he is now saying that “it wasn’t clear that coal prices were declining”?!

Well, I’m glad that’s been cleared up.

After all, it’s not like National was initially claiming that world coal prices [were] dropping by 40 per cent  to make Solid Energy’s board look bad – and then suggested  it wasn’t clear that coal prices were declining for National to save their own arses.

That would be… contradictory.

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2. The previous Labour government

National has blamed the previous Labour government for everything, from the decline of the British  Empire, to the sinking of the Titanic. (And trying to pin both World Wars on Labour – but that’s a work-in-progress.)

On 26 February, Key said,

“They can’t wash their hands of the fact that from 2003 on, they were intimately involved with the plans that that company had,” Mr Key said.

On 13 March, English said,

At the time, it was not clear that coal prices were declining. In fact, the best advice from the company—with which the Government ended up disagreeing—was that coal prices would continue to rise. But, as I said, that decision was made in the context of the mess that the previous Labour Government left with the State-owned enterprises.

Source: Parliament Questions and Answers – March 13

Ah, the inhumanity of it all… The dastardly tentacles of a previous government, from four years ago, reaches into the present day to thwart National’s good works. It’s amazing that with such power, that Labouir ever managed to lose two elections in succession, from 2008…

One has to wonder though… is National really so powerless? If so, why are they in government?

#2 – Rebutted

In a rather strange moment of open honesty, Tony Ryall had this to say about Labour’s administration of SOEs, on 27 February,

Hon TONY RYALL: No, I am not going to launch some sort of independent investigation into the governance of Solid Energy. The governance of Solid Energy, much of which was appointed under the previous Labour Government, was running that company and it was doing very well up until 2011. We had the scoping study. It identified a number of issues. And I agree with Trevor Mallard: the collapse of world coal prices is a most significant factor in this matter.

Source: Parliament Questions for oral answer: 5. Solid Energy—Former Chief Executive

And a few days later, on  2 March of this year, Key let slip,

”On the face of it, at least what it had was rising profits. It had a situation where its valuation was going up, it had bankers lending it money, and it had an investment stream that had been set in place by the previous Labour Government,” Mr Key told BusinessDay.

Source: Solid Energy bail-out cost likely to rise

Really?

A look at the profits and dividends paid during Labour’s administration bear out their prudent management of SOEs. And confirmed by Tony Ryall and John Key.

In Labour’s  entire eight years, not one single  SOE suffered a financial collapse of the magnitude of Solid Energy – and Cullen was still posting surpluses, year after year. And paying down government debt. And finding time to play with his grandkids.

The Nats are in office for four years – and they lose a SOE on their watch?

How does that work?

Especially when, as Adam Bennett reported in the Herald on 13 March,

Mr Shearer later said Solid Energy had responded to the Government’s call, “returning $130 million over four years, including $30 million in late 2011 by which time coal prices had further declined and the company was in financial distress“.

He also pointed to the company’s increase in borrowing over that period, rising from $13 million in 2009 to $191 million the following year and $313 million by 2012.

See: Govt accused of milking Solid Energy for dividends

By contrast, the previous Labour government, took only  $64.4 million as a dividend to the  to the Crown – over an eight year period. (See:  Government defends Solid Energy payouts)

Which still baffles me as to why New Zealanders still have this misconception that National are “prudent fiscal managers” of the economy.

Personally, I wouldn’t let the buggers run a sausage sizzle outside Pak’n’Save.

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3. The Board and management of Solid Energy

National’s culture of blaming others for their own mistakes is slowly but surely building in the public consciousness. (See previous blogposts: Taking responsibility, National-styleDear Leader Key blames everyone else for Solid Energy’s financial crisis) It has become de rigueur for National to immediately seek out, and blame others, for one of their cock-ups.

And when one minister – Kate Wilkinson – resigned immediatly upon the release of the report from the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy, it was seen for what it was; tokenism. And a strategic attempt to close down (or minimise) media scrutiny of  National’s de-regulation in the 1990s, which led inevitably to  a culture of poor safety in our mining industry.

Practically every public comment by National has directly, indirectly, or in a covert fashion, attempted to sheet blame for Solid Energy’s financial crash on it’s Board and CEO, Don Elder.

Key even suggested – po-faced – that the SOE was practically out of control. On 25 February, Dear Leader stated,

While the New Zealand government was unwilling to back Solid Energy in that role, it appears to have been powerless to prevent the company from taking what Key described as “baby steps” towards such a future.

Source: Govt blocked grandiose Solid Energy plans in 2009

“The company did have the right to draw down debt and make investments without shareholder authority” up to a certain level, Mr Key says.

Source: Govt blocked grandiose Solid Energy plans in 2009

So, can someone remind me again – what, precisely, is the role of the Minister for State Owned Enterprises?

#3 – Rebutted

The above was nothing less than an attempt at total abdication of responsibility by Key and his Ministers. As an  incredibly insightful Dominion Post editorial of 2 March  stated,

There are always excuses when a company starts to fail. John Key’s explanation for the trouble at Solid Energy, however – he blamed the Labour government – was pitiful.

It was Trevor Mallard’s fault, apparently, for encouraging SOEs to spread their wings and fly. That was in 2007 or 2008.

This won’t do, and not just because Mr Key’s Government has been in power for more than four years. His argument also contradicts itself. A Labour government was seemingly omnipotent and could have its way with the state-owned coal company. But National had no such power.

The Government certainly said no when Solid Energy asked for a billion dollars to turn itself into a super-company along the lines of Petrobras, the Brazilian giant. Mr Key says it had grave doubts about the company’s expansion plans. His political opponents point out that he and Bill English had publicly backed Solid Energy’s big plans for lignite conversion and briquetting.

So what was really going on? Mr Key says the company didn’t require the Government’s approval for the investments. Nor did the Government have a good reason to sack the board, as it could have done under the SOE legislation. So: nothing to see here, apparently.

If all these excuses were valid, it would be hard to know how any government could be held to account for what its state-owned companies were doing. Mr Key’s Government cannot get off so lightly. Nor can his officials. It is unclear just what kind of “monitoring” Treasury was doing, but it obviously wasn’t effective.

Source: Editorial: Solid Energy excuses fuel anger

And then, on 13 March – the bombshell,

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Labour says Govt forced Solid Energy to borrow more

Source

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So now we’re getting at the answers.

Now we’re starting to build up a clearer picture as to not how Solid Energy got into debt – but why.

As with most things, the anwer is simple.

National needed cash to balance it’s books by 2014/15. Not content to flog off state assets to raise x-billion dollars, it used Solid Energy as as cash cow, to extract maximum dividends.

Just as Brierleys extracted maximum dividends from Air New Zealand in 2001, stripping the airline of it’s cash reserves in the process and bankrupting it.  (see previous blogpost: A Clear Warning to Investors in SOEs)

More importantly, it used Solid Energy as a front to borrow.

If a government borrows cash, it shows up on their balance books as a liability.

If a SOE borrows cash; then pays it to a government as a “dividend”, it shows up on the books as a profit.

That was why National was forcing Solid Energy to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars and then demanding it to be paid into government coffers as a “dividend”.

My immediate thoughts on this are,

  1. All three ministers – Key, English, and Ryall – should appear before the Commerce Select Committee to answer questions. To this blogger, there appears to be serious implications of  questionable behaviour by National Ministers and their dealings with Solid Energy.
  2. There is more to come out on this isssue, such as why Solid Energy’s Board allowed this cash-stripping by National Ministers to be carried out.
  3. And this is the most important: I think every New Zealander who is considering investing in Mighty River Power – and other SOE shares – should look very carefully at their books.  The question has to be asked; have National Ministers done the same thing to other SOES? Are they also heavily “geared” (borrowed against assets) and highly vulnerable to market downturns?
  4. The auditor-general, or some other forensic accounting firm, should immediatly be called in to to assess the books of all SOES.

At this point in time, I wouldn’t touch a single share of any SOE, with bio-hazard gloves.

They may be financially toxic.

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References

Fairfax media: Debt-laden Solid Energy talking to banks (21 Feb 2013)

Building a Brighter Future: Bill English & Tony Ryall – Statement on Solid Energy (21 Feb 2013)

Scoop: Govt blocked grandiose Solid Energy plans in 2009 (25 February 2013)

MSN News: Solid Energy got coal price wrong: Key (25 February 2013)

TV3: Govt, Labour squabble over Solid Energy (26 Feb 2013)

Otago Daily Times: Solid Energy bail-out cost likely to rise (2 March 2013)

Dominion Post: Editorial: Solid Energy excuses fuel anger (2 March 2013)

Southland Times: Government defends Solid Energy payouts (12 March 2013)

Radio NZ: Labour says Govt forced Solid Energy to borrow more (13 March 2013)

NZ Herald: Govt accused of milking Solid Energy for dividends (13 March 2013)

Parliament: Questions for oral answer: Ministers—Confidence (13 March 2013)

Parliament: Parliament Questions and Answers  (13 March 2013)

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392,000 New Zealanders send a clear message to John Key – Part Rua

12 March 2013 2 comments

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Continued from: 392,000 New Zealanders send a clear message to John Key – Part Tahi

NZ, Wellington, 12 March 2013 – Ms Maniapoto Jackson introduced the first speaker, Greypower’s President, Roy Reid,

“So please welcome up the man who initiated this historical moment for us – the biggest citizens initiated referendum in [New Zealand's] history!”

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

Roy Reid

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“As President of Greypower, I wish to inform you  that Greypower has been opposed to the  sale of state owned assets  for a number of years. And this was reconfirmed at our annual general meeting two years ago. We advised all the political parties in this  House that we were opposed to them selling any of our assets.

Our generation worked hard. We paid the taxes, to build our existing assets. They’re not for sale. They belong to  all New Zealanders.

I sincerely thank all those who worked from one end of New Zealand to the other, to collect those 394,000 signatures just behind us.  It’s the biggest petition  ever presented to this House.
I pay tribute to our co-supporters, the New Zealand students association. For being involved with us, because it shows the country that we are united from the elderly to the younger generations…

…I’m sure that we’ve got enough valid signatures in those boxes to force the referendum. And [despite] no respect for what this government today says, the people of New Zealand will have their say.”

It as perhaps fitting that Mr Reid was given first opportunity to address the crowd.  It was indeed his generation, and others before him, who sacrificed so much to build what we have in New Zealand today. And which a few greedy, short-sighted number of our fellow New Zealanders seem unable to comprehend that these assets do, indeed, belong to us all.

Not just to those with the cash to buy shares.

Our elected representatives certainly did not hesitate to show their agreement with Mr Reid’s comments,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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Ms Maniapoto Jackson then invited the next speaker; ex-Vice President of the Auckland Students Association and  Ngai Tahu; Arena Williams,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

Arena Williams

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Ms Williams greeted the crowd in Te Reo and her following message was short, blunt, and to the point,

“There’s one message that the government needs to take home from such an over-whelming support of this petition, and that’s Stop the asset sales and give New Zealanders a chance to have a say on this really important issue!”

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The next invited guest-speaker was  economist, Peter Conway, from the Council of Trade Unions,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

Peter Conway

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Mr Conway said,

“The Union movement is really proud to be here today  at this amazing event and I just want to say, fantastic effort. Well done everybody! It’s awesome.

Now it might have been a little bit easier if for me to have the backing of a one million dollar advertising campaign, and maybe if we we’d been able to do it all on line. But I actually think that the fact that we went out there into communities where people work, live, and play and debated the issues; talked to people about it and got such a fantastic response, is really a testament to our democracy…

… So this is part of our democracy. And what we’re saying to the government; respect democracy… Let’s get this referendum up,  and the Council of Trade Unions, on behalf of the union movement, is calling on the government to halt all asset sales and listen to the people.

Kia kaha, and thanks very much.”

Ms Maniapoto Jackson then welcomed the Leader of the Labour Party and MP for Mt Albert, David Shearer,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

David Shearer

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 After expressing his welcome,  Mr Shearer gave a brief thanks to the people, followed by a similarly brief message,

Look, I just wanted to start by saying ‘thank you’, ‘thank you’ for all of those people who went out day after day, weekend after weekend, who stood on cold corners in the middle of winter and got people to sign this petition. Thank you to the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who care about this country so much that they put their signature to this petition.

This is about the transfer of an asset that we all own into the hands of a very few. That’s what it’s about, it’s about fairness. It [asset sales]  is not fair.

This referendum will make the government listen to New Zealanders.

The fight will go on. It’s not finishing today. It will go on and we in the Labour Party will continue to fight this until 2014.

I wanted to say, as the boxes were being put up there, I was thinking that “Another Brick in the Wall” tune came into my mind, and I was thinking “We Don’t Want your Asset Sales Programme John Key”…

… Once again thank you for your effort, thank you for being here today. Kia Kaha,  let’s take  it to the government.”

Before Ms Maniapoto Jackson introduced the next speaker, Green Party co-leader Russell Norman, she briefly pointed out  that the Parties behind her were unified, “with only the odd absence, which was duly noted“.

Mr Norman then addressed the people,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

Russell Norman

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Mr Norman then addressed the people,

“Today we stand here here on behalf  of the millions of New Zealanders who are opposed to the sale of their assets. Today we stand here on behalf of the hundreds of thousands von New Zealanders who have signed this petition, behind us. Today we stand here on behalf of future generations who are relying on us to stand up for our country.

And that is why we have done this massive piece of  work that you see behind us.

It has been incredibly hard work on behalf of thousands and thousands of people to go out and collect these signatures. It is despicable that the Prime Minister  then says that the people who signed this petition were children and tourists! Prime Minister you do not know New Zealanders!

If the Prime Minister of New Zealand thinks that the people who signed this petition, the 400,000 people who signed this petitition, are not real New Zealanders, then he is in the wrong country…

… Real New Zealanders are the ones who worked and laboured to build those assets up so that we could inherit them. Real New Zealanders are the ones who will look after them so that we can pass them on to those who come after us…

… We have a mandate to keep our assets. The Prime Minister has no mandate to sell them.”

Ms Maniapoto Jackson then introduced Mr Peters, saying  “if there’s anyone who can talk about justice and fairness, it’s Winston Peters“,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

Winston Peters

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“…Mr Key does does not have a mandate to make these sales. We all know the last election result and he relies upon the vote of Peter Dunne, who you know, with your money, at the last election had TV adverts saying that he would not do that.  So there is no mandate.

We come now to the referendum, which  is a chance for Mr Key to see whether he’s got the public backing and he doesn’t have even have the backing of one third of the National Party vote by every survey that you and I have seen.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s going to be difficult over the next few months on this issue, but I want to make something very, very,  clear. Unless we make it clear to everyone who’s buying, that after the next election, whenever they fly the white flag, we intend to take back those shares at no greater price than they bought it for, then we will not be making the message very clear for Mr Key who governs for the few and very few.

Now your problem is,  you don’t own a casino. Otherwise he’d be listening to you.

And you’re you’re not a Hobbit or some wide-boy from Hollywood, otherwise, he’d be listening to you.

No wonder he fell upon the defence of tourists, because that’s what Mr Key is; a CV Prime Minister, who will soon go, on issues like that…

… this is just the beginning. It is not the end.”

Next up, Ms Maniapoto Jackson introduced “the wonderful leader of the Mana Party, and MP for  Te Tai Tokerau, Hone Harawira“,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

Hone Harawira

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Mr Harawira injected a note of humour into the afternoon, and the crowd enjoyed his off-beat way of giving a speech,

“Look I’m going to do most of my korero in Maori, so the best way for you to support it is, every time I stop to take a breath,  clap like crazy!”

The crowd obliged with enthusiasm, clapping and cheering each time he paused  during his korero.

Ending his speech in  Te Reo, he  added,

“Now just for a short chant, a short chant, eh? Because Moana get’s all the the recording rights for this little gig, so mine is going to be a short little chant. So just follow after me. You ready?

“Aotearoa is not for sale!”

The crowd responded, “Aotearoa is not for sale“.

“C’mon, c’mon, now you can do better than that,” he ‘admonished the crowd with a smile.He repeated, “Aotearoa is not for sale!”

The responded boomed back, AOTEAROA IS NOT FOR SALE!”

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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“Tell John Key to Go to hell!”

“TELL JOHN KEY TO GO TO HELL!”

And with that, Hone  Harawira finished with a cheerful “Kia ora tatou!”.

As far as political speeches went, it was one of the shortest and more entertaining that this blogger has heard for a while. He certainly injects a bit of fun into a political event.

As an intriguing aside, this blogger managed to capture this picture of two Davids and a Damian. Their body language seemed to belie any suggestion of tension or ‘struggle between Messrs Cunliffe and Shearer.

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

(L-R) David Shearer, David Cunliffe, Damien O’Connor

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Hmmmm… One has to wonder…

On a closing note, Ms Maniapoto Jackson ‘encouraged’ (dragged!)  Hone Harawira back to the microphone to sing a duet – an old song from their protest days together,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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And final posed-pics from Ms Maniapoto Jackson and  Hone Harawira, after their singing-duet finale,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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It’s interesting to compare the persona of Hone Harawira in the media, especially in his early days in Parliament – with the man who presents to the people, at public gatherings.  There is a warmth and sincerity to the man that is almost wholly lacking in his MSM appearances – but a warmth and humour that is obvious when seeing him in person.

And from the Green Party caucus, this lovely snapshot. They deserve thepride they were feeling in being part of a movement to collect nearly 400,000 signatures,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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In conclusion…

John Key’s casual dismissal of the petition, and the nearly 400,000 New Zealanders who signed it,  was not a “good look”. It spoke volumes of Key’s persona; his arrogance; and his pettiness.

He could just as easily have accepted the petition as part of the democratic process and congratulated New Zealanders for   participating. It would have made him look statesmanlike; stand above petty politics; and increased his mana.

Being derisive; suggesting that the signatures were from “children and tourists”;  was offensive.

It was unnecessary and uncalled for.

It was childish.

It publicly revealed John Key’s innermost insecurities – as he knows that the people are not with him on this issue. It must be a debilitating, depressing feeling, knowing that three million New Zealanders are angrily opposed to what Key and his cronies are up to.

“Where is the love”, he may well ask?

“Where is the respect”, we ask him.

An open message to John Key…

The Prime Minister insists he has a “mandate” to part-privatise our state assets.

I disagree. More people voted for Parties opposing state asset sales than voted for Parties endorsing said sales.

John Key has a one seat “majority”, due in part to manipulations during the 2011 election, and MMP rules that prevented some Parties from gaining representation in the House.  For example, the Conservative Party won twice as many votes as ACT – but gained no seats. (see: Mandates & Majorities)

That’s not a mandate, Mr Prime Minister – that’s an accident of circumstances.

Mr Key – if you truly insist that you have a mandate, then put it to the test. Hold off on the sharefloat for Mighty River Power. Let the people have their say in a referendum.

I, for one, will accept the verdict of a referendum, whatever the outcome. If the majority – even the slimmest margin over 50% – support your asset sale programme, you’ll not hear one more word from me on this issue ever again.

Are you willing to  put your “mandate” to the test, Mr Prime Minister?

Are you willing to listen to, and abide by, the will of the People?

I am.

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*

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Additional

Radio NZ: Petitioners confident of asset sale referendum

Dominion Post: Government to ignore asset sales referendum

NZ Herald: Asset sales petition arrives at Parliament

TV3: PHOTOS: Asset sales petition presented

TVNZ: Petition against SOE sales delivered to Parliament

Newstalk ZB: Opposition MPs greet anti-asset sales petition

Copyright (c)  Notice

All images are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

  • Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
  • At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals.
  • Acknowledgement of source is requested.

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= fs =

392,000 New Zealanders send a clear message to John Key – Part Tahi

12 March 2013 3 comments

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NZ, Wellington, 12 March 2013 – Another beautiful sunny day with blue skies  (apologies to farmers) was a perfect setting this afternoon in Wellington, when a couple of hundred marchers arrived on Parliament’s grounds, bearing 68 boxes, containing 392,000 signatures.

The referendum requires 304,000 valid signatures to precipitate a nationwide referendum. The 392,000 signatures gives a 22% ‘buffer’ against invalid signatures; people not on the electoral roll; duplicate signatures; and malicious attempts to undermine the petition.

There was a small number of people on Parliament’s grounds  awaiting the march, amongst them tino rangatiratanga activists, Brenda and Fran,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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At about 1pm, marchers arrived, bearing the boxes that contained a priceless treasure – signatures of 392,000 New Zealanders. Media flocked around them. This was an historical event,

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12-march-2013-presentation-of-anti-asset-sales-petition-parliament-referendum

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They walked onto Parliament’s grounds to cheers and applause of those waiting,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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On the steps to Parliament, more media and elected representatives from Opposition Parties were waiting. (Curiously, none from National, ACT, or United Future were in attendance. Their ‘invites’ must’ve been lost in the post?)

Politicians clapped as the marchers approached. Men, women, young, old, Maori, Pakeha, these were New Zealanders who believed that the People’s Assets were not to be stripped and flogged off by a handful of politicians,

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12-march-2013-presentation-of-anti-asset-sales-petition-parliament-referendum

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Sixty eight marchers proudly carried a prized box each,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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The boxes were carefully passed over a security barricade, to be stacked on the Parliamentary forecourt,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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Meanwwhile, the crowd watched, as the stacking of boxes progressed,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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The leadership of the Green and Labour Parties,  with Brendan Horan (far left, standing beside Metiria Turei); former AUSA President, Arena Williams (standing beside David Shearer); Grey Power National President, Mr Roy Reid; Annette King; and (far right – no slur intended, Mr Conway) CTU Economist and Director of Policy, Peter Conway .

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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Mana Party leader, Hone Harawira, joined the Party leaders shortly afterward (NZ First lreader, Winston Peters was standing off-camera, to the left),

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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NZ First leader, Winston Peters, being interviewed by a MSM journalist,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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A panoramic view of part of the assembled crowd,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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Green MP, Jan Logie; NZ First leader, Winston Peters, and NZ First MP, Andrew Williams, at the stacked petition boxes. At this point, the  invited guest-speakers were preparing themselves – and  their notes – to address the crowd and media,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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With a  unique style and flair she has become reknowned for, Moana Maniapoto Jackson welcomed people to today’s presentation of the petition,

“We are celebrating people power…”

Coaching the crowd, to chime in with “Ohhhh yeahhhh” as the chorus, Ms Maniapoto Jackson launched into a short protest-style song. Her powerful voice belted out the words, making her microphone and speakers practically redundant, as she filled Parliament with her lyrical sounds,

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Frank Macskasy   Frankly Speaking  blog  fmacskasy.wordpress.com  12 March 2013 - presentation of anti-asset sales petition - parliament - referendum

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“Hey, hey Mr John Key,

You say you’ve the mandate
We’re here to help,
it’s not too late,
People here are standing strong
a hundred thousand – can’t be wrong
We’re here to help you get back on track,
Let’s stop the sales,
Let’s pull it back.

Crowd’s chorus, Ohhhhh Yeahhhhh!

All together now!

OHHHHH YEAHHHH!”

Ms Maniapoto Jackson then welcomed the first of “a long line of luminaries, that are positively glowing with energy and excitement as we deliver to the government a very strong call from New Zealanders.”

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To be continued at: 392,000 New Zealanders send a clear message to John Key – Part Rua

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Additional

Radio NZ: Petitioners confident of asset sale referendum

Dominion Post: Government to ignore asset sales referendum

NZ Herald: Asset sales petition arrives at Parliament

TV3: PHOTOS: Asset sales petition presented

TVNZ: Petition against SOE sales delivered to Parliament

Newstalk ZB: Opposition MPs greet anti-asset sales petition

Copyright (c)  Notice

All images are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

  • Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
  • At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals.
  • Acknowledgement of source is requested.

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= fs =

A Clear Warning to Investors in SOEs…

11 March 2013 12 comments

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soe powercos

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The recent financial crisis and near-collapse of Solid Energy – one of the five, state owned enterprises planned for partial-privatisation – should serve as a warning for those investor-vultures circling to buy shares in any of the SOEs.

In fact, recent history regarding Air New Zealand, Kiwiwail, and (non-privatised) BNZ in 1991,  are indicators that privatisation of state assets is not a guaranteed roadmap to wealth,

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The Air New Zealand crash

Source

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It is noteworthy that one of the cause of Air New Zealand’s collapse was it’s foolhardy buy-out of Australian airline, Ansett,

First, the decision by Air New Zealand to pay dividends and second, the decision to buy the second half of Ansett. Both moves turned out to be considerably more beneficial to the interests of Brierleys than those of Air New Zealand.

Take the Ansett purchase. In early 1999, Cushing announced that Air New Zealand was vetoing Singapore Airline’s bid to buy News Corp’s 50% of Ansett Holdings (Air New Zealand had held the other 50% of Ansett since September 1996). Instead, it decided to pay News Corp $A580 million and get 100% control.

It’s most likely true that Air New Zealand paid too much for the stake and that directors had too little information about Ansett’s financial and engineering state. These are well-aired opinions, but are secondary to the main question that should be asked: Why did Air New Zealand buy the second half of Ansett at all? It’s not just that it was hopelessly out of its depth buying an airline twice its size. It’s just hard to see any benefits – to Air New Zealand, that is.

Source: IBID

On top of that were big dividend demands from one of Air Zealand’s major shareholders, Brierley’s,

The at times cash-strapped investment company held between 30% and 47% of shares over the period so, based on the total dividend of $765 million, Brierley reaped an estimated $250 million to $380 million from the airline. And Air New Zealand’s decision to buy the second half of Ansett, cutting Singapore Airlines out of the deal, contributed to Brierleys being able to do its own deal with Singapore.

In April last year, two months after Air New Zealand bought Ansett, Brierleys sold Singapore Airlines all its Air New Zealand “B” shares for $285 million, or $3 a share. It was arguably the last exit option for Brierleys from these shares, and, apart from a spike at the end of last year, Air New Zealand shares have largely tracked downwards ever since – they were trading around 30 cents as Unlimited went to press.

Source: IBID

In other words, Air New Zealand had over-extended in unwise investments (as has Solid Energy), and was bled dry by rapacious demands for dividends (as did Faye Richwhite in NZ Rail in the early 1990s).

How does this relate to the upcoming partial-sale of Mighty River Power?

Recent revelations that Mighty River Power has shaky investments on Chile, should cause potential investors to pause for thought,

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Key struggles to push Chilean investments

Source

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According to the TV3 story above, “Mighty River Power has spent $250 million at the geothermal plant in southern Chile, but has just written off $89 million as the investments struggle“.

To which Key responded casually,

There is always risk.”

Dear Leader  seems somewhat blase about investors’ risks? Of course he is. It’s not his money.

The Crown Ownership Monitoring Unit (COMU) reported,

Impairments

During the period, the Company recognised $91.4 million of impairments principally reflecting its investment in the GeoGlobal Partners I Fund (GGE Fund), and its greenfield explorations for potential developments in Chile and Germany.

This impairment followed higher than expected costs at the Tolhuaca project in Chile due to the worst winter in 40 years adversely affecting drilling performance and only one of the two wells having proven production capacity. The value of GGE’s investment at Weiheim in Germany, has been impacted by increased costs due to required changes in the drilling location following the 3D seismic surveys and delays from environmental court challenges which have been resolved post balance date.

The GGE Fund had not raised capital from other investors by the end of the 2012 and Mighty River Power made the decision not to invest further capital into the existing structure. Overall, the impairment charge of $88.9 million for the German and Tolhuaca assets and the management company of GGE LLC leaves a residual book value of $91.8 million.

Source: Mighty River Power LtdResults for Announcement to the Market

On top of  Mighty River Power’s dodgy investment in Chile, New Zealand is now experiencing what is being called the worst drought in seven decades  (see:  North Island’s worst drought in 70 years). As Climate scientist Jim Salinger said about New Zealand’s current weather patterns continuing, and becoming  similar to the Mediterranean,

What it means is that if it just doesn’t rain for at least four months of the year, it means you have to bring in your water from elsewhere.”

Source: IBID

As all investors should bear in mind; most of our power generation is generated from  hydro stations. Mighty River Power, especially, derives most of its electricity from eight  hydro-electric stations on the Waikato River.

Mighty River Power CEO, Doug Heffernan has given a clear warning,

Following the lower than average inflows into the Waikato catchment during the last quarter [to December 31], Mighty River ended the half year at just 69 per cent of historical average [hydro storage].”

And Equity analyst Phillip Anderson of Devon Funds stated,

The same period last year they got really strong inflows, and this is the exact opposite . . .

In the second half of this reporting year they’re going to have to buy a lot more electricity to feed their customers, either on the spot market at a lot higher cost or use their [Southdown] gas plant.

We expect the second half of this year is going to be a lot tougher for them, they should get their margins squeezed if that all plays out.”

Source: Parched Waikato could hit Mighty River Power

The equation is blindingly simple,

Less rain = less water = less electricity generation

The question that begs to be asked is; where does the risk of investing in SOEs fall – private investors, or the State?

The answer I submit to the reader is, that like Air New Zealand, it will be private investors who bear the brunt of all risk. The State will simply pick up the pieces,  buying up shares at bargain basement prices, should anything go wrong.

Electricity generators like Mighty River Power will simply never be allowed to fail. Had the Labour government in 2001 allowed Air New Zealand to collapse, the fall-out to the rest of the reconomy would have been too horrendous to contemplate, and flow-on effects to other businesses (eg; exporters and tourism) and the economy would have been worse than any bail-out.

But any bailout will involve a massive loss for investors, as their share-value plummets. Again, Air New Zealand was an example to us all.

As the impact of climate change creates more uncertainly for our state power companies, investors need to think carefully before committing one single dollar toward buying shares,

Do I really want to bear all the risk?

Those who lost out on their investments in Air New Zealand in the 1990s will probably answer,

No.

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References

The Air New Zealand crash (1 November 2001)

A history of bailouts (7 April 2011)

Foreigners important for SOE sell-downs: Treasury (30 June 2011)

No law stopping foreign investors (16 Dec 2011)

Parched Waikato could hit Mighty River Power (22 Feb 2013)

Mighty River Power shares float mid-May (4 March 2013)

Taking the plunge in Mighty River (9 March 2013)

Key struggles to push Chilean investments (9 March 2013)

North Island’s worst drought in 70 years (10 March 2013)

Other blogs

Seemorerocks: An Appeal for a New Zealand Risk Assessment

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Dear Leader Key blames everyone else for Solid Energy’s financial crisis (Part Rua)

9 March 2013 4 comments

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national blighted hoarding 12 it's all labour's fault

Acknowledgement

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Continued from: Dear Leader Key blames everyone else for Solid Energy’s financial crisis

Opposition Party members of the Commerce Select Committee are demanding that  ex-CEO, Don Elder appear before the Select Committee to answer questions what went wrong at Solid Energy.

With unanswered questions about Solid Energy’s financial crisis; a murky history leading up to current events; big bonuses paid out as the company’s accounts were sinking into the red; and revelations that Don Elder is still recieving his  $1.3 million annual salary  – whilst working from home “serving out his notice” – pressure is mounting on National.

Solid Energy went from a multi-billion dollar company to being heavily indebited to $389 million.

How did this happen?

Did ministerial shareholders Bill English and Tony Ryall not notice?

Were they not receiving reports from Solid Energy’s Board of Directors?

Were no rumours or conversations floating around?

How does one keep a secret like that in a small country like New Zealand? (In which case  should Solid Energy take over our country’s security, from the GCSB and SIS?)

Why were we paying Don Elder for ($1.3 million p.a., plus bonuses no doubt) if not to be held to account?

On 8 March, Key was reported as saying,

“If he wants to go [to the Select Committee hearings] and they want him to go he is not going to get any opposition from my office.”

Source

And SOE Minister chipped in with this,

“It’s a matter for the Commerce Select Committee, Solid Energy and Dr Elder whether or not Dr Elder attends, but I don’t have a problem either way.”

IBID

Good. Because the public – who own Solid Energy – deserve answers. Thus far all we’ve had is the usual finger-pointing by National, with childishly pathetic  attempts to blame Labour for Solid Energy’s woes. As if Labour was still in government and the 2008 and 2011 general elections never happened.

This statement from Key, on 26 February 2013, simply doesn’t wash,

“They  [Labour] can’t wash their hands of the fact that from 2003 on, they were intimately involved with the plans that that company had.

The argument that somehow we would have gone in, in 2009 when the company was performing well, its results were good, the valuation of the company was going up, and just gone and sacked the board on day one is a bit fanciful.

Maybe we should have re-tested those [Labour-approved] initiatives but actually we gave [Labour] the benefit of the doubt that they might get one thing right.”

Source

“2003″?

That was ten years ago!  What has National been doing in the meantime?

As far back as September 2011, the Nats were abundantly aware that Solid Energy was embarking on expansion plans,

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Solid Energy starts work at Mataura Briquette Plant

Friday, 9 September 2011, 2:57 pm
Press Release: Solid Energy NZ

9 September 2011

Solid Energy marks the start of work at its Mataura Briquette Plant

The Hon Bill English, MP for Clutha-Southland and Minister of Finance, today marked the official start of work at Solid Energy’s Mataura Briquette Plant, by “turning the first sod” at a small event on site with neighbours, local authorities, and other guests.

The $25 million Mataura briquette plant is planned to start production by June 2012. It will produce up to 90,000 tonnes a year of low-moisture and higher-energy briquettes from about 150,000 tonnes of lignite mined from Solid Energy’s New Vale Opencast Mine and trucked to the Craig Road site. The plant will use technology developed in the USA by GTL Energy.

Source

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Here’s the photographic evidence, from National’s own ‘Flickr’ account, same date, 9 September 2011 – that’s Finance Minister Bill English, “turning the first sod of earth” for Solid Energy’s  Mataura Briquette Plant  in Southland. That plant was part of their expansion plans,

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solid-energy-chief-executive-don-elder-and-hon-bill-english-at-mataura-9-sept-2011

Source

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Only three months earlier, in June 2011, Key himself was supporting Solid Energy’s explansion plans,

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national business review - nbr - Key supports Solid Energy's lignite plans

Source

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Note Key’s comment in the above article in the National Business Review (hardly a leftist rag),

At the moment companies like Solid Energy are growth companies and we want them to expand in areas like lignite conversion.”

So for Dear Leader to blame Labour is not only disingenuous – it is cowardly.

It shows the entire country that the man who is supposedly or Prime Minister hasn’t got the balls to take it on the chin and admit that he and his Party f****d up. Big time.

Even the editorial from the Dominion Post said, with unconcealed exasperation on 2 March 2013,

There are always excuses when a company starts to fail. John Key’s explanation for the trouble at Solid Energy, however – he blamed the Labour government – was pitiful.

It was Trevor Mallard’s fault, apparently, for encouraging SOEs to spread their wings and fly. That was in 2007 or 2008.

This won’t do, and not just because Mr Key’s Government has been in power for more than four years. His argument also contradicts itself. A Labour government was seemingly omnipotent and could have its way with the state-owned coal company. But National had no such power.

The Government certainly said no when Solid Energy asked for a billion dollars to turn itself into a super-company along the lines of Petrobras, the Brazilian giant. Mr Key says it had grave doubts about the company’s expansion plans. His political opponents point out that he and Bill English had publicly backed Solid Energy’s big plans for lignite conversion and briquetting.

Source

This blogger welcomes Don Elder fronting up to the Commerce Select Committee.  However, that is simply not sufficient. In the interests of full justice, the following should occur,

  • John Key should front up and answer questions as well,
  • Bill English should front up and answer questions,
  • Tony Ryall should front up and answer questions,
  • All documentation should be made available to the Committee,
  • The Chairperson of the Select Committee – National MP Jonathan Young, should stand aside and  be replaced by a non-partisan senior judge or Queen’s Counsel,
  • If necessary, if the Committee is unable to answer questions, a full Royal Commission in Inquiry should be held.

National prides itself on being the party of ‘personal responsibility‘. It is no such thing. It is the party of personal advantage and not much more.

Thus far all we’ve had are evasiveness  and pathetic attempts to blame others. We’re also seeing more of the same from our Prime Minister;  bullshit.

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Previous related blogposts

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #2

Dear Leader Key blames everyone else for Solid Energy’s financial crisis

Taking responsibility, National-style

References

NZ National Party: Solid Energy chief executive, Don Elder and Hon Bill English at Mataura (9 Sept 2011)

Scoop.co.nz: Solid Energy starts work at Mataura Briquette Plant (9 Sept 2011)

NBR: Key supports Solid Energy’s lignite plans (3 June 2011)

TV3: Govt, Labour squabble over Solid Energy (26 Feb 2013)

Dominion Post: Editorial: Solid Energy excuses fuel anger (2 March 2013)

TVNZ: Pressure grows on Don Elder to front over Solid Energy (8 March 2013)

Fairfax media: Minister, PM fine for Elder to appear for grilling (8 March 2013)

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How to sabotage the asset sales…

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Something I blogged on 25 June 2012, and now more appropriate than ever…

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On last weekends’ (23/24 June 2012) “The Nation“,  the issue of asset sales was discussed with   NZ First leader, Winston Peters; Green Party MP, Gareth Hughes; and Labour MP, Clayton Cosgrove,

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Source

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Whilst all three parties are staunchly opposed to state asset sales, NZ First leader, Winston Peters went one step further,  promising that his Party would buy back the assets.

Gareth Hughes and Clayton Cosgrove were luke-warm on the idea, quite rightly stating that there were simply too many variables involved in committing to a buy-back two and a half years out from the next election. (And Peters never followed through on his election pledge in 1996 to buy back NZ Forestry – “to hand back the envelope”, as he put it -  after National had privatised it.) There was simply no way of knowing what state National would leave the economy.

Considering National’s tragically incompetant economic mismanagement thus far, the outlook for New Zealand is not good. We can look forward to more of the usual,

  • More migration to Australia
  • More low growth
  • More high unemployment
  • More deficits
  • More skewed taxation/investment policies
  • Still more deficits
  • More cuts to state services
  • And did I mention more deficits?

By 2014, National will have frittered away most (if not all) of the proceeds from the sale of Meridian, Genesis, Mighty River Power, Solid Energy, and Air New Zealand.

In such an environment, it is difficult to sound plausible when promising to buy back multi-billion dollar corporations.

Not to be thwarted, Peters replied to a question by Rachel Smalley, stating adamantly,

The market needs to know that Winston Peters and a future government is going to take back  those assets. By that I mean pay no greater price than their first offering price. This is, if they transfer to seven or eight people, it doesn’t matter, we’ll pay the first price or less.

Bold words.

It remains to be seen if Peters will carry out that threat – especially if a number of his shareholders are retired Kiwi superannuitants?

When further questioned by Rachel Smalley, Peters offered specific  ideas how a buy-back might be funded,

Why can’t we borrow from the super fund, for example? And pay that back over time?  And why can’t we borrow from Kiwisaver  for example, and pay that back over time…”

The answer is that governments are sovereign and can make whatever laws they deem fit. That includes buying back assets at market value; at original sale price; or simple expropriation without  compensation. (The latter would probably be unacceptable to 99% of New Zealanders and would play havoc with our economy.)

Peters is correct; funding per se is not an issue. In fact, money could be borrowed from any number of sources, including overseas lenders. The gains from all five SOEs – especially the power companies – would outweigh the cost of any borrowings.

Eg,

  1. Cost of borrowing from overseas: 2% interest
  2. Returns from SOEs: 17%
  3. Profit to NZ: 15%

We make on the deal.

The question is, can an incoming Labour-Green-NZ First-Mana government accomplish such a plan?

Should such a  radical policy be presented to the public at an election, the National Party would go into Warp Drive with a mass  panic-attack.

But it’s not National that would be panicked.

It would be National going hard-out to panic the public.

National’s scare-campaign would promise the voters economic collapse;  investors deserting the country; a crashed share-market; cows drying up; a plague of locusts; the Waikato River turning to blood; hordes of zombie-dead rising up…

And as we all know, most low-information voters are highly susceptible to such fear-campaigns. The result would be predictable:

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But let’s try that again…

A more plausible scenario would have the leadership of Labour, NZ First, the Greens, and Mana, meeting at a secluded retreat for a high-level,  cross-party strategy conference.

At the conclusion of said conference, the Leaders emerge, with an “understanding”, of recognising each others’ differing policies,

  1. Winston Peters presents a plan to the public, promoting NZF policy to buy-back  the five SOEs. As per his  original proposals, all shares will be repurchased at original offer-price.
  2. The  Mana Party  buy-in  to NZ First’s plan and pledge their support.
  3. Labour and the Greens release the joint-Party declaration stating that  whilst they do not pledge support to NZ First/Mana’s proposal – neither do they discount it. At this point, say Labour and the Greens, all options are on the table.

That scenario creates considerable  uncertainty and anxiety  in the minds of potential share-purchasers. Whilst they know that they will be recompensed in any buy-back scheme – they are effectively stymied in on-selling the shares for gain. Because no new investor  in their right mind would want to buy  shares that (a) probably no one else will want to buy and (b) once the buy-back begins, they would lose out.

Eg; Peter buys 1,000 shares at original offer price of $2 per share. Cost to Peter: $2,000.

Peter then on-sells shares to Paul at $2.50 per share.  Cost to Paul: $2,500. Profit to Peter: $500.

Paul then cannot on-sell his shares – no one else is buying. Once elected, a new centre-left government implements a buy back of shares at original offer-price @ $2 per share. Price paid to Paul: $2,000. Loss to Paul: $500.

Such a strategy is high-stakes politics at it’s riskiest.   Even if Labour and the Greens do not commit to a specific buy-back plan, and “left their options open” -  would the public wear it?

The certainty in any such grand strategy is that the asset sale would be effectively sabotaged. No individual or corporate buyer would want to become involved in this kind of uncertainty.

Of less certainty is how the public would perceive  a situation (even if Labour and the Greens remained staunchly adamant that they were not committed to any buy-back plan) of political Parties engaging in such a deliberate  scheme of de-stabilisation of a current government’s policies.

The asset sales programme would most likely fail, for sure.

But at what cost? Labour and the centre-left losing the next election?

We may well end up winning the war to save our SOEs – but end up a casualty of the battle.

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Related Blog posts

Peter Dunne says

Campaign: Flood the Beehive!

Additional

Asset sales remain unpopular for NZers

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Dear Leader Key blames everyone else for Solid Energy’s financial crisis

28 February 2013 11 comments

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Continued from: That was Then, This is Now #18 (Solid Energy)

A bit of  very recent history,

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Solid Energy starts work at Mataura Briquette Plant

Friday, 9 September 2011, 2:57 pm
Press Release: Solid Energy NZ

9 September 2011

Solid Energy marks the start of work at its Mataura Briquette Plant

The Hon Bill English, MP for Clutha-Southland and Minister of Finance, today marked the official start of work at Solid Energy’s Mataura Briquette Plant, by “turning the first sod” at a small event on site with neighbours, local authorities, and other guests.

The $25 million Mataura briquette plant is planned to start production by June 2012. It will produce up to 90,000 tonnes a year of low-moisture and higher-energy briquettes from about 150,000 tonnes of lignite mined from Solid Energy’s New Vale Opencast Mine and trucked to the Craig Road site. The plant will use technology developed in the USA by GTL Energy.

Source

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Eighteen months later, on 19 February, the SOE Shareholders Bill English and Tony Ryall,  made this shock announcement to the public (see:  Statement on Solid Energy).

The media were quick to report the crisis,

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Solid Energy in debt crisis talks

Source

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National’s response?

Default to Deflection #1 (see previous blogpost: National under attack – defaults to Deflection #2 )

As described in my previous blogpost (see:  Taking responsibility, National-style), National does not do Taking Responsibility very well. Their automatic instinct is to blame someone else – anyone – for problems of their making,

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National and John Key blames...

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And true-to-form, National and Dear Leader are once again playing the Blame Game over Solid Energy’s woes,

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Prime Minister criticises Solid Energy

Source

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Govt, Labour squabble over Solid Energy

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“They can’t wash their hands of the fact that from 2003 on, they were intimately involved with the plans that that company had,” sez Key?!

Really? 2003 ???

Why stop at 2003?

Personally, if I was John Key, I’d be asking serious questions on Labour’s role in the sinking of the Titanic. The Cuban Missile Crisis. And don’t forget the 2007/08 Global Financial Meltdown – that has Labour’s fingerprints all over it, surely???

Getting serious again…

National is supposedly Very Big on responsibility issues. Their website is constantly referring to responsibility,

The National Party is built on age-tested principles that reflect what is best about New Zealand. We are a party of enterprise; a party of personal freedom and individual responsibility; a party of family; an inclusive party; a party of ambition.” – John Key, 27 May 2007

We also need to remember the enduring principles on which the National Party is based – individual responsibility, support for families and communities, and a belief that the State can’t and shouldn’t do everything.” – John Key, 30 January 2007

It seems that their constant refusals to accept responsibility is also one of those things that “the State can’t and shouldn’t do”, according to Dear Leader.

A few questions spring to mind,

  1. How far back will Key go to blame others for his failures?
  2. How many terms in office will National have to win, before blaming Labour or Uncle Tom Cobbly is no longer tenable?
  3. If John Key and his cronies are unable to ‘man-up’ and take a hit for any one of their balls-ups, and constantly feel the need to sheet responsibility back to Labour – then why is National in government? Why not just resign and put Labour back in office? After all, what would be the difference?

We wouldn’t accept finger-pointing and blame-gaming from our children (or, at least I hope we wouldn’t). So why is the public and media letting Key get away with it?

I look forward to National’s next major cock-up.

Who will they blame next? Australia?

Meanwhile,  back to 9 September 2011…

Doesn’t Bill seem a happy chappy in this photo-op?

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Solid Energy chief executive, Don Elder and Hon Bill English at Mataura  - 9 sept 2011

Source

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Bill English, poses with ex-Solid Energy CEO, Don Elder, as the ‘first sod is turned’ at a new  Briquette Plant in Mataura, Southland.

The same plant that was “Labour’s fault”.

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That was Then, This is Now #18 (Solid Energy)

24 February 2013 6 comments

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That was then…

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September 2011,

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Solid Energy chief executive, Don Elder and Hon Bill English at Mataura  - 9 sept 2011

Source

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Solid Energy starts work at Mataura Briquette Plant

Friday, 9 September 2011, 2:57 pm
Press Release: Solid Energy NZ

9 September 2011

Solid Energy marks the start of work at its Mataura Briquette Plant

The Hon Bill English, MP for Clutha-Southland and Minister of Finance, today marked the official start of work at Solid Energy’s Mataura Briquette Plant, by “turning the first sod” at a small event on site with neighbours, local authorities, and other guests.

The $25 million Mataura briquette plant is planned to start production by June 2012. It will produce up to 90,000 tonnes a year of low-moisture and higher-energy briquettes from about 150,000 tonnes of lignite mined from Solid Energy’s New Vale Opencast Mine and trucked to the Craig Road site. The plant will use technology developed in the USA by GTL Energy.

Source

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This is now…

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February, 2013…

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No more bonuses at Solid Energy - English

Source

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State miner to return to coalface

Source

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A year and a half  later, neither Dear Leader Key nor Little Leader Bill English seemed terribly keen to be associated with  any more  photo-ops with Don Elder.

In fact, the much vaunted sod-turning in September 2011, to build a brand-new $25 million  briquette plant at Mataura, was no longer quite so glamous. Despite probably still having Southland dirt on his shoes, both Bill English and John Key were at pains to distance themselves from Solid Energy’s highly publicised energy projects,

“Four or five years ago they set out on a big programme of expenditure on alternative energy, including researching into lignite down south to coal gasification and other research-based speculation, and that hasn’t turned out the way they thought.” – Bill English, 22 Feb 2013

“The second thing is that they made a number of investments which have proved not to be very valuable and the Government has been working on that process for the last couple of years.” - John Key, 23 Feb 2013

It’s amazing how politicians seem to have this ability – verging on a preternatural super power – to distance themselves from something  they had only recently embraced and supported with whole-hearted gusto.

Interesting to note that as well as the $23.5 million in bonuses paid  over the past two years to 950 employees,  Solid Energy also paid out considerable dividends to the government;

 

30 June 2009 – $59.9 million (source)

30 June 2010 – $54 million (source)

30 June 2011 – $20 million (source)

30 June 2012 (paid at 30 Sept 2011) – $30 million (source)

Total: $163.9 million

Plus millions more paid in company tax.

With the data above, I have some questions;

  1. It seems remarkable that National only discovered a couple of days ago that Solid Energy’s financial position was not sound. What was Bill English doing last year?
  2. How could Solid Energy’s financial position go from a pre-tax profit of  $127.5 million (see: Solid Energy shines despite earthquakes) in August 2011 – to a massive $389 million debt this year? Did National gouge one of our cash-state-cows?
  3. With Solid Energy’s expansion projects (which Bill English must’ve known about, as he turned a sod of earth in Southland on 9 September 2011), were the dividends paid since 2009 realistic?
  4. With National’s track record of constantly shifting responsibility away from themselves, who are pointing the finger at? With all the highly paid Ministers, board members, and executives – will the office cleaner be held to account?
  5. Is the corporate model, with big salaries and bonuses paid to executives and an evident  lack of transparency, appropriate for state owned enterprises?
  6. Will workers be made to suffer job lossses and subsequent economic hardship, because of the actions of  Solid Energy’s executives and Crown Ministers? Why aren’t the workers offered the same ‘golden parachute’ that ex-CEO Don Elder most likely received?

No doubt neo-liberals will point to the failure of  ‘Solid Energy’ as proof-positive that governments cannot run state-owned businesses.

Not true.

This is proof positive that National (or other right wing) governments cannot run state-owned businesses.

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Acknowledgement

Tim Jones, Coal Action Network Aotearoa

Previous Blog Post

That was Then, This is Now #17

Other Blogs

Robert Guyton: Comments on Solid Energy

The Standard: Nats’ fossil fuel bet & culture of excess bankrupted Solid Energy

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Wellingtonians rally to send a message to the Beehive! (part toru)

17 February 2013 3 comments

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SOEs

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Continued from:

 

Wellingtonians rally to send a message to the Beehive! (part rua)

 

NZ, Wellington, 13 February 2013 – At this point, there was some light entertainment – firstly from this chap,

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“John Key” – first tried to convince the crowd that he’s really a “nice guy”.  The response from the crowd was anything but ‘understanding’.

“John Key” then sang his now-famous version of the New Zealand anthem, which he said was now “partially privatised” – so minus every third or fourth word. Thwe song made bugger-all sense – much like asset sales themselves.

The anthem was missing the last line, which he said, had been “sold in it’s entirety, including the word ‘New Zealand’.

After “John Key” was ‘helped’ off the stage with accompanying boos and cat-calls, Energy campaigner, Molly Melhuish took the microphone.

Ms Melhuish spoke for Greypower. Like Geoff Bertram, she is also deeply knowledgeable about all facets of the energy industry, including pricing systems used for residential, commercial, and industrial sectors.

As always, listeners leave a talk by Ms Melhuish with a greater knowledge and insights into the electricity industry in our country,

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Ms Melhuish first explained a bit of the background of the  “Keep our Assets” campaign,

“… Greypower was essentially asked to front this campaign, and we said at the first strategic meeting of the ‘Keep our Assets’ campaign that we wanted to co-front it with the youth, so we found a youth group, it was the University Students Association.

Because we believe this campaign is about those older people. Surprisingly many of our members were involved in building those assets. We said they’re ours, we want to keep them.

But we speak to our grand-children and our grand-children recognise… they just don’t want them sold. So the Greypower group board as a group, supported this ‘Keep our Assets’ campaign, all seven zones.

There are a small number of individuals in our meetings who really believed John Key when he said ‘we have to sell the assets so we can  re-pay the debts’. Geoff [Bertram] told you how wrong that is, but people are conservative,  want to be safe, and many, or most of the people who still say ‘we have to sell the asssets’ do so because they believed [John Key]. John Key is a show pony, he’s… telling the story told to him by others. He’s  a used car salesman. Would you buy a used car off that guy? I wouldn’t.”

“…Just yesterday afternoon, I spoke to Mana Tawa… The very very first question I asked was ‘Why can’t we have solar power on our houses? Our family in the U.K., you know, they got money to put photo-voltaics [on our roofs] and they were able to pay it off on our power bills. She said, ‘Why can’t we have that?”

We could, but we have to vote for it.

We won’t under this administration.

Another one  said, when I bought my place in a retuirement village in Porirua, we were promised lower bills. We are now paying more for our little retirement village than I paid for a four bedroom house.

So you get a captive consumer and they  can hike power bills not twice, but four times!

Greypower now has a policy that says energy leglislation must say [that] all household energy and especially electricity must be provided in a manner that’s fair, sustainable, efficient, and reliable. That was the law in 2001- Labour changed the law to make that. [But] National government took away “fair and sustainable” [from legislation]. That is wrong.

What to do about it? Change the government!

The only way you will get a change is to change the government! Vote for it! Peter Love told you that  in the first speech; vote for change. Greypower sez vote for change. That’s your job – We Greypower can support it but it is your job to vote for change.”

And she’s right. The only way we can effect change is by the ballot in the Voting Booth. Deciding not to vote because of some half-arsed cliche about “all politicians being the same”  is defeatist garbage. It is  craven surrender to forces who welcome people giving away their vote because vested interests have persuaded you that “change is not possible”.

Change is possible. But not when cynicism guides your decisions.

Molly Melhuish was followed by Aotearoa Not For Sale activist, Frances, who spoke of her own ‘journey’ to  set aside her apathy and become active. Despite English being a second language from Frances, her words were truly inspiring. A million New Zealanders like her, and no government would dare risk selling our treasures,

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Frances first described the desperate conditions that afflict the poor or unemployed in other countries, where social welfare services barely exist, or not at all. She referred to the shame of someone loosing their job, and killing themselves and their entire family by mass-suicide – because the provisions that we often take for granted (or that right-wingers complain about), do not exist in their society.

“…I saw this country as a country so beautiful and with a humanity and the government with a heart [?] to looking after the poor and the under-privileged and  the vulnerable groups. But throught the years I don’t know what has happened, I was too busy looking after kids, young children, and being someone who didn’t speak very good english. I sort of stayed low and keeped quiet and don’t want to say much about nothing against   government. Although I do complain a lot at home if I say something, I see the government doesn’t do something nice to people.

But then I accidently walked through a public meeting … beginning of last  year and then that was about state asset sale. And I was so shocked about what ‘s going to happen. And I thought, well,  for the last 15 years my shower time from … ten minutes down to three minutes, because we need to have a budget for our power because the power bill kept going up.And then I cut my hair short so I don’t have to spend so much time [in the shower]. So all these things, and  I decided maybe this year I will not harass my kids to have a showers if they don’t want to because it’s just getting more and more expensive.

There might be more stinky people around the city.

And hey, we are from middle income family, and during the winter time we fight often … argue with my husband about whether we should have the heater on. And I just never thought  will  come to this day!

And now they’re going to privatise these companies and  sell to all those rich, only going to benefit the very rich few. Especially some foreign companies. And I was like,  that’s not right, I can’t afford to pay even higher bills.”

And I thought, what happened? … From me not paying attention to politics. I actually don’t like politics. I  want to just appreciate art and literature, but then from me not doing anything for so many years, what has this country become? Because a lot of people are like like me, they don’t like politics. They don’t want to take action; “I often give them moral support, I’ll  give you some  dollars, but you do the work. You go against the government.”

But then this time I realised what example I was setting for my children…

… But I feel great because I work with so many dedicated people and so many beautiful people, and  selfless. And they are wonderful. We are all trying to make this country a better place for us, for others,  for our children.

And for middle income like us, we struggle, and I just hate to think how the low income, how the  beneficiary actually survive. And this government keep taking things away from the general  public, from the  weaker and from the vulnerable group. …

… Being a housewife, what can I do? I go out to collect signatures because that’s  easy thing for me to do. It takes a lot and time and a lot of effort, but I’m glad I can make  contribution. And I feel everybody here can make contribution…

… And being at home I can teach my kids, say, well don’t believe everything you heard from the media. And don’t just listen to what people say, you watch what they do. Especially our Prime Minister.

Frances finished with these thoughts,

“We can all make a difference… I saw so many people on the street. Some  are angry but most  of them are so depressed because they think government will never listen, and they think what we are doing going to be  in vain, just not going to change anything.  And I say to them, I say, if you don’t make any noise for this, what do you think government are going do to us next?

I want to set  example to my children to say, if you really believe, and you have to believe, you can make a difference, you can change something. You just take actions and do whatever you can….

… But  we have to still have to pressure the government, we want our referendum now, not later!

… One day when my kids ask me ‘mum have you done anything to protect us from being attacked by our government’ then I can say, I have done something. And I hope we can all say that, say  we have done something to protect you from bad government policies.”

Amen to that, Frances.

Frances struggled at times with the English language  – but the message she gave was as clear and meaningful as words could possibly convey.

This blogger found her to be truly inspirational.

As clouds darkened the evening sky, and the southerly ‘breeze’ gave a ‘bite’ to the assembled crowd, there was final entertainment from Steve and  John,

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And finally, a rousing applause given to Richard, who shouldered much of the responsibility in organising the event,

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Meanwhile, further down the waterfront, others were more comfortable with their boutique beers and frothy lattes,

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Want to help?

Make a donation (any size) to: BNZ, 02-0560-0158770-00

Volunteer by contacting: saynotoassetsales@gmail.com

Go to: any of the Relevant orgs listed below.

Additional

TV3: Asset sales referendum likely (6 Feb 2013)

TV3: Govt under fire over Contact redundancies (14 Feb 2013)

NBR: Supreme Court to ignore govt deadline on water rights decision (15 Feb 2013)

Youtube: Say No to Asset sales in Aotearoa NZ.mov

Copyright (c)  Notice

All images are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

  •     Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
  •     At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals.
  •     Acknowledgement of source is requested.

Relevant orgs

It’s Our Future

Keep our Assets

Aotearoa is not for Sale

Aotearoa is Not for Sale | Facebook

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Wellingtonians rally to send a message to the Beehive! (part rua)

17 February 2013 5 comments

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SOEs

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Continued from:

 

Wellingtonians rally to send a message to the Beehive! (part tahi)

 

NZ, Wellington, 13 February 2013 – The first speaker was Peter Love; Te Atiawa, and Board Member of the Wellington Tenths Trust,

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Frank Macskasy  Frankly Speaking  blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com aotearoa not for sale - 13 february 2013 - frank kitts park - wellington - anti asset sales

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Peter Love spoke of having to buy a bottle of water from the dairy – and yet Maori were castigated for trying to assert their own water rights. Holding up a plastic bottle of water, he said it’s not about “Maori owning the water”,

We have to make sure you don’t have to go into a dairy to buy this!

He spoke of countries such as China sending their workers into Pacific Island nations to build infra-structure and buildings for the locals, but for a price.  Peter Love spoke of powerful interests  seeking valuable resources  such as the fish in Cook Islands territorial waters.

He said asset sales would be a magnet for overseas investors,

They’re after our assets!”

Which is why“, he said, “we’re all here this evening challenging the government.”

Peter Love finished with a humorous touch,

My wife said, ‘hullo – don’t get arrested Peter...”

He encouraged the crowd,

“…Don’t forget, keep it up. Sign the petition against it. And we may have to call you again to go to Parliament.”

The next speaker was Peter Love’s mokopuna (grandchild), Kaira Ranginui-Love, of Te Atiawa, who spoke directly to the many young people in the crowd,

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Ms Ranginui-Love spoke with deep passion about her feelings for this country, and how others wanted a piece of our paradise,

I love Aotearoa! I don’t know about you but I absolutely love this country. I believe Aotearoa is Heaven on Earth…

… For many of you, Aotearoa has been a home for you and your families since the time of the settlers, and for others.”
 
“… But regardless of how we all got here and what we’re all doing here, I think we can all agree  what connects us is our love for Aotearoa.”

“We are very lucky to live here. We have the oceans, the rivers, the forests, the lands,  and all that dwell therein. So we must look after our country, and be the caretakers, for now and for the future generations to come. We need to be wary that we don’t allow our country to be exploited by those in a position of power. The National government, the National Party, they have an immoral agenda based on monetary gain only…”

“…Is this government listening to our views?”

“I think this govermnment blatantly  ignores it’s people and what they want. What we all want. No thought has gone into the rippling effect that this will have on our futures.”

“…We’ll have no say, and we’ll  have no rights. This referendum will help to stop the government from making a terrible mistake. Remember, everybody wants a slice of our country, our paradise. So it is time to stand up. It is time to fight for this generation and the generations to come….”

“…The time to act is now, before it’s too late.”

Next, the Mayor of Wellington, Celia Wade-Brown – a veteran campaigner against the privatisation of Wellington’s former “Capital Power” company in the 1990s – spoke of her thoughts on selling strategic assets that belong to the people,

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Mayor Wade-Brown welcomed people to the rally and acknowledged the hard work by organisors to set up the rally,

Let’s give the organisors a big round of applause!”

This week there’ve been a number of really important issues raised that resonate with all of us; leadership; jobs; a fair go; and a clean environment; public ownership of strategic assets. Those aren’t alternatives to each other, they go hand in hand.”

The Mayor spoke of Deborah Littman visiting Wellington and talking to Council (see: Mayor pushes to give hundreds a pay increase ) about how a living wage has in helped  many aspects of society in Vancouver and London, by raising incomes,

Low pay doesn’t help the local economy; low pay doesn’t educational failure, and low pay doesn’t help poor health. So the living wage is an idea to inspire us, it’s a journey, not an overnight transformation… … a living wage is good for the local economy.”

Mr Wade Brown referred to a Greenpeace economic report which outlined ambitious ideas for new jobs, new prosperity, and a clean economy. She outlined Greenpeace’s ideas for how huge wealth could be created for New Zealand by building an economy based on 100% renewable energy,  energy efficiency, and sustainable transport.

The mayor went on to describe one of her earliest actions soon after being elected to the City Council in 1994,

I voted in one of the earliest political decisions when I was elected on Council against the sale of Capital Power. And now the energy retail and lines businesses have been split up and sold and sold again  and it’s really impossible to assess what they would  be worth now.

But it could’ve been a huge help to the capital city as a basis for a smart grid, for electricity demand management, and for more manageble bills for people on low incomes. So I understand your concerns about selling of power generation companies.

More successfully, Wellington City Council voted against the sale of our Airport shares. Although one third does not give us control. But it does keep us in the loop and it gives us a considerable dividend that keeps your rates down.

And in the ’90s there were really truly mutterings -  I saw Cr Stephanie Cook here earlier and she’ll back this up – there were muttering about selling of our council social housing. It never did get to a vote, thank goodness... “

Social housing for vulnerable tenants was a social partnership, she said.

Mayor Wade-Brown then described Wellington’s water supply and categorically stated,

The basic public infrastructure should remain in public ownership and the charging policies and the conservation policies should be set democratically.”

She took a good natured ‘dig’ at Peter Love with the remark,

And I would like to add that you don’t need to buy in bottles because there are free water fountains along the waterfront.

Ms Wade-Brown told the audience that Council, in partnership with local Iwi, was bringing back alienated land to return to the Town Belt.

The Mayor added,

So local government faces the same financial pressures as households do, as you do,  as business does, and as central government does. But we’re not going to face those pressures by selling of our strategic assets. We won’t sell social housing, we won’t sell water infrastructure, we won’t sell the reserves that make this capital city so special.”

The mayor implored people to sign the petition – but not ten times,

It doesn’t help to sign it ten times, ok guys? If you’ve signed it, you’ve signed it…
… And tonight people are tweeting, blogging, using Youtube, and everything else to have your say. And that’s my main message; stand up and have your say, in the capital city!

Kia kaha.”

Next up – perhaps the country’s sanest, most common-sense economist – Ganesh Nana, rose to tell it from an economist’s  perspective.

Perhaps surprisingly, he wasn’t tied up and thrown into the harbour. Economists in the last thirty years have had a bad rep – perhaps only second to certain policians.

But Ganesh Nana is a rare breed of economist. He sees through the neo-liberal fantasy world of ideology and tells us that the dogma of the New Right simply does not work as ‘the label on the can’ promised,

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Ganesh Nana started by saying,

I’m an economist, ok, so I promise not to say anything about ‘The Phoenix’ or anything about cats…”

That elicited a laugh from the crowd and then he launched straight into the issue of asset sales and started by asking,

You might ask why would you at all be interested in hearing from an economist, and I ask the same thing; “why is anybody  interested in hearing from an economist given whate total mess we’ve made of the economy to date, but never mind… You guys should really be asking for an apology from the economists given the mess we’ve made...”

“… But I will apologise on my own behalf for not not actually shouting out a lot louder evertime we’ve made a wrong turn. So today here I am shouting out just a bit louder for making a wrong turn yet again.”

The audience warmed quickly to Ganesh Nana’s self-deprecating comments and clapped at his remarks. Only a lone heckler, yelling out comments he must’ve thought were very hilariously witty (mistakenly),  stood apart from the crowd.

Ganesh Nana continued,

From a business perspective; a business person’s perspective;  this is a very, very, very,  simple problem facing us, or a simple question; why would you sell an asset?

I ask you that question and from my own academic perspective or background, when faced with that question  I go to a dictionary and look up the definition of an asset.

It’s really quite simple… … you’ll find some words around something that is valuable and of use. And then I started to think as a business person or as an ordinary person why would I get rid of something that is valuable and of  use?”

He then asked,

“…These assets that the Crown have, [that] the government on our behalf, [as] taxpayers, are holding. Do they continue to be valuable and useful?

And if so why are we getting rid of them?”

… From a business perspective the only reason I’d get of an asset is if it suddenly became a liability.

That is, it required a lot of upkeep and it wasn’t paying it’s way, so it wasn’t really an asset. And then, yes,  you get rid of it fast.

But is anybody seriously trying to tell me that those electricity generation stations, and all the infra-structure around it,  is something that we, as a nation, ‘ain’t gonna’ need for the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years?

Because if the answer to that is ‘yes’, then let’s get rid of it, because we don’t need it. But if we do need them, we need to hold onto them. It’s really quite that simple.”

Ganesh Nana was also adamant that not all economists follow the neo-liberal, monetarist line,

“…People who think that businesses or economists totally agree with getting rid of assets or following the market path, and there are lots of other reasons we could go into which are far too technical to go into tonight, about following the market and about how government shouldn’t be involved in assets; and shouldn’t be involved in the economy – those are smokescreens.

There are quite surprisingly some economists, myself included, who don’t follow that [ideology], and actually go back to the textbook… If it’s an asset, and it’s going to earn something over the future, you hold onto it for dear life. Because that’s what your future relies on!”

Ganesh Nana’s speech was well-received by the crowd. One could sense  that it was a relief for many who were listening,  that not all economists were wide-eyed free-marketeers demanding the dismantling of the State.

Ganesh Nana was followed by Geoff Bertram, Senior Economics lecturer at  Wellington’s Victoria University, and one who had been closely studying the energy sector. Mr Bertram understands the mechanisms by which our energy companies are valued and re-valued – and his simple explanations quickly reveal these valuations as clever, malevolent, rorts.

The same rorts used to drive up power prices on an almost annual basis,

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Now, the government’s aiming to sell off nearly half of some state-owned companies worth about ten billion [dollars], so it’s hoping to get a bit about under half… perhaps $4.5 billion from the sales from anybody prepared to buy the shares that they’re going to issue.

I’m going to talk tonight really about the motivation  that might lie behind those sales, and I personally think it boils down to two things.

The first is the desire of  the Treasury to get the money and run before certain things become very apparent about the way that electricity prices have been set over the last two decades.

And the second reason I think is to close off policy options that might remain open to future governments if the assets remain in full public ownership. Because while the assets are in full public ownership, it is possible to change the way they are managed and change the way that  electricity is supplied…”

Geoff Bertram then made an explosive accusation against the government which, if true, revealed a shocking reason why National is so hell-bent on privatisation of certain state assets,

“… It’s my view that probably the  most important political consequence of the part-privatisation of SOEs is to place private investors in those enterprises  and thereby immunise them against possible future policy that might reduce their value.

And since  I think an important part of an improved government policy would indeed reduce their value, I am opposed to the asset sales…

…The companies have a very high valuation. The reason why they have a very high valuation  is that they have successfully participated in a long-running rort to extract cash from residential electricity consumers by the inexorable driving up of prices of electricity.

That rort, has been possible, because government policy has allowed and has indeed supported the emergeance of a cartel of five, large, vertically-integrated, generator-retailers – three of whom are SOEs  – which have been able to operate without any effective regulation, at the expense of  consumers who were too vulnerable to protect their interests against price hikes.

And if you looked at the tracks of electricity prices over the last 20, 30 years you will have noticed that large industry has protected itself very successfully; commercial electricity buyers have done fine; residential who are the dis-organised, unrepresented, undefended, captive group of customers have seen their prices go up in real terms 100% since 1986.

And the main consequence of the electricity reforms has indeed been that doubling of the cost of electricity to ordinary  households. 

That’s a major cause of energy poverty; it’s been an important part in the growing  inequality of income and wealth in this country; and it’s something that a socially responsible government would,  in my view,  be taking serious action to reverse.”

The audience broke into heavy applause as the implications of Geoff Bertram’s comments sank in.

It is simply extraordinary that none of the media present at the rally that day has reported Geoff Bertram’s amazing – and disturbing – analysis of the energy sector and electricity pricing in New Zealand. Is what he’s saying boring?! Too complicated?! Risking opening a can of worms?!

This should be a prime-time story on TV3′s “Campbell Live” and Radio New Zealand.

Geoff Bertram continued,

“Just to put that doubling of the residential price in context. New Zealand’s pretty much on it’s own in the OECD and if you look at  the figures for other countries around the OECD, from 1986 to the present, the price of electricity to residential consumers  in OECD Europe, in Australia, and in the United Kingdom, is still the same as it was in 1986. In the United States, Japan, and France, prices are down 25% , compared to where they were in 1986, in real terms.  In South Korea they’re down 50%, compared to where they were in 1986.

New Zealand is the only only OECD country that has gone out there and driven up electricity prices 50%. We’re also pretty much the only country that doesn’t have a regulator in place, and where government doesn’t have any particular social policy relating to the pricing of essential services to the public.”

Geoff Bertram then explained what he called “the re-valuation game”, as it applied to electricity pricing in New Zealand,

And here’s how it works.

You take a bunch of assets with a given value, and you look at the existing price, to consumers of the product, and you say “well look, we can get the price up”; so you project  that higher price; you capitalise that; and then if you can get the price up the asset will be worth more; so then you re-value the asset; and then you go and use the higher value of the asset to justify raising the prices, and then you repeat.

And this is the circular process which has been going on in New Zealand now, in electricity, for more than a decade. It is completely legal under New Zealand law.

It is not illegal to profiteer or  to gauge captive customers in this country. [In] very few countries is that true.

And it’s consistant with New Zealand’s generally accepted accounting practice which basically tells you that there’s a rotteness at the core of accounting practices in this country.”

Geoff Betram further described how the ECNZ had sold power stations to the newly formed Mighty River Power, in 1999, at a considerable mark-up. In effect  government sold these power stations to itself and in the process pocketed a huge profit. To pay for those power stations, prices were raised, forcing captive residential consumers to pay more and more for their electricity. He added that we have been,

“…living under a government which for two decades has  become effectively  a corporate predator, in this sector, where once it used to be a social provider.

The applause that followed that statement was louder than before. People were ‘getting’ what Geoff Bertram was telling them. He continued,

Here’s the problem. Electricity was once an essential service provided to households at the lowest price, consistent with covering the industry’s costs. 

Since 1986 the sector has been corporatised and part-privatised, and it’s pricing has been driven by the quest for profit by giant companies that have the market power to gouge their consumers.

As the owner of three of those companies, the New Zealand government has therefore become a predator. And now the Treasury wants to cash in on that rort by selling out half the government’s stake.

What that means in terms of the options for the future for government to turn around and come back from the predator model and return to a social service approach  for energy supply, is being closed off.”

Geoff Bertram suggested that every household in New Zealand could be allocated 300kwh [kilowatt hours] of free power every month, and pay market rates for anything over and over used. He added,

But if you want to deal with energy poverty and get kids out of hospitals with asthma and other respiratory diseases and so on, one of the really good  things that you can do is get cheap energy into New Zealand households and that would be sustainable on the basis of the current government owned assets.

About 300 kwh free. [But if] you sell Mighty River and what’s feasible comes down to 200 [kwh]. You sell Genesis and what’s feasible comes down to 100 [kwh]. You sell Meridian and it’s gone…

What I’m saying is the contract  that supplies the Rio Tinto smelter down at Bluff, the old Comalco contract, is the contract New  Zealand households should have had from the start.

And it still could be done.”

Imagine, every household in the country, receiving a dividend of 300 kwh, each month. The positive benefits for low-income families, in damp, drafty houses, would be incalculable. Coupled with providing free meals in schools for children, it would be a major blow against child poverty in New Zealand.

But not if National get’s it’s way.

A new Labour-Green-NZ First-Mana coalition government must listen to people like Geoff Bertram, Ganesh Nana, et al, if we are to progress forward.

After Geoff Bertram, the crowd was entertained by Maarama Te Kira and Lucky Ngatuere,

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Following on from the entertainment, Jane Kelsey, Law Professor from Auckland University, addressed the Rally. Professor Kelsey is also one of the country’s acknowledged experts on globalisation, and a staunch critic of the TPPA (Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement), which is being negotiated in secrecy and condemned worldwide.

Professor Kelsey has also been the target of some fairly vindictive statements from the NZ Herald (see: Gordon Campbell on the NZ Herald’s attack on Jane Kelsey).

Professor Kelsey started by welcoming old friends to the rally,

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“…It was great to see lots of familiar faces from battles of the past, but it was also great to see so many young people here, because these battles are your battles for the future…

… I congratulate not only the organisor here, but  those who have been running the campaign  in Wellington gainst the asset sales, because it’s been a real inspiration across the country, and I know it’s being watched by people outside the country as well.

Some of those who are here will remember those battles we had in the mid 1980s when we were told that state-owned enterprises were simply a way of creating more efficient ways of keeping assets in  our hands. And we said at the time that it was a lie. And we knew it was a lie and they knew it was a lie. And we proved it was a lie and then they sold them off and then we had to buy them back.

Because as we predicted would happen, when you have private owners, especially private foreign owners, who have no stakes in our future, they will strip the assets. And thats what Bell-Atlantic and Ameritech did with Telecom and that’s what Wisconson Railways  did with the railways, and that’s what the [foreign ]banks that still own our banks, did with the Post Office Savings Bank and the BNZ and the Rural Bank, and so on, and we’ve been there and done that and we know what it means.”

At this point, Professor Kelsey held up a metre-square white board with heavy black lettering on it; ‘SAY NO’. It was a take on Winston Peter’s ‘NO’ sign from the Owen Glenn Donations affair in 2008. (see: Peters denies latest Owen Glenn allegations)  The placard provoked laughter from the crowd who obviously recalled the significance of it.

” They also know that the problem [for the neo-liberals] was that we were able to reverse some of those failed privatisations, and other things that failed. Like when they tried to privatise ACC. Like when they tried to de-regulate the electricity market. … So what they have is a new strategy designed to lock-in and make potentially irreversible the kinds of policies that they want to see rule in the interests of their cronies for the indefinite future.
These particularly  toxic legal products are known as Free Trade and Investment Agreements but they have nothing to do with trade, they’re actually investment protection agreements that make it almost almost impossible for us to be able to do the kinds of reversals of failed privatisations we’ve done in the past. We have a number of those agreements already.

And they are potentially causing some problems.
Some of you will have followed what’s happening with the tobacco companies, and their threats to sue over the introduction of plain-packaging tobacco. What we have now now is a particularly virulent strand of this this toxic disease. It’s known as the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, or the TPPA. We have other ways of describing the TPPA – Taking People’s Power Away. Toxic Profiteers Plundering Aotearoa.
What it’s designed to do, in particular in relation to investment, is to say ‘You have to open your doors without restrictions to the rights of foreign investors to be able to buy any of the assets within Aotearoa’.
Now, we already have an open door,  and they’ve already signed away the ability to reverse some of that.

But now they want to raise the thresholds even further, so that our ability to vet foreign owners is effectively taken out of our hands. But worse than that, once the foreign investors own the assets, these agreements give special guarantees to those foreign companies. They give guarantees that we will  not alter our future laws and policies in ways that significantly affect the value or the profitability of their investments.
So once we have – or they have – given away our assets, our ability to do anything to recover them is not only constrained by the kinds of threats that we’ve seen in the past and concerns about ‘crisis’ and ‘investor confidence’ and all of that other bullshit – we have threats from foreign investors under an agreement like the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, that they will sue our government not only for the loss of the value of their assets but the for the loss of future profits from those assets.
…It will not be a case that will be brought in our domestic Court. It is a case that will be brought in a secret, off-shore tribunal, where there will be three Arbitrators who would sit on the Hearing who last week were acting for an investor, and this week are acting as a judge in the cases brought before them by an investor. There is no system of  precedent, there is no openess so we can see the documents, or even sit in on the Hearings. There may not even be a publication of their judgement at the end of it!
These kinds of secret offshore tribunals are  so discredited now that many  governments are saying  they won’t agree to deals that allow foreign investors to have those powers.  And the Australians have said in the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement that they won’t agree to foreign investors having those powers.

Our government – when John Key was first asked about this – said, “Oh, well if the Australians don’t think it’s a good thing, it sounds a little bit off-beam to me, so I suppose we’d go where Australia goes”.

Then his officials officials briefed him and said, “Well, actually Prime Miniter, no, we’re going to agree  to foreign investors having these powers”.
So this Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is currently being negotiated. They want to try to close off the negotiations in October this year. The negotiations are all taking place in secret. We don’t get to see the final agreement until it’s signed off by the eleven countries negotiating it, which includes the US where the big foreign investors are based.
So, effectively the government is negotiating a Bill of Rights for foreign investors not only to enter and buy up this country, but to be able to threaten us in the future if we try to take back control of what is ours.”

Professor Kelsey invited the crowd to join in the campaign to oppose the TPPA, and pointed out information that was freely available on nearby tables. She warned the crowd,

“Join us in the campaign against the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, because so many of the things that we care about – We will not be able to effectively regulate in the future; we will not be be able to take back control of our future; if this agreement is passed. Parliament doesn’t get  an effective say on it. This is an agreement negotiated by the  Cabinet, it can be ratified by the Cabinet; and we have no say until it is a done deal.
We know that the Prime Minister is very good at secret done deals. We know that the Prime Minister is happy to do deals on behalf of his cronies. We know that the Prime Minister is prepared to sell out democracy, sovereignty, and tino rangatiratanga. And if we’re going to take back control of our futures then this agreement is a priority to stop this year, along with the asset sales.”

Professor Keley thanked the audience, who in turn cheered and clapped for her.

Meanwhile, Shane and Ariana (?) held aloft the anti-TPPA banner,

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Next up, Bishop Justin Duckworth – the Anglican Bishop of Wellington. He had some very personal but salient anecdotes to share with us,

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Bishop Duckworth greeted the crowd and started with this story from his own family,

” I was sitting out before and listening to the speakers, who were awesome, and I was suddenly talking to a new friend, I met a new friend, and he was telling me he was a father like I was a father, and we were discussing our children, and I suddenly remember a story that happened between my wife and my teenage boy. Classic conversation went down about domestic chores. And my beautiful wife, Jenny was saying to my boy, “it’s your turn to do the dishes”.

And he sort of said, “No, I did the dishes last night”.

And then she said, “I vacuumed the floor.”

And then he said, “Well, I watered the garden.”

And then she said, “Well, I dropped you to school.”

And it was escalating. Until my wife finally busted what I thought was the argument to end all arguments. And she said this; “I gave birth to you.”

I thought;  that’s it. Argument stopped. How could you argue with that?

My teenage boy had this comeback, “And your generation destroyed the environment for us.”

Good line, eh?

And it’s true isn’t? It’s true that our generation not only did we destroy the global environment, but  we have also instigated the global recession as well. And I think that the issues that we are talking about today about asset sales; the reason why that this issue in particular hits our public so strongly, and we have such a good turnout to this rally, is that because I think it’s at the core of a whole lot of other issues.

And so, as a man of faith, as a follower of Jesus, I just want to tell you what concerns me. And these are questions I have, I haven’t got the answers, but these are just questions.

Around asset sales I have questions  around the lack of regulation already  in place in the assets that we own…

… I heard Geoff speak, and I also read his articles, the reports about his papers a couple of weeks ago.  I am concerned that that it is simply not fair, and not just …”

“If we were to sell our assets how less a control do we have? If we already have such limited control at the moment on the regulation of them, how much more limited will it be in the future?”

My second question I would have is this. Recognising… that the Kai Tiaki of New Zealand is Tangata Whenua’s Maori people, and the wairua of this country, the spirit of this country is held by that Kai Tiaki, by the Maori people. I would have questions around what happens if we start selling our assets overseas, what does that mean for the Kai Tiaki here?

“… Third question would follow on from the Greenpeace speaker [Bunny McDiarmid - no recording of her speech made; blogger's stuff-up], and that woud be this; What happens to the environment longer term if we lose responsibility and control of our power companies? What guarantees do we have whether actually our environment and our global climate change issues will actually be positively addressed by our country? I think there are huge issues there if we choose to sell our assets.”

Bishop Duckworth then concluded with this sobering anecdote – something personal, yet with global implications in how we treat each other,

“…Those of you who don’t know, my father was born in Burma – in Myanmar. A few years ago I went back with him; never visited before, me and my brother went back to Burma. Took my dad, visited a whole lot of wider family.

Once we were on a temple tour, as you do on these sort of trips. We were touring around these temples, and me and my brother, having a lot of sibling rivalry, we’d constantly compete to see who could get the best bargain for the little knick-knacks. You know that I mean? Those little things you buy constantly. So me and my brother were constantly competing for who could get the best deal  on knick-knacks.

One night we were just finishing another temple tour and this guy sidled up to me and was selling me hand-painted pictures of Burmese countryside. Now I’ve been around long enought to know what you can normally get these pictures for.

Normally you pick these pictures up for about three US dollars.
But I was militant that night. And I thought I’m going to prove once and for all that I can run the biggest, best bargain in the world. So I drilled that fellow down to get the best  bargain I could. And in the end I managed to get four pictures for five US dollars!

…We were getting a lift home, and I was showing the pictures to my brother and saying, “Look, I’ve got the best bargain ever!”

And the driver of our horse and cart leant over and asked, “Hey, um, what’d you pay for those?”

I said, “I paid five US dollars for the four of them”.

He sez, “Ohhh, it must’ve been a bad day.”

I go, “What do you mean?”

“The man musn’t have been able to sell anything that day, so he had to sell his goods at cost price, at least at cost-price,  just to buy rice for his family.”

And suddenly I realised what was just some crazy game, ideological game, for me, was actually  life and death for other people.

And my big questions I have around this issue is this; is this some crazy ideological issue that we’ve been driven  here, or is it actually about everyday people who are struggling, who need jobs, who need security, who need a future, and who need decent power.

And that’s my question.”

Ariana then troduced Maanu Paul, Chairman of the Maori Council, and  who was currently taking the Government to the Supreme Court over water rights. Maanu Paul had some interesting observations, and made a call to action,

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Maanu Paul offered a greeting to the people at the rally, and then began with,

“When I was asked to come and speak, at this,  I asked, “who makes money out of this lot [asset sales] ‘?

And the answer was, we need to raise the consciousness of our nation in respect of our opposition to the sale of assets. The New Zealand Maori Council has had a long history of opposing the sale of our assets, beginning in 1986, when we established Section 9 of the State Owned Enterprises Act, which we said, “nothing in this Act shall be contrary to the Treaty of Waitangi”.

And then we had the lands case in 1987 when we stopped the sale of state owned land. And then we had a negotiation with the Crown over the sale of the biggest man-made forest in the southern hemisphere – the Kaingaroa Forest. And then they sold the spectra. And  we had an argument with the Crown over who owned the spectra. It’s about the same argumwent as who owns the water.

And the government of the day said, ‘Maori did not know anything about the spectra’. And I shot back to them, ‘Neither did they. An Italian  fellow named Marconi knew about it, and the Poms didn’t know anything about it at all’.

The upshot is that they allocated us a portion of the spectra and now we’re a part of Two Degrees.

Finally we come to the sale of the dams and the capacity to generate power. The whakapapa so far tells us that the constant that is present in all this is that the Maori Council has ensured that state owned assets stay in this country.”

There was strong applause at this point, and with a smile, Maanu Paul continued,

“Thank you. Because I’m going to ask you to put your hands in your pockets, because you owe us.”

More good natured laughter, and Maanu Paul’s smile widened, as the audience understood the nature of his remarks. He explained,

“You owe us because if we didn’t take this government to the Tribunal, to the High Court, and the Supreme Court, our assets would’ve been gone, would’ve been sold by now.

That is the reality of what we’re facing. And so the Council is dedicated to ensuring that we leave the world a better place for our mokopunas. We leave the world a better place that wehen we were born to it. And the world we were born to was, as far as I was concerned, I had the right to go and fish in my foreshore in my foreshore and seabed… heh heh heh…

I had the right to swim in my rivers and my lakes and call them my own. I had the right to do what I wanted with my land without having it confiscated.

And all of these tell me right now, that those rights have been eroded. Those rights have been eroded because this government, and previous governments, have failed to properly honour the Treaty of Waitangi.”

At this point, Maanu Paul called for direct action of a sort that up until now had not been considered. His comments have been reported in the media, and this is what he said, verbatim,

“And so my  message today, to us, is quite simply, is that we need to do more than sign a petition. We need to do more than gather in Frank Kitts Park, and what we need to do is to sit outside of Parliament and demand that we maintain the control of our assets.

What I’m suggesting – and I don’t know whether my Council’s going to agree with me about  this – but what I’m suggesting  is that we have a Noho Kainga [sitting] on Parliament grounds!

And we sit there until a fellow called Winston Peters might have put a Bill in Parliament that says ‘we are wishing to maintain ownership of the assets that we paid for in the taxes that’ve been levied upon us in the name of the public good’.

The audience resoponded enthusiastically to this suggestion, and the feeling was strong that many would’ve upped and left for Parliament’s ground at that very moment.

Maanu Paul continued,

“And the reason I’m saying this to you is that simply because there is no protection of your assets paid for by your taxes, which were levied upon you in the first place, in the name of the public good.

And we are the public and we should have a Nono Kainga to protect to protect our public good.”

Maanu Paul then sang a new “public anthem” to the crowd. This blogger can report that  his singing is something to behold – Maanu Paul has an awesome singing voice. Firstly his song was rendered in Maori, and then for the benefit of those who don’t yet know the language (including this blogger), in English,

‘I am the water, the water is me,

Cascading down,

from Ranginui,

Enveloping all,

The environment,

I am the water,

the water is me.’

Ariana asked the crowd,  “Yes, yes, yes! A sit down at Parliament – who’s up for it?

The response was shouted from the crowd loud and in affirmation.

A new people’s action may be in the offing… Stay tuned, folks. This ain’t over – not by a long shot. Or by John Key’s lamentable imagination.

A new chapter is unfolding.

Continued and concluded at:

Wellingtonians rally to send a message to the Beehive! (part toru)

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Additional

TV3: Asset sales referendum likely (6 Feb 2013)

TV3: Govt under fire over Contact redundancies (14 Feb 2013)

NBR: Supreme Court to ignore govt deadline on water rights decision (15 Feb 2013)

Youtube: Say No to Asset sales in Aotearoa NZ.mov

Copyright (c)  Notice

All images are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

  •     Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
  •     At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals.
  •     Acknowledgement of source is requested.

Relevant orgs

It’s Our Future

Keep our Assets

Aotearoa is not for Sale

Aotearoa is Not for Sale | Facebook

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= fs =

Wellingtonians rally to send a message to the Beehive! (part tahi)

17 February 2013 6 comments

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SOEs

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NZ, Wellington, 13 February 2013 – Set against an overcast early evening sky, and a chilly southerly, several hundred Wellingtonians of all ages, races, political affiliations, and backgrounds came together at Frank Kitts Park, on Wellington’s waterfront,

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Their common unity of purpose was to oppose the partial sale of state-owned assets,

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Electricity-dustry expert, Molly Melhuish, with others from DEUN (Domestic Electricity Users Network). Ms Melhuish (center, holding white clipboard)  is  intimately familiar with the working of the electricity industry in this country and was a key member in   campaigns to oppose electricity privatisation in the 1990s – including Wellington’s Capital Power.

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The messages were simple, and to the point. From Labour,

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… to the Mana Party,

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The message for National  was clear – what’s ours is ours,

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This Wellingtonian understood the folly and false-economy of selling state assets which are money-making cash-cows. Right wing politicians know this – but their zealous obedience to neo-liberal dogma seems to over-ride any semblance of common-sense,

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Many in the crowd were of an age to recall the sale of Telecom – something that was resisted by 93% of New Zealanders,

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Interestingly, at least one right-wing politician has belatedly realised that selling state assets was a mistake – see: Bolger: Telecom sale a mistake

Dedicated ANFS activist, Frances, had a very simple question for Dear Leader,

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ANFS activist, Athena, handing out leaflets to people in the crowd and discussing issues with them,

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With media filming the event, ANFS co-convenor, Ariana, opened the Rally with a welcome to the crowd and  an introduction of the speakers who had been invited to address the rally, with their thoughts on the sale of state assets,

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Frank Macskasy  Frankly Speaking  blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com aotearoa not for sale - 13 february 2013 - frank kitts park - wellington - anti asset sales

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The speakers came from a variety of backgrounds, and each gave their perspective on the issue of selling the people’s assets.

To be continued:

Wellingtonians rally to send a message to the Beehive! (part rua)

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Additional

TV3: Asset sales referendum likely (6 Feb 2013)

TV3: Govt under fire over Contact redundancies (14 Feb 2013)

NBR: Supreme Court to ignore govt deadline on water rights decision (15 Feb 2013)

Youtube: Say No to Asset sales in Aotearoa NZ.mov

Copyright (c)  Notice

All images are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

  •     Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
  •     At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals.
  •     Acknowledgement of source is requested.

Relevant orgs

It’s Our Future

Keep our Assets

Aotearoa is not for Sale

Aotearoa is Not for Sale | Facebook

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Heather Roy – head down the mine shaft?

5 November 2012 12 comments

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Both TVNZ’s “Q+A” and TV3′s “The Nation” today (4 November) carried interviews with Bernie Monk, regarding  the upcoming royal commission of inquiry report, due for release at 3.45pm this coming  Monday (5 November).

See: Pike River families to get first look at report

The Q+A interview was especially interesting, as the programme followed up with  panellists from the Left, Right, and a Political Scientist. In this case, the panellists were ex-ACT MP, Heather Roy; political pundit, Jon Johansson;  and ex-Labour Party President, Mike Williams.

The issue quickly shifted to the de-regulation of the mining industry, and the gutting of the Mines Inspectorate. All of which happened under the neo-liberal “reforms” of the Bolger-led government in the early 1990s.

As the Dept of Labour website stated (in a belated attempt to justify de-regulation, but which actually turned into a damning indictment of National in the early 1990s) regarding the backdrop to de-regulation,

The HSE Act 1992 and the Department’s role.

45. In broad terms, the HSE Act replaced heavily prescriptive standards (telling duty holders precisely what measures to take in a particular situation) with a performance-based approach, primarily by imposing general duties (sometimes referred to as goal setting regulation) such as to take ‘all practicable steps’ to ensure health and safety, leaving it to the discretion of the duty holder how they achieve that standard. This approach was coupled with greater use of performance standards that specify the outcome of the health and safety improvement or the desired level of performance but leave the concrete measures to achieve this end open for the duty holder to adapt to varying local circumstances. There was also a focus on systemsbased standards. These identify a particular process, or series of steps, to be followed in the pursuit of safety, and may include the use of formal health and safety management systems.

46. New Zealand embraced the Robens philosophy of self-regulation somewhat belatedly, but with particular enthusiasm and in the context of a political environment that was strongly supportive of deregulation. Indeed, in various forms, deregulation (and reducing the regulatory burden on industry more broadly) was strongly endorsed by the Labour Government that came into power in 1984 and by the National Government that succeeded it in 1990. The HSE Act was a product of this deregulatory environment and in its initial version was stripped of some of the key measures recommended by Robens, not least tripartism, worker participation and an independent executive. It was regarded, so we were told, as a ‘necessary evil’ at a time when the predominant public policy goal was to enhance business competitiveness…

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50. Put differently, whereas under the previous legislation, inspectors had been expected to go into workplaces and direct duty holders as to what safety measures they should introduce (the expectation being that the inspector rather than the employer would take the initiative) under the HSE Act employers bear primary responsibility for health and safety while providing information and support, particularly when it comes to establishing and developing health and safety systems and processes and takes enforcement action where the employer fails to meet the practicability standard.”

See: Review of the Department of Labour’s interactions with Pike River Coal Limited

The up-shot of  the above report is that instead of actively policing mines and their safety standards, it was all left to individual companies to address. Instead of being “prescriptive” as the DoL laments, individual companies were to adopt a “a performance-based approach” and to “to take ‘all practicable steps’ to ensure health and safety, leaving it to the discretion of the duty holder how they achieve that standard“.

Well, we know how that turned out.

29 men paid dearly for the liberalisation of safety regulations, in one of the most dangerous fields of  work on this planet.

The current state of our mines inspectorate is now so bad that even state-owned coal-mining company, Solid Energy publicly expressed it’s dis-satisfaction and called for the process to be handed over to Queensland for safety oversight,

Solid Energy has called for New Zealand’s mines’ inspectorate to be run out of Queensland, saying the lack of resource at the Department of Labour was partly to blame for the Pike River tragedy.

The state-owned power company is hoping to be the new owner of Pike River Coal, and said the best option to ensure the mine’s safety is to align New Zealand’s framework with that of Queensland.

“We are suggesting Queensland because we believe it is at the forefront of safety in Australia,” said chief executive Dr Don Elder.

“The industry needs research capability to look at the best advances overseas and evaluate how those might be applied locally.”

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However, Elder said because New Zealand mining is a small industry, it would be too expensive to provide all of those services, so the most sustainable option is to contract inspectorate and support services to Australia.”

See: Solid Energy wants Australia to run mines inspectorate

So what was ex-ACT MP, Heather Roy’s, response in the discussion, that followed the interview with Bernie Monk, who lost in son in the Pike River Mine disaster?

Her response, to put it mildly, was eye-opening and jaw-dropping. In what should have been a crystal-clear message to worshippers of  Neo Liberalism, that de-regulation does not always work as intended, she managed to totally ignore the lessons of the Pike River tragedy and deflected the conversation elsewhere,

HEATHER ROY:  Well, in part, but I think Bernie was right when he said the New Zealand public haven’t forgotten about Pike River mine. Things like the Royal Commission are gonna highlight that. The real thing, the tragedy for the families is always going to be ongoing for them. The thing is what lessons can we learn from this, and Mike was outlining some of the things that he thinks should be done. This might be a bit of a watershed for OSH, and that would probably be a good thing in the mining sector. Another thing that needs to be examined is New Zealand’s environmental policies. Should this have been an open cast mine? Should it have been closed? All of those things need to be discussed, not just for Pike River mine, but across the board.

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HEATHER ROY:  I think it’s a red hearing to blame deregulation for everything, though. What is actually important is the accountability that follows on from that. Deregulation in itself is not a bad thing. It’s what checks and balances are put in place so that accountability exists beyond that point- “

Source: TVNZ Q+A The panel

I’ve usually found Heather Roy to be the most rational of the right-wing nutjobs that pass for ACT MPs and supporters. She voices views – even if one disagreed with them – with a measure of coherency and logic that elicited a thoughtful response, rather than a gritting of teeth.

On this occassion, I gritted my teeth.

Right wingers make a fetish of demanding a high degree of personal responsibility from us, the Great Unwashed Masses.

See: ACT – Principles

But right wing political parties rarely (actually, never) take responsibility for their own actions.

It is fairly clear to everyone by now that the de-regulation of the mines inspectorates in the early ’90s was a grave mistake. 29 graves, to be precise.

So for Heather Roy to try to shift the blame onto OSH, when legislative “reforms” specifically stated that mines safety had devolved to individual companies, and was no longer the “prescriptive”  responsibility of the State is more than a little disingenous – it’s downright dishonest and insulting to all New Zealanders.

How can Roy say with a straight face, “I think it’s a red hearing to blame deregulation for everything, though. What is actually important is the accountability that follows on from that. Deregulation in itself is not a bad thing. It’s what checks and balances are put in place so that accountability exists beyond that point” – is beyond comprehension.

One can only assume she is relying on collective brainfade as to what National did in the early 1990s, and public lack of knowledge on this issue,  to try to get away with such bullshit.

How else does one explain her incredible statements,

I think it’s a red hearing to blame deregulation for everything, though.” – What else would one blame, when we went from seven mines inspectors in 1992 to 1, currently? When prescriptive safety regulations were replaced with companies taking voluntary “‘all practicable steps’ to ensure health and safety“?

What is actually important is the accountability that follows on from that. ” – It’s a bit too late for accountability after people have been killed in a disaster that need never have happened had stringent safety regulations not been removed.

Deregulation in itself is not a bad thing. ” – It is a bad thing when de-regulation results in injury or death, that was wholly preventable.

Perhaps Ms Roy would approve of de-regulating road safety rules? Would she endorse removing the speed limit, for example?

It’s what checks and balances are put in place so that accountability exists beyond that point” – At this point I had ground my teeth to nothing.  This comment contradicted her previous statement, “Deregulation in itself is not a bad thing“.

How can we ensure that “checks and balances are put in place so that accountability exists ” – when no regulation exists requiring “checks and balances“?!?!

Nothing Roy has said made any sense, and her assertions defy common sense understanding.

For an educated, articulate woman, she has allowed her natural intelligence to be clouded by the braindead dogma of neo-liberalism, which demands de-regulation and “small government” at any cost.

But there is always a cost.

Just ask 29 families on the West Coast.

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Other blogs

Tumeke: The myth of over-regulation and the delusion of self-regulation

The Standard: Two faced John Key on Pike River

Additional

Q+A: Transcript of Bernie Monk interview

Ministry of Labour: A Guide to the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992

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Dirty Dealings with Solid Energy

26 October 2012 14 comments

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Last year, on 19 May,  Solid Energy was one of five SOEs that National announced would be partially privatised (see: Budget 2011: Govt seeks $7 billion in asset sales). Bill English announced, with a naivetee usually reserved for wildly idealistic, wide-eyed  youth,

Well targeted investment in infrastructure helps lift productivity, which over time will mean better wages and higher living standards for New Zealand families.”

To which, as the youth of today might reply,

Yeah, whatever.”

By 29 August, this year,  as   demand from China lessened, and the price of coal dropped, Solid Energy announced plans to make 363 workers redundant.

CEO, Don Elder, said,

I am very aware of the impact these decisions will have on affected staff members and our communities, but we’ve had to make these difficult decisions to cushion the impact of the market and protect as much as we can of the long-term value of the business.”

Source

On 25 September, Key stated,

Now that the coal price is collapsing, essentially Spring Creek is not viable.

It’s never been in the position where it was going to come on to the market today.  It’s been a five-year programme, and if you ask me in three, four, five years’ time, the anwer might be different.” .

Source

Along with Maori Treaty claims over water rights, and papers being filed in the High Court on 23 October (see: Mighty River sale paused during court action) which will see a delay in removing Mighty River Power from the SOE Act, the realisation that Solid Energy was also unsaleable under current economic conditions was another unwanted ‘hiccup’ for National.

On the same day, Solid Energy anounced that redundancies would increase from 363 to 460 and staffing levels would reduce from 1,800 at the beginning of the year, to 1,360.

Christchurch was to lose half of the 313 jobs at Solid Energy’s head office – another ‘hit’ against this quake ravaged city, along with planned school closures; problems with insurance companies; and Cantabrians leaving the area.

Remember that, ostensibly, redundancies were related to international coal prices and profit losses – not the deferred partial-privatisation of the SOE.

Yet, according to Solid Energy’s own Results Announcements 2012 report,  the company’s income was actually better than the preceding year,

Good operating performance overtaken by asset write downs

• Trading performance was good in a deteriorating market with strong NZD. Underlying earnings were $99.7 million (2011: $86.2 million).
• Asset write downs of $110.6 million net of tax and other adjustments have resulted in a $40.2 million loss after tax (2011: $87.2 million).

See: Solid Energy New Zealand Ltd Results Announcement 2012

In plain english (not the mumbled  Prime Ministerial  version), Solid Energy made an after-tax profit of $99.7 million – an increase from $86.2 million in 2011.

Employing a  book-keeping, accountancy “trick”, Solid Energy  reduced their own asset values by $110.6  million. (That’s like saying your house was worth  $300,000 in 2011, but only $250,000 this year. You still have your house and you’re living in it – nothing else has changed. Only the theoretical valuation has ‘reduced’. Next year that valuation could rise back to $300,000 or even more or maybe less. That’s creative accountancy for you.)

The point is that Solid Energy’s profit rose from $86.2 million to $99.7 million.

In fact, Solid Energy’s revenue in 2012 was $978.4 million – almost a billion dollars – an 18% increase from the previous year.

The proposition that Solid Energy is more profitable than either Don Elder or National make out is born out by this interesting article,  in Taranaki’s ‘Daily News‘, on 12 October this year. It appears that Australian coal mining giant, Bathurst, is experiencing a growth in share value as it discovers greater coal reserves at its Buller project on the West Coast,

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Source

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Bathurst is proceeding with “an extensive drilling programme” – indicating that the company appears unphased by current coal prices and is investing long-term in recovering this resource.

So what to make of the planned 460 redundancies?

What to make of Bathurst’s share price rising and continuing to invest in a comprehensive drilling programme?

The only conclusion that one can arrive at is that planned redundancies are a covert operation to “maximise” Solid Energy’s value and “efficiency”. The cost of redundancies – estimated at around $10 million – will be paid by the taxpayer and not the shareholders of any future part-privatised company (see:  Foreign workers lured by ‘work for life’ among sacked miners).

Reducing staff numbers – commonly referred to as “re-structuring” – is a common technique for  companies to cut costs in an attempt to return to profitability, or to make it more attractive to potential investors or buyers.

It is interesting to note that National’s secret agenda  of “re-structuring” Solid Energy, to make the SOE viable for privatisation, is a technique quite familiar to our Prime Minister, John Key,

During Key’s brief spell for Merrill Lynch in Sydney in 2001, he helped fire 500 staff as part of savage worldwide retrenchment by the bank. In the past, Key has appeared proud of his ability to sack without feelings. He told Metro magazine: “They always called me the smiling assassin.”

These days he insists these were not cheerful sackings.

“In the end I had to carry out wider responsibilities, but I think I’m fundamentally a nice guy, but have to follow instructions,” he says. “

Source

As  Don Elder said,

I am very aware of the impact these decisions will have on affected staff members and our communities, but we’ve had to make these difficult decisions to cushion the impact of the market and protect as much as we can of the long-term value of the business.”

460 workers face the sack.

No doubt John Key is simply  “having to follow instructions“?

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Related previous blogpost

The real cause for Solid Energy mass redundancies? (5 September 2012)

Sources

Sunday Star Times: Who is John Key? (3 February 2008)

NZ Herald: Spring Creek mine work suspended (29 August 2012)

Dominion Post: Miners march on Parliament (25 September 2012)

Radio NZ: Hundreds of jobs going at Solid Energy (25 September 2012)

Daily News: Bathurst lifts Buller coal totals (12 October 2012)

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The real cause for Solid Energy mass redundancies?

5 September 2012 4 comments

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4 September 2012: Citizens of Greymouth, protesting at impending job losses from Solid Energy mines.

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On 16 August, Solid Energy undertook a review of it’s operations and workforce. CEO, Dr Don Elder,  announced,

 “While many in the industry still expect demand, driven by Asia, to pick up again strongly sometime in 2013 Solid Energy needs to plan to withstand these market conditions for at least the next 12 months and possibly for 24 months or longer.” he says. “As a consequence, we are reviewing all areas of our business, including current and future operations, all fixed and variable costs, and the values of some of our assets, which will result in us taking significant impairments. Our aim is to preserve cash through reduced spending while, as far as possible, maintaining our longer-term value opportunities.”

See:  Solid Energy – Continuous Disclosure

By 29 August, Solid Energy announced  140 jobs to go and a suspension of  operations at Spring Creek mine on the West Coast. A further 123 jobs were  to be cut at Huntly East Mine in Waikato.

See: Spring Creek mine work suspended

The following day, that number had risen to 250 job losses on the west Coast, and as one Greymouth retailer put it,

Two-hundred-and-fifty jobs, we’ve got a population of 8000 – it’s probably the equivalent of 40,000 people in Auckland jobs getting affected, so that puts it in perspective. “

On the same day, Solid Energy  reported a “loss” of NZ$40.2 million in the year to June 30, 2012,  compared to  a profit of NZ$87.2 million in 2011. (More on this shortly.)

See: Solid Energy reports $40m loss on big writedowns

No one can rationally argue that job losses on this scale, with ensuing loss of wages and company spending, will  have a devastating impact of the West Coast economy.  The losses will cause incalculable harm.

Solid Energy has attempted to justify redundancies by pointing to a drop in international coal prices; a fall in demand from  China; and a $40.2 million “loss” in profits.

Two of the above reasons have a degree of merit – the third reason has been mis-represented to the public.

International Coal Prices

Coal prices have indeed dropped.

From a recent high of NZ$185.47 per metric tonne in January 2011 – to NZ$113.33 at the end of July, this year. This is a drop of NZ$72.14 per metric tonne.

However the July 2012 price (NZ$113.33 per metric tonne)  is not  much different to the November 2009 price of NZ$115.52 per metric tonne. As a result of the November 2009 low price, Solid Energy had minimal redundancies,

There were 18 redundancies in the year at a cost of $367,050.”

See:  Commerce Committee 2009/10 financial review questions: Solid Energy New Zealand Ltd

That figure of 18 redundancies is in stark contrast to the 360 redundancies  this year.

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Source

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Demand from China

There is no doubt; demand for coal from China has  dropped,

Globally diversified miner Anglo American PLC said the global thermal coal market looks bearish in the short term, partly due to displacement of U.S. coal demand by shale gas and an economic slowdown in China, but it is still an attractive market over the medium to long term.

“In the short term, we will have a bearish market,” Norman Mbazima, chief executive of Anglo American’s Thermal Coal division, told analysts at a seminar. But “there is very good demand outlook for coal. Coal will continue to be the mainstay of electricity production in the world and this will underpin good prices into the future,” he said.

Gareth Griffiths, head of Anglo American’s Thermal Coal Marketing department, said that the main reason behind the recent collapse in thermal coal prices has been a slowdown in Chinese coal consumption growth.”

See: Anglo American – thermal-coal outlook bright (14 June 2012)

Coal demand is also expected to be fragile amid a weak economic outlook for the rest of the year.

A Reuters poll forecasts this year to see the slowest full-year of economic growth since 1999 as demand for China’s factory goods falls due to the debt crisis in its biggest customer the European Union.

“The coal market will remain challenging,” said Ivan Lee, a coal analyst at Nomura Bank.

FACTORY-DRIVEN REBOUND

Chinese coal prices can only rebound if demand recovers considerably, which requires the manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI) to rise above 50, economic growth to climb above 8 percent and power plants’ coal stocks to fall by half, Lee said.

The data, however, is not encouraging. The latest PMI showed China’s manufacturing sector contracted at its sharpest pace in nine months in August, with the index falling to 47.8 from 49.3 in July.

Even if China decided it needs more coal, which is unlikely, it will not seek it abroad as imports have become more expensive than domestic supplies, traders said.

Australian imports, based on the globalCOAL index, now cost around $3 per tonne more than Chinese prices, although some traders are selling blended material at lower rates.

See: Reuters – Output cuts help steady China’s coal prices, outlook (29 August 2012)

Whilst this may impact on Solid Energy’s profits (as compared to this year and 2011), Solid Energy’s viability does not seem threatened.

The only threat to Solid Energy is it’s saleability.  The more profit Solid Energy makes – the higher the share price when it is floated on the Stock Exchange. By contrast, the lower the the profit, the lower the share price.

Which may explain Bill English’s comment in the media item below, “English – Solid Energy not ready for sale”.

Solid Energy Profits

According to Solid Energy’s own Results Announcements 2012 report,  the company’s income was actually better than the preceding year,

Good operating performance overtaken by asset write downs

• Trading performance was good in a deteriorating market with strong NZD. Underlying earnings were $99.7 million (2011: $86.2 million).
• Asset write downs of $110.6 million net of tax and other adjustments have resulted in a $40.2 million loss after tax (2011: $87.2 million).

See: Solid Energy New Zealand Ltd Results Announcement 2012

In plain english (not the mumbled  Prime Ministerial  version), Solid Energy made an after-tax profit of $99.7 million – an increase from $86.2 million in 2011.

Employing a  book-keeping, accountancy “trick”, Solid Energy  reduced their own asset values by $110.6  million. (That’s like saying your house was worth  $300,000 in 2011, but only $250,000 this year. You still have your house and you’re living in it – nothing else has changed. Only the theoretical valuation has ‘reduced’. Next year that valuation could rise back to $300,000 or even more or maybe less. That’s creative accountancy for you.)

The point is that Solid Energy’s profit rose from $86.2 million to $99.7 million.

In fact, Solid Energy’s revenue in 2012 was $978.4 million – almost a billion dollars – an 18% increase from the previous year.

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See: Ibid

“Good earnings” indeed!

Any “loss” by Solid Energy is there a paper loss only; an accounting mechanism to revalue assets.  It’s profits remain unchanged.

Solid Energy therefore cannot rely on an imaginary “loss” to justify redundancies – because there was no loss.

It is noteworthy that Solid Energy’s decision to “mothball” Spring Creek mine and reduce staff at Spring Creek and Huntly follows one week on from this event,

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Full story

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Don Elder rejects all allegations that planned  redundancies are a covert attempt to increase Solid Energy’s profitability by reducing it’s labour costs,

This restructuring is not about increasing value, this is about saying `we have to do what we can afford to do.”

See: Mining job losses unrelated to asset sale: Elder

To which this blogger replies,

  1. There has been a downturn in international coal prices, and,
  2. Despite that, Solid Energy is profitable and it’s 2012 revenue exceeded last year’s, and,
  3. Bill English stated on 21 August that  “We wouldn’t be planning to float it [Solid Energy] any time soon”, and,
  4. A week later Solid Energy announced 250 redundancies and the closure of Spring Creek mine and,
  5. By contrast, there were only 18 redundancies in November 2009, even though the price per metric tonne was similar.

Coincidence? I think not.

Despite Elder’s protestations to the contrary, this blogger has no doubt whatsoever  that Solid Energy employers and the entire West Coast are paying dearly for National’s privatisation agenda.

There are some very dirty back room deals going on, and the wafting smell ain’t methane escaping from West Coast mines.

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Additional

English: Solid Energy not ready for sale

NZX: Solid Energy responds to very tough market

Solid Energy: Business Sustainability Principles

Good operating performance overtaken by asset writedowns

Hundreds turn out to support Spring Creek workers

Solid Energy reports $40m loss on big writedowns

Outlook for coal market worse than at the bottom of the GFC, Solid Energy says; ‘Reason why full Crown ownership is not suitable’

Index Mundi: Coal, Australian thermal coal Monthly Price – New Zealand Dollar per Metric Ton

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From Parliament, 2011, to Greymouth, 2012

4 September 2012 5 comments

Nothing better illustrates National’s Epic Fail in the matter of generating new jobs than these two events…

Last year, as National delivered it’s budget, Dear Leader John Key stated,

New Zealand can’t keep borrowing money at $380 million a week. We can’t have New Zealanders exposed to high interested rates, New Zealanders need a plan for jobs.

This is a budget that actually delivers that.

Treasury say in the Budget, as a result of this platform on what we’ve delivered, 170,000 jobs created and 4% wage growth over the next three to four years.”*

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Full Story

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Fast forward sixteen months later, to Greymouth,

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Full Story

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It seems an extraordinary situation  that we have arrived in when New Zealanders have to take to the streets to protest.  Not protesting to save our Conservation estates; nor our state assets from being flogged of;  or in favour of  gay rights; nor any other environmental, political,  or civil rights  issue – but merely to protect jobs in a community.

It is bizarre that this is what we’ve come down to; protesting for jobs.

Unfortunately, this is about as “good” as it gets for a National-led government. National, being a Party that adheres to free market  principles that only private enterprise can create jobs, is trapped in it’s own ideology.

Which means that, unlike the past government of Mickey Savage, National refuses to be proactive. It will not get involved in job creation initiatives because it believes it has no role to play in such an area. That is for the Marketplace to deliver.

We may be waiting for quite a while.

In  May of this year, unemployment stood at 6.7%.

See: Unemployment rate lifts to 6.7pc

By August it had risen to 6.8%.

See: Unemployment rises: 6.8pc

The next Quarterly result, for the September-November period, will most likely show a similar increase.

If  the partial-privatisation of  Meridian, Mighty Rive Power, and Genesis Energy proceeds – expect more redundancies further still.Privatisation nearly always results in job losses (and price increases) to generate greater dividend returns to private investors.

That is what it means to elect National to power.

See:  Highest jobless rate in 2 years

National is so wedded to free market dogma that this situation will worsen until such time as New Zealanders can no longer stomach a right-wing government and follow their French cuzzies into electing a more proactive centre-left government.  Only then will a centre-left government deal with unemployment and focus on proactive stategies to create jobs.

See: Labour shortage here to stay, so we had better get used to it

We’ve been ‘here’ before, in history.  This blogger has seen this political drama repeated decade after decade since the 1970s.  (In fact, it’s getting rather tediously predictable.)

Unfortunately for the decent, hardworking people of Greymouth and elsewhere in New Zealand, the tragic drama  of unemployment, family life disruption,   social dislocation, and harm to business,  must play out before the final Act is staged on Election Night.

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* At least, that’s what we hope he said. This blogger is checking the Parliamentary Translation Unit to confirm.

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Drug Testing the Unemployed – National’s Epic Fail at Job Creation

29 August 2012 31 comments

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This blogger has three questions for John Key and  the National Party,

1. Is is true that Paula Bennett made a correct statement when she  admitted on TVNZ’s Q+A, on   29 April 2012,

No. There’s not a job for everyone that would want one right now, or else we wouldn’t have the unemployment figures that we do. ” – Source

2. If National can claim the Global Financial Crisis as the reason for New Zealand’s low economic growth – why does the same rationale not apply to the unemployed, and if it does, why spend an estimated $14 million on drug testing when joblessness is a result of economic circumstances, and not drug-induced laziness?

3. How is National’s pledge to create 170,000 new jobs – made in November last year – working out? Especially when unemployment recently increased from 6.7% to 6.8%?

A day after National announced it’s intentions to drug-test the unemployed, Solid Energy broke the news that it was planning to make up to 263 of it’s miners, contractors, and other staff, redundandant.  Workers from Huntly East Mine and Spring Creek on the West Coast will lose their jobs.

See: Beneficiary drug testing plans unveiled

See: Spring Creek mine work suspended

This follows on from other redundancies announced just this year alone,

How many of the above redundant workers will Bennett insist be drug-tested?

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But more to the point – is this really a problem? Or, as is likely, is this a shameful attempt by National to deflect attention away from rising unemployment; their failure to manage an economy to generate new jobs; and to deflect blame onto the unemployed?

Because any sane, dispassionate analysis of this problem does not indicate that drug taking is the cause of 162,000 people currently out of work.

See: Unemployment rises: 6.8pc

Especially when in 2007, unemployment stood at 3.4%  – or 77,000 people!

See: Household Labour Force Survey December 2007 quarter

What has changed?

As National ministers  like John Key, Bill English, Gerry Brownlee, et al  like to consistently remind us – when their economic track record is held up for scrutiny – it’s called the “Global Financial Crisis”,

We did inherit a pretty bad situation with the global financial crisis. ” – John Key

See: View from the Top

In the midst of a very deep global downturn we expect volatility and low growth, as we are seeing around the world economies.” – Steven Joyce

See: Parliamentary Questions and Answers – August 29

However, the government deferred the increase due to the challenging economic circumstances New Zealand was experiencing as it continued to recover from the global financial crisis and the Canterbury earthquakes.” – Gerry Brownlee

See: Petrol excise, road user charges increases

The global economic situation is like a dark cloud on the horizon and it’s not going to go away possibly for a generation – certainly for 15 or 20 years.” – Bill English

See: English warns of financial crisis lasting a generation

It’s abundantly clear that National has no reservation in blaming the Global Financial Crisis for the sad state of our economy.  They refer to overseas influences time and time again.

So why does the same economic situation not apply to other economic indicators – like unemployment?

Why try to smear unemployed – who up until recently were in full-time, paid, employment – and brand them as drug-taking, lazy, “bludgers”?

Why did Bennett make this statement,

Recreational drug use is simply not an acceptable excuse for avoiding available work. Thousands of working New Zealanders are in jobs requiring they be clean of drugs; it’s reasonable to expect someone looking for work to do the same.”

See: Beneficiary drug testing plans unveiled

Bennett is implying that someone looking for work must be on drugs? Why?

The answer, I submit to the reader, is that National is playing to it’s audience of middle class, low-information voters; right wing extremists; and the plain crazy nutjobs. These are the target demographics for the Nats.

Because any sane person will look at the above list of redundancies from the likes of Brightwater Engineering, Telecom, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, etc,  – and wonder – WTF?! Why is National spending $14 million of my tax dollars on drug-testing redundant engineers, telecommunication workers, diplomats, etc?!

Because it plays to an audience of predominantly middle class (and quite a segment of the working class), who find it all to easy to believe the cliched  stereotypes  that depict  All Welfare Beneficiaries Are There By Choice. Internet fora are full of uninformed, prejudiced, and outright  crazy ‘trolls’ who revel in their distorted view of those on welfare, or low-paying jobs.

Never mind that four years ago we had half the unemployment we do now.

Do those ignorant fools believe that unemployed are out of work by choice, having given up their average wage/salary of $800 to $900 per week, so they could live in luxury on $204.96 (net, weekly unemployed benefit)?

See: WINZ Unemployment Benefit (current)

Drug testing the unemployed has nothing to do with any perceived problem with drug abuse.

This is a carefully constructed, skillfully diseminated, lie.

National is spending $14 million on a problem that does not exist.

National is desperate to turn public attention away from,

  1. Increasing unemployment
  2. Increasing poverty levels
  3. More and more New Zealanders heading overseas
  4. A stagnating economy
  5. National’s lack of traction in creating the 170,000 new jobs they pledged last year

Middle Class voters are being targetted by National’s tax-payer funded spin doctors and political strategists. Their agenda is clear and simple;

  • Brand  the unemployed as “lazy” and “on drugs”.
  • So it can’t be a failure on the part of National to create the 170,000 new jobs they promised us.

See: Budget 2011: Govt predicts 170,000 new jobs

Above all else, National’s nasty little strategy is an admission of failure on their part. They have failed utterly to,

  • grow the economy
  • create jobs
  • raise wages
  • stem the flow of skilled New Zealanders to Australia

Because clearly, if a government was building an economy that was generating more and more jobs, then what would be the need to create a bogeyman of lazy, drugged unemployed?

Especially when Labour presided over a growing economy with low unemployment,

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There was no talk of “lazy/drugged unemployed”  in 2007.

No Global Financial Crisis either.

Truly, National has hit rock bottom with this vile strategy. How long, one wonders, before the middle classes out in Voterland realise that they are being conned by some very cunning politicians and their back-room strategists?

A question for the Middle Classes;

We live in uncertain times. Any one of us are only one step away from being unemployed ourselves. How  would you feel being branded a possible drug-user by the likes of Paula Bennett and John Key?

Not too happy I’d suspect?

And one final question for the Prime Minister,

Where are the jobs?

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Previous related blogpost

Jobs, jobs, everywhere – but not a one for me? (Part Toru)

What’s up with the Nats? (Part rua)

Related Information

Employment-Unemployment Fact Sheet #1: Queues for Vacancies

Other blogs

Tumeke: What the real aim of drug testing beneficiaries is

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Asset Sales: all down?

24 August 2012 10 comments

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Continued from: Asset Sales: two down, three to go!

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As predicted, the Waitangi Tribunal has issued a report endorsing a delay to asset sales until the issue of water rights can be resolved,

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Full story

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Specifically, the report recommends,

  • Maori have long established property rights over water bodies
  • Ownership precedents date back to 1929 when Nga Puhi was granted ownership of Lake Omapere
  • Maori culture and rights should not be relegated and ignored.
  • The claim is not opportunistic
  • Offering shares in the companies to Maori is not a remedy
  • Shares in conjunction with enhanced power on the boards of these companies could provide meaningful recognition
  • It is impossible for the Tribunal to recognise all Maori water rights across the whole country
  • It is possible to devise an appropriate scheme for Maori affected by the sale of the assets but more time is needed

Source

If, as Dear Leader John Key stated on 10 July, that National could decide to  ignore the Tribunal’s findings (because they are non-binding), then the matter will head to the High Court.

Either way, the asset sale process has been stalled.

The Tribunal’s decision is yet another nail in the coffin of this wretched privatisation agenda.

As pointed out in a previous blogpiece ( Asset Sales: two down, three to go! ), the process has been hampered by corporate interests; low shares prices (Air New Zealand); poor international commodity prices (Solid Energy’s coal); and lower than anticipated revenue from certain electricity companies.

This blogger sez; thank god for the Treaty of Waitangi. We may yet save our state assets from being stolen from us, the people.

Who would have thought that the Treaty – designed in 1840 to protect Maori assets from ruthless activity by colonials – would 172 years later protect the assets owned by ALL New Zealanders.

National and it’s redneck supporters may object with shrill hysteria.

Tough.

These assets belong to all of us. Not just those with the money to buy them.

And it’s a bit rich for National politicians and their sycophantic supporters and fellow travellers to now be insisting that “no one owns the water”.

Especially since the concept of private ownership for land, trees, fishing quota, airwaves, etc, etc, etc, was inytroduced by Pakeha to New Zealand.

Now the architects of the capitalist notion of private ownership are screaming for collective ownership over water?

Get real, you rednecks.

Vocal right wingers and anonymous commentators on various internet fora are simply livid that Maori are exercising the same rights that Pakeha themselves have used for their own benefit and wealth-accumulation for the last two hundred years.

National may well begin to comprehend that it is on a hiding to nowhere on this issue.  It is time for John Key to comprehend,

  • The majority of New Zealanders do not want state assets privatised
  • Maori have a legitimate intrerest in water rights if states assets are privatised
  • Privatisation is opening a can of worms with corporate vultures circling overhead, looking for cheaper power deals
  • The State will not earn anything near the $5 to $7 billion that Bill Enlish has been anticipating

John Key, it is time to knock asset sales on the head.

You’ve lost.

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Additional

Asset sales in Air New Zealand also doubful this term

Solid Energy revenue slump could delay sale by years

Tribunal finds SOE share sales a breach, but offers solution

Energy float may turn into a s(t)inker

Other blogs

No where to go on Maori water rights

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That was Then, This is Now #14

20 June 2012 1 comment

Devonport: their cheeky contradiction of Private Ownership vs Public

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Immigration & Customs for new arrivals

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Residents angry at Devonport Treaty settlement

Updated at 4:52 pm on 31 March 2012

Residents of the Auckland suburb of Devonport challenged a Treaty of Waitangi settlement at a public meeting on Saturday.

An agreement reached by the Government in November allows Ngati Whatua o Orakei to buy a 3.2 hectare block at Narrow Neck which is currently used by the Defence Force.

The terms of the sale would allow the hapu to develop the land after the navy finishes using it.

But many residents are against private ownership of the land and say they want the entire headland protected from commercial development.

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About 300 residents attended the meeting held on the Defence Force land, to hear an explanation of the sale from the Minister for Treaty Negotiations, Chris Finalyson.

Mr Finlayson clarified that the neighbouring Fort Takapuna reserve and parts of the headland closest to the sea would not be sold and would be kept open to the public.

He said residents could make submissions to the Maori Affairs Select Committee which is handling the settlement.

Almost all of the people who spoke at the meeting opposed the sale and many left the meeting saying they remain angry at the situation. ” – Source

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It seems that the good people of Devonport are somewhat ‘miffed’ that 3.2 hectares of land at Devonport will be part of a Treaty settlement with Ngati Whatua o Orakei. The land is currently legally protected under the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act – but this protection will cease once it becomes private land  as part of the  the settlement.

It is worth noting that the 3.2 hectares in question is only a small fraction of the 31,565 hectares taken by the colonial government since colonisation. 3.2 our of 31,565 hectares – about .o1% of what that tribe possessed before the “rule of Britain” took hold of the countrry. (The  same “rule of Britain” that supposedly recognised and protected property rights, but never mind about that.)

Locals are upset at the prospect of the Treaty settlement. As many of stated, they want the land to be protected and do not want it passed over to private ownership. Once in private ownership, they say, the land might be developed.

(Just as land taken from Ngati Whatua o Orakei was on-sold to colonists, who then developed it. Ie; they built houses.)

So I guess the lesson I’m learning here is; land development is ok if it’s by pakeha.

But not ok, if it’s by Maori?

Ok, got it.

But what really amuses me is that the people of Devonport seem to have a somewhat ambiguous approach to the notion of an asset  held by the community for community purposes – and a community asset that can be sold into private ownership…

Folks, welcome to Devonport…

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Devonport is the southern part of the North Shore electorate,

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North Shore Electorate

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At last year’s election, the voters of North Shore voted over-whelmingly for the National Party candidate, former radio and TV presenter, Maggie Barry,

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Party Candidate Votes % ±% Party Votes % ±%
National Green tick Maggie Barry 22,709 62.44 +0.59 23,113 62.16 +4.10
Labour Ben Clark 7,481 20.57 -3.44 6,036 16.23 -5.17
Green Pieter Watson 2,802 7.70 +1.50 4,035 10.85 +4.24
ACT Don Brash 1,293 3.56 -0.41 714 1.92 -5.55
Conservative Craig Jensen 904 2.49 +2.49 829 2.23 +2.23

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Source

As the above chart clearly reveals, over 62% of voters gave their Party and Electorate votes to National.

That’s the same National Party that campaigned on a policy of partial privatisation of Genesis Energy, Meridian, Mighty River Power, Solid Energy, and a further sell-down of Air New Zealand.

By contrast, those parties (Labour, Greens, NZ First) that campaigned against state asset sales received only 30.74% of the Party vote.

So I think we get a fairly clear idea where there hearts and minds of North Shore (including Devonporters) voters lies; firmly in the Tory bosom. North Shore/Devonport is about as ‘blue‘ as you can get. And they certainly didn’t seem to mind too much about National’s stated policy of partial-asset sales, did they?

The sale of community owned assets didn’t seem to occupy the minds of North Shore voters last year? So it seems a bit rich that that Devonport folk are now up-in-arms about Crown land being returned to their original owners – when several SOEs will soon end up in partial foreign-ownership.

So they have a bit of a cheek to protest now, when they couldn’t care less about privatisation last year. In fact, I would say they pretty much got what they voted for.

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NGATI WHATUA O ORAKEI NAVY DEAL

Hapu to buy:

* Five New Zealand Defence Force housing blocks for $95.63 million. These will be leased back to the Crown for five years.

* Defence land at Wakakura Cres for $10 million.

* Defence land at Narrow Neck for $13.8 million.

* Deal vests a 33.64ha conservation area in tribe’s name. To be used as a recreation reserve administered jointly by tribe and Auckland Council.

* Purewa Creek’s name to be changed to Pourewa Creek.

* $18 million – $2 million already received through hapu’s 1993 Railways settlement.

* Rights of first refusal for 170 years over surplus Crown-owned properties. ” – Source

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The Muppet Show – Kiwi style!

21 February 2012 5 comments

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I just want to emphasise that it is not our best guess; it’s just a guess. It’s just to put some numbers in that look like they might be roughly right for forecasting purposes.

“That’s an honest answer.”Bill English, 17 February 2012

That may be an “honest answer” – but it also has to rank as one of the dumbest in New Zealand’s political history.

To explain what Bill English was being “honest” about,

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Full Story

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That’s right, folks, our Finance Minister has just let slip that National has no idea how much money they will raise from the part-privatisation of Genesis Energy, Might River Power, Meridian, Solid Energy, and Air New Zealand.

They don’t have a clue.

The $5 -$7 billion they have been quoting pre and post election are figures seemingly plucked out of hot-air from Parliament’s oxygen-depleted atmosphere. (Oxygen depletion tends to have unpleasant side-effects on a brain such as confused, muddled, thinking.)

John Key – realising that Bill English had made National the laughing stock of the country – jumped in, changing the “best guess” to a “best estimate”,

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Full Story

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However, Key didn’t help matters much when he added,

I think they are our best estimates”.

“There are lots of variables in there … what we do know is the Crown will absolutely have a minimum of 51 per cent shareholding but could have more. We don’t know what price the market will pay at the time; we don’t know the exact timing of all these particular floats.”

So let’s see.  Key and English don’t know any of the following,

  • How much will be raised by the partial-privatisation?
  • Whether they will end up with 51% ownership – or more?
  • Or even the timing of the “floats” (sale of shares)?
  • Or what price the shares will be sold at???

No wonder Greens co-leader Russel Norman said, in utter exasperation,

That isn’t how we should be running the finances of New Zealand.”

Norman wasn’t playing usual political one-upmanship games – he was voicing the entire country’s disquiet at what is rapidly looking like mickey mouse incompetance.

Yet again this is an example of National simply not being up-with-the-play.  Much like unaffordable tax-cuts of ’09 and ’10; the Jobs Summit of 2009 that achieved very little;   the credit down-grade they “never saw coming”; the broken promise on raising gst; the $1.4 billion revenue short-fall – National’s economic policies seem to be ad-hoc at the very best.

No wonder even the business community was left wondering if National had any plan at all for economic recovery.

If this was the Muppet Show, it might look something like this,

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Instead, it looks like this,

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Full Story

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These two clowns muppets are in charge of billions of dollars worth of public property?

I am not reassured. In fact, I wouldn’t trust these two to run  a charity sausage sizzle.

I can imagine how that would end badly,

  • 1 x sausage, @ 50 cents wholesale
  • gas, onion, sauces, napkin, est. 50 cents per sausage
  • Retail price: ? 40 cents   60 cents   75 cents!

Cue: muppet theme & roll credits.

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Other Blog stories

Selling assets will cost us more than keeping them – the idiocy of National

“Best guess?” – National and Fairfax are working very hard for one another

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Government sprung on SOE sale plan!!

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Full Story

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As well as trying to “quietly” drop all references to Treaty obligations, under Section 9 of the SOE Act 1986 – something guaranteed to buy a fight with their coalition partner, the Maori Party -  there are other  revelatory aspects  of the draft Treasury document that should  also be a matter of considerable concern.

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[1]

The Government’s mixed ownership model

Intitial public offerings (IPOs)

An initial public offering, or share float as they are often called, is a way of selling some or all of a  company to a large number of investors. Shares in the company are offered for sale to retail investors (individuals, sometimes referred to as “mums and dads”) through an advertising campaign to the public and through shareholders.Source

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[2]

Intitial public offerings (IPOs)

Once a minority shareholding in each company is sold, the government proposes that the company will be governed in the same way as other listed companies and that they will be subject to the Companies Act 1993 and other relevant legislation, the NZX listing rules and the companies’ constitutions.  The crown will not reserve any special rights  to itself, except that it is still to decide whether it will a have any special power to approve the chairman of the Board, as it has for Air New Zealand.” Source

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With regards to Paragraph 1, above, it is interesting that the Treasury report refers to “retail investors (individuals, sometimes referred to as “mums and dads”)“. In effect, it is a ‘slip’ on Treasury’s part, acknowledging the reality that “mum and dad investors” is simply propaganda “code” (newspeak) for common, garden-variety, investors.

There is nothing “mum and dad-ish” about corporate share-brokers working on behalf of investment companies.

Government uses the term “mum and dad investors” to hide the reality that shares in part-privatised SOEs will be purchased by individuals in dapper suits and silk ties, operating  out of very nice offices, on behalf of Very Big Corporate Clients.

Government myth: busted.

Paragraph 2, above, is even more insidious and refers to, “Once a minority shareholding in each company is sold, the government proposes that the company will be governed in the same way as other listed companies and that they will be subject to the Companies Act 1993 and other relevant legislation…” and furthermoremore, “The crown will not reserve any special rights  to itself…”.

In effect, once partially-privatised, the Government intends that none of  the entire State Owned Enterprise will  be governed by the State Owned Enterprises Act 1986. (Not just the privatised 49% part.)

Specifically, Section 4 of the Act,

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 Principal objective to be successful business
  • (1) The principal objective of every State enterprise shall be to operate as a successful business and, to this end, to be—

    • (a) as profitable and efficient as comparable businesses that are not owned by the Crown; and

    • (b) a good employer; and

    • (c) an organisation that exhibits a sense of social responsibility by having regard to the interests of the community in which it operates and by endeavouring to accommodate or encourage these when able to do so.

    (2) For the purposes of this section, a good employer is an employer who operates a personnel policy containing provisions generally accepted as necessary for the fair and proper treatment of employees in all aspects of their employment, including provisions requiring—

    • (a) good and safe working conditions; and

    • (b) an equal opportunities employment programme; and

    • (c) the impartial selection of suitably qualified persons for appointment; and

    • (d) opportunities for the enhancement of the abilities of individual employees.

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And most specifically, this part of  it’s Principal Objectives,

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“…an organisation that exhibits a sense of social responsibility by having regard to the interests of the community in which it operates and by endeavouring to accommodate or encourage these when able to do so.”

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Any committment to promoting clean, sustainable energy; considering the needs of the community in it’s activities; and other social responsibilities will all vanish if  the SOEs concerned are “ governed in the same way as other listed companies and that they will be subject to the Companies Act 1993 and other relevant legislation… [and] …the crown will not reserve any special rights  to itself…”

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In the case of Genesis Energy, Mighty River Power, and Meridian Energy – their sole objective will be to make greater profits for government and private share-holders.

Those profits will be generated by raising power prices.

Guess who pays those higher power prices? (Clue: look in the mirror.)

Right about now, any person reading this who voted for National last year must be entertaining serious regrets at ticking “National” for the Party Vote. Those folk who voted for National – and conversely, those who failed to go out and vote for an alternative Party opposed to asset sales – must be wondering if they will end up paying for their voting choices.

Of course they will  pay for voting National.

Every month. When their power bill comes in.

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Additional

NZ Herald: Asset sale draft plan internet blunder

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Dunne’s Dumb Deal?

5 December 2011 3 comments

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Full Story

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What Mr Dunne gets:

- No sale of KiwiBank or Radio New Zealand.
- Statutory limits will be introduced on the sale of public asset to no more than 49 per cent of shareholding to private interests and limits would be put on the extent of single entity ownership.
- A ban on guided helicopter hunting on conservation land will be introduced to Parliament.
- The budgets of both Radio New Zealand and Television New Zealand will be maintained.
- The Families Commission will be revamped.
- There will be public consultation on Mr Dunne’s Flexi-Super policy.
- Guaranteed access to rivers, lakes, forests and coastline.
- An agreement to reintroduce Mr Dunne’s income sharing legislation which failed to win enough support in the last Parliament.
- Free health-checks for over 65-year-olds would also be investigated.

Whoa…! Back up that coalition-pony, sonny boy!

No sale of KiwiBank or Radio New Zealand?!?!

Since when did National advocate or campaign on the privatisation of Kiwibank or Radio New Zealand?

In fact, John Key made it a campaign promise that Kiwibank was not up for sale, and that the only state assets on the block were Genesis Power, Meridian, Might River Power, Solid Energy, and Air New Zealand. No mention whatsoever of Radio NZ or Kiwibank.

What’s going on here?

Either Peter Dunne is telling fibs and creating a false “victory” – or else National had a secret agenda of further asset asales!?

Someone is misleading the public.

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+++ Updates +++

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Full Story

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The above article starts out positive and seemingly Dunne has succeeded in saving TVNZ7 from disappearing and being replaced by a shopping channel…

Until one reads this in the same piece,

I would have preferred to have got a much more explicit agreement regarding the future of TVNZ 7 but the National Party wouldn’t go there.”

And Dunne  then adds,

TVNZ keeps saying it needs to run as a commercial body, and it obviously makes its own decisions, but I think it needs to recognise there is a significant chunk of the population that prefers the approach TVNZ 7 takes and would be very disappointed if that channel was to close.

So he really hasn’t “saved TVNZ7″ at all. In fact, Dunne admitted as much this morning (Dec 6) on Radio NZ, when he said on “Morning Report“,

” …I wanted to get an absolute committment  to the retention of TVNZ7. We weren’t able to get that. The government wasn’t prepared to make that, uh, concession…”

Ok, so let’s sum this up,

  • Dunne get’s a promise from National that neither Kiwibank nor Radio NZ will be sold.
  • But National never suggested selling Kiwibank or Radio NZ in the first place.
  • So what kind of “victory” is it to get a committment on something that the Nats weren’t intending to do anyway?
  • Dunne then negotiates to get an absolute committment to save TVNZ7.
  • And fails.

Have I missed anything?

Moving right along…

“Free health-checks for over 65-year-olds” – ???

Great. More rip-offs from my generation, the Baby Boomers. Everyone else has to pay for health checks – but all of a sudden we get freebies?

Yet again Baby Boomers – being a sizeable bloc of voters – gain tax-payer funded social services whilst everyone else has user-pays.

No doubt these “free health checks” will be funded from that sale of state assets. Once again Baby Boomers are ripping off future generations for our own selfish benefit.

The word obscene comes to mind.

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Email  Peter Dunne to let him know what you think about asset sales:

p.dunne@ministers.govt.nz

ohariu.mp@parliament.govt.nz

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