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Posts Tagged ‘Mighty River Power’

Blogger lays complaint with Commerce Commission – *UP-DATE*

30 April 2013 5 comments

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Continued from: Blogger lays complaint with Commerce Commission

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Commerce commission logo

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On 1 April (not an April Fools Joke) this year, this blogger laid a complaint with the NZ Commerce Commission, regarding National’s dealings with Mighty River Power and Rio Tinto’s Tiwai Pt aluminium smelter.

The complain was as follows,

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Tony Ryall has recently announced that the NZ Government is intervening directly in negotiations between Meridian Energy and Rio Tinto (which is 80% owner of Tiwai Aluminium Smelter).

Mr Ryall has said,

“With this in mind, the Government has been in contact with Pacific Aluminium’s international parent company Rio Tinto this week to discuss helping to bridge the gap in their positions over the short to medium term, if this could be of assistance in concluding an agreement.

“In the meantime, we understand Meridian’s existing contract with Pacific Aluminium remains in place at least until 1 January 2016 with significant financial and other obligations beyond that.”

Ryall added that “all relevant information – including about the smelter electricity contract – will be reflected in the Mighty River Power offer document which is currently being finalised”.

Source: NZ Herald, Govt steps in to sort out stalled Tiwai power deal ( http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10874174)

I therefore submit the following;

(1) This appears to be a prima facie case of the NZ Government manipulating the future stock price of Mighty River Power (and other state owned powercos), by offering a subsidy to Rio Tinto.

(2) This subsidy is not available to any other company nor individual.

(3) As such, I submit that the NZ Government’s intention to subsidise electricity that is provided to Rio Tinto is done with a view to reduce competition in the market.

Specifically, I draw the Commission’s attention to the Commerce Act 1986; sections 27, 30, and related clauses.

(4) Furthermore, I submit that if any other corporation, company, institution, or individual attempted such an act, that they would be deemed to be guilty of price fixing and manipulation of the market.

I await your response and thank you for your consideration of my complaint.

-Frank Macskasy

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Being somewhat naive, I believed that attempting to  instigate events, that would keep the price of shares for a specific company at an inflated value,  would constitute a form of manipulation of  the share market.

Silly me.

What was I thinking?!

The Commerce Commission replied four weeks later,

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from:     Contact <contact@comcom.govt.nz>
to:     “fmacskasy@gmail.com” <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
date:     Mon, Apr 29, 2013 at 9:56 AM
subject:     282199 Meridian Energy Limited and the government

Thank you for the information you provided the Commission regarding the Government’s announcement that it will intervene directly in the negotiations between Meridian Energy and Rio Tinto (owners of Tiwai Aluminium Smelter).  You suggest that this intervention would amount to price fixing

 We assessed the information you have provided and we are satisfied that the Commerce Act is unlikely to have been breached in this instance. Although it owns one of the parties to these negotiations, Meridian Energy, the Crown appears to have tried to meditate in this dispute on an “honest broker” basis. As such, the Crown probably would not have been in trade for the purposes of this exercise.

 The above is merely our view that no prima facie breach of the Commerce Act has occurred. Such a view is not a ruling of law, as only the courts can decide whether there is a breach of the Act. The Commission’s decision not to pursue this matter does not prevent an individual from initiating their own action.

 We have closed the file in regard to your complaint enquiry number 282199.

 Yours sincerely

 Katey Salmond

Commerce Commission |Senior Contact Centre Adviser
44 The Terrace |PO Box 2351 |Wellington 6140 |New Zealand
Free phone 0800 943 600 |Fax +64 (04) 924 3700
Follow us on Twitter @NZComCom

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One would have thought that by providing subsidised (cheaper) electricity to Rio Tinto’s aluminium smelter; for a short term period (as Dear Leader has stated:  PM John Key says fresh Mighty River Float detail due on Friday; may include detail on risks around Tiwai Pt closure);  for the purpose of maintaining a high price for Mighty River Power’s shares – would constitute a form of share-market manipulation.

After all, the point of the whole exercise was to maintain Mighty River Power’s share-value. As Key himself pointed out on 2 April,

“But obviously, for the number of people involved, the jobs, the impact on the local community and the impact in the short term on the electricity markets, the government would like to see the orderly exit of the smelter, or a long term agreement between the companies.”

Acknowledgment: Interest.co.nz – PM John Key says fresh Mighty River Float detail due on Friday; may include detail on risks around Tiwai Pt closure

In an ironic side-issue, it’s interesting to note that merchant bankers, share-brokers, Federated Farmers, etc, haven’t raised merry hell on this issue – as they did with the Labour-Green proposal for a single electricity buyer-desk, NZ Power.

I think we can see all manner of vested interests involved here.

Last point, Ms Salmond writes in her 29 April email to me,

The Commission’s decision not to pursue this matter does not prevent an individual from initiating their own action.”

That almost comes across as a sly hint…

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Mighty River Power, Members of Parliament, and Conflicts of Interest

26 March 2013 16 comments

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On 27 June last year,  on the last episode of TVNZ7’s ‘Backbenches’, Minister for Courts, Associate Minister of Justice, and Associate Minister for Social Development, Chester Borrows, admitted his intention to  buy shares in partially-privatised state owned enterprises.

In an  exchange between ‘Backbenches’ Host Wallace Chapman and Chester Burrows,

CHAPMAN:  “Will you be buying shares in Mighty River Power?”

BORROWS:  “Yes, probably.”

CHAPMAN:  “Ok.”

BORROWS:  “I’m a mum and dad investor, well I’m half of a mum and investor partnership.”

CHAPMAN:  “So you will be.”

BORROWS:  “Yep.”

On 2 July, when I blogged this issue (see: Conflicts of Interest?), I asked three questions,

  • Is this a vested interest in partial-privatisation?
  • Is this a conflict of interest?
  • Is this verging on self-serving corruption?

It will be interesting to find (if at all possible to uncover), how many National/ACT/United Future members of Parliament will end up owning shares in Mighty River Power, and other part-privatised SOEs?

A recent Sunday Star Times story told readers that members of Parliament and government ministers would follow a self-imposed “moratorium” on not buying any shares in SOEs for 90 days,

Cabinet ministers have agreed to a voluntary “moratorium” preventing the purchase of shares by all ministers, and some of their staff, until 90 days after the initial sale.

Finance Minister Bill English’s office said: “Cabinet also agreed that ministers and the staff in those offices . . . should use their best endeavours to ensure that their partners and dependent children adhere to the same moratorium.”

Acknowledgment: Fairfax Media – Call to ban ministers from share float

That is simply not good enough. A politician could easily instruct a solicitor to buy shares on his/her behalf. Or purchase shares via a ‘shell-company‘. There are as many ways to dodge scrutiny as the human mind can imagine.

The implications of government MPs and Ministers owning shares in state assets which they themselves have decided to privatise is a serious matter.

The only three ways to avoid such a spectacular conflict of interest is,

  1. Pass legislation banning MPs or their spouses from ever owning shares in SOEs (not very practical)
  2. Make the Pecuniary Interests register a permanent feature for all politicians to fill out for the rest of their lives. (possible – though a real pain in the arse)
  3. Scrap the asset sales programme. (Much easier.)

If politicians such as Borrows purchase shares in SOEs, it will further lower their reputations in the eyes of the public. “They’re in it for themselves” will become a reality in the minds of people, rather than just a vague suspicion.

We’re treading on thin ice here and the prospect of real political corruption takes one step closer to reality.

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Additional References

Call to ban ministers from share float (24 March 2013)

Previous related blogposts

Conflicts of Interest?

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

12 March 2013 4 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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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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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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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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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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Labour, Greens, NZ First, & Mana – A Bright Idea with electricity!

10 March 2013 15 comments

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What?

A part of me is mightily pissed off at Labour.

Like, really ticked off.

From 2000 to 2008, they had ample opportunity to safeguard state assets and remove them from any prospect of privatisation by ideologically-driven,  rightwing elements in our political system.

But perhaps, I suspect that most folk – including the Left –  had believed that privatisation had been abandoned by National as an  ideological dead-end experiment, leading nowhere except eventual foreign ownership and profits remitted to offshore investors. Which, as a consequence, worsened our already shabby Balance of Payments deficit.

More importantly, we had every right to expect that National believed that asset sales would be a sure-fire way of losing an election.

However, someone – some bright, zealous, political strategist working in some back-room somewhere – must’ve come across a “cunning plan” to make asset sales palatable to at least half the voters.

That’s all the Nats needed; 50% of voters.

Why?

To pay for tax cuts in 2009 and 2010. Those tax cuts dug a $2 billion-plus hole in government revenue (see:  Govt’s 2010 tax cuts costing $2 billion and counting, see: Outlook slashes tax-take by $8b). The shortfall could only be made up by borrowing more – or selling something. National opted for the latter.

How?

Post 2011 Election,  has demonstrated that National has not changed it’s free-market stripes. Given an opportunity, they would hock off as much of the country as possible. For “the good of the nation”, you understand.

At the 2011 election, National were handed that opportunity, on a gold plate*,  by a voting public who seemed to be distracted by smoking magic mushrooms. Whilst voters expressed disdain at National’s privatisation – they voted National regardless.

(Call me old fashioned, but I tend not to vote for things I disagree with.)

Go figure.

Note that I said “they voted National” – they didn’t vote for National. It may seem as if I’m splitting hairs on a molecular level – but bear with me.

Consider the facts;

  • 1. In 2011, National won 1,058,638 votes – or 47.31% of votes cast. That gave them 59 seats.
  • 2. The 2011 election was the lowest voter turn-out (74.21%) since 1887.
  • 3. Whilst Labour’s vote dropped from 2008 to 2011, overall the anti-asset sale bloc gained more popular votes in 2011 than the pro-sale bloc,
National , ACT, United Future Party Votes Labour, Greens, NZ First, Maori Party, Mana, and Conservative Party votes

National – 1,058,636

Labour – 614,937

ACT – 23,889

Greens – 247,372

United Future – 13,443

NZ First – 147,544

Maori Party – 31,982

Mana – 24,168

Conservative Party* – 59,237

TOTAL – 1,095,968

Total – 1,125,240

* Whilst the Conservative gained no seats in Parliament (because of the 5% threshold), their numbers are included because they gained over double the electoral-support for ACT.

In effect, Key could claim an mythical “mandate” simply because the MMP rules in 2011 gave ACT a seat, but no representation for the Conservatives – even though support for the latter was double that of ACT.

  • 4. Voting patterns are reflected in polls which consistantly show public opinion opposed to asset sales. Generally, the figure is around two thirds opposed and less than a third supporting. (see: Most of us oppose selling NZ)

In fact, this blogger cannot find any reputable poll favouring National’s privatisation programme.

However, the harsh reality is that, for politicians, unless faced by a populist revolt and tens of thousands taking to the streets (see: Huge protest says no to mining on conservation land) , the only numbers that really count are bums-on-seats. Parliamentary seats.

Political machinations in Epsom and Ohariu gave Key the two seat Parliamentary majority he needed, and that’s what counts as a “mandate”. For the Nats, that’s the end-of-story.

Who?

As Dear Leader has oft been quoted,

 “On the mixed-ownership model debate, the Government has been very clear about its intentions since well before the 2011 election.” – John Key, 24 June 2012 (see: Most of us oppose selling NZ)

Thus far, 200,000 have pre-registered (see: Mighty River pre-registrations top 200,000) – which, whilst a sizeable number, is still only around five percent of those who voted for National in 2011. And I suspect many are pre-registering for a variety of reasons,

  • self interested naked greed
  • a desire to keep shares in local hands
  • and a few bogus pre-registrations to subvert the process (a surreptitiously organised covert resistance? You might say that, but  I couldn’t possibly comment)

The 200,000 pre-reguistrations is still dwarfed by signaturies to the petition, which is fast approaching 400,000 (see: Asset sales referendum likely)

So, did all 1,058,638 voters  who voted National in 2011 also endorse asset sales, either in whole or partial?

The answer is a clear no.  In a poll just over a year ago (see:  Poll shows asset sales unpopular), around 32% – about one third – of National supporters disapproved of asset sales.

That’s 338,764 voters who opposed asset sales who ticked the box for National in 2011, despite knowing full well that Key was promising partial floats on Meridian, Genesis, Mighty River Power, Solid Energy (now in doubt), and a further sell-down of Air New Zealand.

338,764 people who voted for something they didn’t want.

As Marcus Lush said on Radiolive on 28 February this year (2013),

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Why would anyone vote National and be opposed to asset sales -  28 February 2013 -  Radiolive - Marcus Lush

[click on image to access Radiolive link]

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Good question.

The answer, I think, can be distilled  down into two categories of voters.

  1. The first group simply either didn’t taken notice of  the asset sales campaign, or, more likely did not believe that Key would go ahead with the policy. They may even have thought that Key’s coalition ally(ies), United Future and/or the Maori Party, would stop the sales from proceeding. There was a kind of  “in denial” mentality going on here.
  2. The second group is perhaps more complex. Whilst they don’t support asset sales per se, they perhaps believed National Party rhetoric that shares would remain in New Zealand hands. Considering the consequences of Contact Energy’s privatisation – where the majority of shares are now in Australian hands – this would seem to be a forlorn hope.

Having spoken with National Party voters belonging to Group 1, I believe that asset sales will impact to varying degrees on National’s support at the next election. Having woken up to the fact that Key has no intention of backing away from  sales,  there are 300,000 National voters who may think twice before voting National again.

Expect National to drop in the next few polls following the sale of Mighty River Power.

However, unless something totally unanticipated happens between now and May, the partial sale of Mighty River Power will probably proceed. Followed by Genesis and Meridian. Followed by hefty power price increases if past history is anything to go by.

Where (to from here?)

NZ First’s Winston Peters has promised that any government he is part of will buy back state assets. (Which, by the way, if he’s not telling lies, means that any coalition deal with the Nats is off the table. I’m not holding my breath on this. The 1996 election is still fresh in my mind.)

On 4 March this year (2013), Peters announced,

“New Zealand First will use its influence on the next coalition Government to buy back our state-owned power companies which are being flogged off by National and we are committed to buying back the shares at no greater price than paid by the first purchaser.”

Source: One More Quisling Moment from Key

This is do-able. Especially if NZ Superannuation funds are used, which would not impact or have any bearing on a new Government’s books.

By announcing that the shares would be re-purchased  “at no greater price than paid by the first purchaser” – Peters is effectively putting all purchasers on notice: expect to incur a loss if you buy into National’s thieving (and let’s be clear – selling goods that don’t belong to you is theft) programme.

And a year earlier, in March 2012, Hone Harawira had promised the same in an open letter to investors,

“So today I think it only proper to send a warning to overseas investors – steer clear of any share offer in the above SOE’s. The purchase of these shares is likely to see you caught up in legal battles and direct action from citizens determined to protect their own interests, both of which will be lengthy and costly and have an adverse impact on the value of your investment.

As the leader of the MANA Movement and Member of the New Zealand House of Representatives, I wish to advise that MANA is opposed to the privatisation of state assets and will strongly argue for any shares sold to overseas investors to be returned to New Zealand hands.”

Source: Hone Harawira: Open letter to overseas investors

By contrast, in an attempt to appear “fiscally responsible” to Middle Class voters, Labour and the Greens were luke-warm, at best.

Green co-leader, Russel Norman said,

“We just can’t make the promise that Winston is making. We will do whatever we can, but it is two years away, the books are getting into a terrible mess because of National, and closer to the time we will make an announcement but at the moment we can’t.”

Source: Peters: Use super funds to buy back state assets

And Labour’s Clayton Cosgrove effectively went, ‘ditto’,

“… I can’t commit to an open-ended fiscal envelope. That would be fiscally irresponsible in my view.”

Source: IBID

Which is all pretty timid stuff.

This, my fellow New Zealanders, is why the Centre-Left lost the 2011 Election: no boldness in vision; no measurable difference to the Nats; and no unshakeable courage of  their/our convictions.

All that Labour and the Greens  said was “no” to asset sales.

And when Cunliffe suggested that a future Labour-led government would re-nationalise these SOEs – he was firmly slapped down by his Party.

On 4 December 2011,

I don’t stand for a paler shade of blue, and I want to look down the barrel and say this: if the Government is going to sell off precious state assets then we would not rule out re-nationalising some of them. And people need to be aware of that regulatory risk.”

When asked by host Guyon Espiner whether he would buy them back, Mr Cunliffe replied “we would look very hard [at buying them back].” Source

On 5 December 2011,

Labour leadership aspirant David Cunliffe has moved to clarify his position on the buyback of state assets.

He believed comments he made in a weekend interview, where he didn’t rule out buying back partially privatised SOE’s, had been misinterpreted.

Mr Cunliffe said it was not an explicit promise to buy back all shareholdings National may sell. Source

That’s not “manning the barricades” stuff – that’s an open retreat in the face of a remorseless enemy.

Which, in turn, emboldened National to openly mock and taunt the Labour Opposition, seven months later,

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) : I move, That the House take note of miscellaneous business. We are still waiting, this week, for the Labour Party to commit to buying back the shares of the 49 percent of the energy companies that the Government is planning to sell, mainly to New Zealanders. New Zealand First has made that undertaking. New Zealand First has shown that the Labour Party has persuaded New Zealand First that its arguments are so strong, New Zealand First should go and buy them back if it has a role in a future Government. But the Labour Party has not been able to persuade itself. Labour members have been in the Chamber arguing, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, that these proposed share offers are fiscally irresponsible, economic nonsense, and a sell-out to foreigners, but they are not so fiscally irresponsible that they are going to buy them back. They are not such a sell-out to foreigners that they are going to buy them back. They are not such an economic nonsense that they are going to buy them back.” – Source

At a time when Labour should be tearing strips of National and setting their own counter-agenda – we’re getting precious little of that. Instead, the agenda is being set by Key and his cronies with bugger-all opposition. The Greens and NZ First have scored more ‘hits’ against the Nats than Labour.

On top of that, the Greens have become the “go to” opposition Party, for criticism of National policies. If you doubt me, check out the next 6pm TV news bulletin. Which opposition party spokesperson is interviewed? Keep tabs over a few night. You’ll quickly see what I mean.

So, what options does Labour have?

It has two options;

  1. Carry on with a conservative course. There is a 50/50 chance it will lead the next government, with perhaps a one or two seat majority, consisting of Labour/Greens/Mana/NZ first.
  2. Strike out with a strategy of  aggressive and bold announcements of initiatives. Announce;
  • radical policies that are a departure from neo-liberalism and declare that the Great Neo-liberal Experiment is dead; “we come to bury the bastard, not praise him”.
  • focus on the message that the 30 year experiment in neo-liberalism has failed utterly, and is one reason we’re driving our young people to Australia
  • a policy that all state assets will be re-purchased at cost-price (as a coalition deal with NZ First)
  • a list of National policies that will be ruthlessly  reviewed and dumped (eg, the Hobbit Law)
  • a focus on job creation; attacking the root causes of child poverty; and a committment for decent housing for all New Zealanders
  • a full review of the tax system, with a plan to reduce (or eliminate gst) and replaced with a comprehensive Capital Gains Tax; Financial Transactions Tax; and other non-income related taxes
  • Comprehensive food-in-schools programmes
  • looking at how our Scandinavian and Nordic cuzzies are running their economies/societies
  • cheaper education for our kids
  • a conversation with New Zealanders as to what kind of society we want to live in – and are we willing to pay for it and set goals to achieve it?
  • etc, etc.

As part of Option 2, I have one further Bright Idea…

A Libertarian acquaintaince and I were chatting one evening at  ‘Backbenches’ (prior to it catching fire – and no, our conversation wasn’t that heated) . We were talking about the three state owned power companies.

He asked me; why should there be  three state owned companies; all producing the same service; at roughly the same costs and prices – have three sets of management; CEOs; offices; accounting systems; staff; etc? Wouldn’t  it make more sense to combine the three and pass the savings onto consumers?

Damn it, he was right. What is the point of having three state owned electricity companies?

One could do the same job – and cheaper.

Just as we had the old ECNZ, prior to Max Bradford’s so-called “reforms” in the late 1990s. At the time, Mr Bradford promised cheaper electricity through competition. Instead, power prices have doubled sinced the start of the century. (see: The 30-year power price hike , see: Power prices over decade)

“Ministry of Economic Development (MED) statistics show average power prices rose from 13.9 cents per kilowatt-hour on average in May 2001 to 26 cents in May 2011.” Source

The problem is not just to re-nationalise our electricity companies.

The next problem is what do we do with them?

How do we make them socially responsive to domestic consumers as well as  efficient?

Do we re-combine Mighty River Power, Genesis, and Meridian back into one single unit, a new ECNZ?

Do we ensure that there are Board members elected to a new ECNZ whose constituents are domestic users? Perhaps any such Board should have directly-elected  representation?

Do we entrench a new, state owned ECNZ in legislation so it’s future is protected from predatory governments seeking either maximum returns (ie, price gouging) or to privatise it?

Could a new ECNZ afford to offer each domestic household their first 300kwh per month, free,  as has been suggested by Victoria University researcher, Geoff Bertram? (see: Call for free power )

These are the issues which the Opposition should be focused on.

And thus far, we’ve not heard much from them.

If  Labour-Greens-NZ First are serious about being an alternative government, then by the gods, they should be serious about giving us that alternative.

Conclusion

When National started campaigning in the 2008 election, it began two years in advance with a series of  aggressive policies. It was acting like a Government-in-Waiting.

By contrast, Labour and the other parties are an Opposition-in-Waiting.   They are timidly watching and waiting for the public love affair with Key to wear off, and for National to f**k up.

Well, news flash guys.  That doesn’t seem to be working too well. The Nats have been excoriated with scandal after scandal last year and this year; unemployment rising; Mainzeal and Solid Energy collapsing – and the Nats are still high in the polls?!

My message to Labour, Greens, NZ first, and Mana;

If you want the voting public to take notice of you, you have to give them something that’ll make them notice you.

Be bold.

Be aggressive.

Offer alternatives.

Offer practical solutions.

Give the public a vision.

And at all times, work together.

If you don’t give the public an alternative, why should they look away from National?

Give the people of New Zealand an alternative, better way of living – and they will look at you.

But not until then.

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(* Plate will soon be auctioned on Trademe.)

Previous Blogposts

Politics through a crystal ball, palmistry, or chicken entrails?

History Lesson – Tahi – Electricity Sector “reforms”

Additional

Power prices over decade

The 30-year power price hike

Call for free power

Cunliffe: buy back any sold assets

Cunliffe not promising to buy back assets

Parliament: Hansards – Wednesday, 20 June 2012, Bill English on Asset Sales

More heat in power struggle as prices go up

Government in $112b barney over accounting

Electricity prices tipped to rise steeply

Heavy traffic hits Mighty River Power share site

One More Quisling Moment from Key

Other blogs

MANA threaten overseas investors not to buy assets – Bloomberg pick up on the story

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319 million reasons not to part-privatise our power companies

26 February 2013 9 comments

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SOEs

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There are at least 319 million reason why it is sheer madness for National to be considering part-privatisation of  state-owned power companies,

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Half year profit jump for Meridian Energy

Source

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Genesis Energy half-year profit

Source

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Mighty River Power profit quadruples

Source

Acknowledgement for above media reports: Radio New Zealand

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The half year (not even a fullyear!) profit for the above three power SOEs is: $319.5 million.

Combined dividends paid the the government will be: $224 million.

If 49% of all three SOEs is sold to private investors, the State (ie, You and Me) will lose out on approximatelt $110  million.

That will be $110 going into bank accounts of  institutional investors, or the pockets of wealthy New Zealanders with sufficient income to buy shares.

It will mean a drop in government income.

Worse still, going by historic events in the late 1990s when the  ECNZ (Electricity Corporatrion of NZ)  was split up, and the newly formed Contact Energy was split off and fully privatised, power prices will continue to skyrocket,

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power-prices-set-to-soar

National-led government – NZPA – 12 May 1999

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Privatisation will not mean competition resulting in cheaper power prices any more than competing fuel companies are giving us cheaper petrol prices.

In fact, as Economics Professor, Geoff Bertram said on 13 February 2013, at an anti-asset sales rally in Wellington,

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“… 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.”

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.”

Prof Bertram explained,

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.”

And added this shocking insight,

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.”

Concluding with,

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.”

See previous blogpost: Wellingtonians rally to send a message to the Beehive! (part rua)

As Radio NZ reported on 21 February,

“Electricity prices paid by Mighty River customers rose 2% over the period while costs fell 22%.”

See: Mighty River Power profit quadruples

Which leads us to these points to consider,

  1. Despite a glut of electricity, prices continue to rise. There is price-gouging going on by all power companies, whether State Owned or by privately-owned Contact Energy.  There is no competitive force driving prices down. There is no indication that part-privatisation will create any competition.
  2. At least state ownership means that most electricity profits stay in New Zealand and contribute to the State, to pay for health, education, roading, etc. However, one wonders if this sort of punitive,  indirect-taxation, on low income families is fair, whilst more affluent households can afford insulaion, solar power, and other energy-saving strategies.
  3. As Prof Bertram maintains, partial privation will most likely close off future progessive governments’ abilities to reform  the electricity industry and return to a  social service approach.

See also previous related blogpost – with Max Bradford’s response on this issue: History Lesson – Tahi – Electricity Sector “reforms”

Meanwhile, some of our past political leaders are waking up to the realities of historical state asset privatisations,

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Bolger -Telecom sale a mistake

See: Bolger – Telecom sale a mistake

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Better late than never?

Nah. Better now than later.

These mistakes are too expensive and we all end up paying.

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