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Asset Sales - A Step Too Far For National

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Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith

Go ahead with asset sales Mr. Key and your honeymoon with the electorate will be well and truly over. In fact separate bedrooms and the neighbours hearing raised voices will be the order of the day.

The Prime Ministers statements about potential asset sales will be a step too far for many New Zealanders. Sale of some of stable profit earners in the energy sector will not be popular, but it is Kiwibank where an emotive public ideological battle will be waged. National could well end up winning the battle but losing the war for the support of the majority of New Zealanders come the next election.   
Seduced by public popularity and improving economic indicators the Government has pushed their agenda a bit harder in recent weeks.
A sustained double digit lead in the polls is a powerful aphrodisiac for those in power to embrace their own image in the mirror and believe they can do no wrong.
Many politicians look upon the 'great unwashed' of the electorate with some degree of distain, wishing they would just shut up and let those in the know get on with the job of running the country, which by the way is far too complicated for the average person to understand so they should keep their noses out of it.
Stupid we are not though. The bold statements last week from the Government that the budget has caused no widening in the rich-poor gap in New Zealand was laughable, when most middle and low income workers could see at a glance that the numbers didn't stack up in their favour.
Now we have the ludicrous proposal from the Prime Minister that asset sales are ok because they will offer shares to the public. Even the best 'snake oil' salesman from the old west would scratch their heads in admiration at the ability of a government to sell an asset back to its actual owner.
What this government does not seem to get is that owning 100% of an asset is not a bad thing where a country is concerned. The business ethos that too much capital tied up in large assets is wasted, when it could be out there working on new ventures does not always translate well nationally.
The average New Zealander might swallow the current rhetoric had we not had the recent past of the Lange and Bolger Governments failed asset sales history to remind us that it has been done before and found wanting.
In the late 1980's and early 1990's we watched while assets that were sold cheaply produced massive profits for their new owners while our taxes remained the same. Telecom at one stage at its monopolistic best was producing as much profit in a year as it cost to buy it in the first place. NZ Rail was brought for a pittance, the surplus land flogged off and the assets run into the ground, then it was sold back to us when massive capital expenditure was required.    
Talk of asset sales is hot on the heels of the moronic suggestion that opening up conservation land for potential mining was a good idea when most of the profit went elsewhere and our 'clean green' image was further tarnished.
For 40,000 Aucklanders to give up part of their weekend and participate in one of the biggest protest demonstrations this country has seen for decades is a good indicator of the mood of the electorate on this one. In today's protest currency exchange rate those numbers would easily translate to 100,000 plus, back in the day when protesting was a national past time.
The shafting of Tuhoe in their treaty settlement by the Prime Minister might have been an attempt to shore up right wing redneck support that was becoming increasingly nervous about concessions to Maori, but all it has done is put National coalition partner the Maori party in an impossible situation. Tuhoe have been shafted for years so I guess the government thought one more time won't hurt. But their actions have shown that despite the soothing words of the Prime Minister, a leopard really doesn't change its spots and the old condescending 'settler government' attitudes toward Maori have come to the fore again.
The Super City has been reigned in slightly with the Parliamentary select committee watering down some of the undemocratic excesses of the original proposal. But it still remains a blatant vehicle to govern a city without much direct accountability to the people.  The City of London went through a similar exercise in the late 1990's. Too much bullying of the electorate and the establishment anointing of a right wing candidate produced a two fingered reply from the people at the ballot box with 'Red Ken' Livingstone winning in a landslide as an independent in 2000.
While we are here I might as well mention the sacking of the democratically elected
Regional Council in Canterbury as another casualty that got in the way of the ruling elites ideological juggernaut. Another example of 'the few' knowing better than the rest of us.
National needs to be wary. Groups at the far left of the political spectrum will always oppose them. At times their protests end up being excellent political capital for their intended targets on the right. But when ordinary New Zealanders who would rather go to a shopping mall or café in their spare time start taking to the streets then it is time to start listening.
The more ordinary people that are alienated by government policy the more the political climate will swing against National. Labour and Green strategists probably can't believe their luck how easily National has let them off the hook and provided the left with issues and a constituency with which they can close the gap on National before the next election.
It is a bit like those Americas Cup yachting races we used to be fixated with, when one yacht was well out in front then instead of covering their opponent went off in search of even more wind only to find that when the yachts crossed again that their opponents were now right behind them and threatening to overtake them again.  

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