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Chris Ford: Air New Zealand sale the last act of arrogance prior to referendum

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

The sale of  some of the Government's shareholding in Air New Zealand - and only days out from a referendum on the issue - is an arrogant act by National.

Undeniably, they want shot of up to 20 percent of its current stake in our national airline before ballots start hitting our mail boxes this Friday. The referendum ballot will ask all eligible voters as to whether or not they agree with the Government's moves to sell off up to 49 percent of its stake in Genesis Energy, Meridian Energy, Solid Energy, Mighty River Power and Air New Zealand.

I have little doubt that the nation will answer with a resounding no. This will be even after minority stakes in Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power and Air New Zealand have been fully disposed of - and at bargain basement prices to boot given that the Crown has not realised the proceeds it originally forecast from the sales. This means that investors have been getting shares at bargain prices and, moreover, have received subsidised assistance from us taxpayers (who once owned these shares collectively) in order to do so. Furthermore, it seems that not all of the investors have been typical Kiwi mums and dads either as some have been multinational investors looking to buy up assets on the cheap.

And having bought these assets on the cheap, these same investors will be looking for a return on their investment. That will mean in Air New Zealand's case that they may have to increase fares and cut staff in order to maximise profits and, hence, returns to its new partial owners. I don't think ordinary travellers (many of whom are middle class and National supporters in the main) will be able to stomach such increases and lowering of service standards.

These and other reasons are why New Zealand voters will reject asset sales in this referendum. National will think it can show contempt for democracy but this is more reason for voters both opposed and even supportive of these sales to turn out and give their verdict. After all, sovereign power resides in the people as a whole and not with an elite few - we need to show John Key, Bill English and Tony Ryall that very point over the next three weeks.

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