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Chris Ford: Supreme Court asset sales decision a sad day

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

 This week's Supreme Court decision on Maori water rights signals the beginning of the end for the last remaining state assets in Aotearoa.

New Zealanders, both Maori and non-Maori, have invested hugely in the building of these assets over generations. Electricity, gas, coal and air assets are destined to go under the hammer in various floats throughout this year and next.

While some Kiwi "mums and dads" will purchase shares, many asset buyers will be cashed up corporates and institutions such as pension funds. As I'm in KiwiSaver, this means that my provider may well engage in buying some shares and investing them in the fund. Personally, I don't feel comfortable about this at all. Nor should any New Zealander who values public ownership. 

In this sense, I only hope that a future left-wing government one day buys those shares back when it takes those assets back into public ownership. Or, even better, re-nationalises them without compensation (and I wouldn't mind if I took a smaller return on my KiwiSaver the year that happened).

I don't buy into the Government's hype either that asset sales proceeds will be used to buy other assets. Most of the proceeds will go into repaying our public overseas debt - in other words straight into the pockets of wealthy bankers and financial institution owners. Furthermore, the returns from any asset sales will eventually go into foreign hands. Many ordinary New Zealanders who buy shares will also be sorely tempted to cash up when big multinationals make tempting share price offers.

While I acknowledge that partial government ownership of the assets will continue, this is still no guarantee that this government will not be tempted to sell off their remaining shareholdings. With fiscal conditions still tight, they only need the most simple of excuses to hock off the rest.

I hoped that the Supreme Court would rule in favour of the Maori Council. This would have, at least, delayed the partial asset sales process and at most scuttled it (an even better outcome).

Now, the Nats will flog off the remaining silverware for what could be (given the precarious state of the global economy) bargain basement prices. However, I do have to admit that there is one silver lining in the near collapse of Solid Energy in that it will not be put on the market due to its precarious state. 

Right now, though, I want to express my personal gratitude to the Maori Council and its lawyer Felix Geiringer (whom I know from Otago University days) for their efforts to keep our assets. All New Zealanders who believe in public ownership should express thanks for their efforts, despite their having failed.

I hope that one day public ownership will come back into vogue and that all New Zealanders will enjoy the benefits of that.


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