Why the Nats are smiling

RICHARD LONG
Last updated 05:00 24/07/2012
John Key
KEVIN STENT/ Dominion Post
Prime Minister John Key has plenty to smile about.

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Richard Long

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OPINION: It's no wonder the Nats emerged looking cheerful and energised after their annual talkfest.

The message is possibly sinking home to the electorate that Kiwiland is in a precarious position and some unpopular decisions need to be taken to ward off what might be much more unpalatable options down the track.

The electorate, it seems, is prepared to trust Prime Minister John Key's prescriptions so far, even if the partial privatisation of state assets is generally unpopular and if mining and mineral exploration options are cutting across greenie instincts.

Ironically, it is in wealthy electorates such as Wellington

Central that the Greens poll well, supported by well-paid voters comfortable with their leafy lifestyles and not wanting to see any holes dug anywhere, or any offshore drilling if it might conceivably pose a threat to their East Coast or Coromandel hideaways.

Those literally living on the coal face, like the West Coast, show signs of increasing irritability over the demands of these urban Greens, such as their recent attempts to limit operations on the Denniston Plateau.

At Pike River, the understandable but unrealistic demand to ''bring our boys home'' from the closed mine has now changed to one in favour of reopening the mine, with the remains of the dead miners to be left for possible recovery at some time in the future.

But this was not before the rhetoric frightened off prospective overseas investors. As a result, with the absence of bidders, the mine, with its billions of dollars worth of high-grade coal, was sold for a pittance to Solid Energy, leaving no money to pay the bills owed to local contractors.

The continued popularity of Mr Key and his Government must be a frustrating mystery to the Opposition. To some extent, it can blame the Maori Council and its claim on water. Mr Key is viewed as having a safe pair of hands holding a big plug. The electorate will forgive him much else if he keeps that in place.

Accordingly, he continues to ride high while other world leaders are suffering from the effects of the world economic slowdown. President Nicolas Sarkozy was ousted in France and the British Conservative coalition has been trailing Labour for more than a year. In Australia, Prime Minister Julia Gillard's condition would seem to be terminal, in spite of a Western Australian 14 per cent mining growth boom.

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The electorate here appears to be swallowing its distaste for the selldown of state assets because it is not convinced by the alternatives, or rather, the lack of them, offered by the Opposition Labour, Greens, NZ First, Hone Harawira bloc.

After the dispiriting daily headlines about the continuing world economic crisis and Finance Minister Bill English's warning to his conference that this will be a dark cloud on the horizon for a generation, there may be a reluctant acceptance that it would be a good idea to signal international bankers with a massive reduction of debt from this selldown, rather than trying to borrow at an even faster rate.

Then there are the other spinoffs, such as a strengthened Kiwi capital market and safe vehicles for mum and dad investors, who Mr Key has pledged will be given priority in the purchasing queue and some sort of loyalty bonus after three years or so.

Without the funds generated from this selldown, a sudden deterioration in the euro crisis could leave the Government needing to make savage spending cuts that would make the present exercises look mild by comparison.

Health and welfare would both suffer. Tax increases would have to be considered. The pain would be considerable.

Now that the electorate is developing second thoughts about the Greens' anti-development policies, the Government needs to push ahead and sell the need for onshore and offshore mining and oil exploration.

As well as the black gold, we need to expand the stream of white gold, making it easier for dairying to grow, with the right safeguards, to meet the insatiable protein demands from Asia.

- The Dominion Post

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