Damp protest shows heat gone from asset sales fire

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 23/07/2012
JOHN KEY
BRUCE MERCER/Waikato Times
Prime Minister John Key

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Tracy Watkins

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OPINION: No more tip-toeing around. That is the clear message from National's annual conference, where the Government's economic programme has been invested with a new sense of urgency.

Expecting mass protests, Prime Minister John Key opened the conference with a battle cry over asset sales. He needn't have bothered. The protests were an even damper squib than the weather.

If ever the Government needed reassurance the heat had gone out of the asset sales debate, it came with the tired protest by the handful of familiar old faces outside SkyCity.

It would have been laughable if not for the dozens of police rostered to spend their weekend outside the annual gathering of National Party faithful in Auckland.

The only uncertainty now over the asset sales programme is whether the Maori Council or an iwi group succeeds in derailing the timetable for the sale of shares in the state-owned power companies and Air New Zealand.

But for now that's beyond the Government's control. It will be more bothered with what it can control - and that is the pace of the rest of its programme, which it is no longer mincing its words over.

Oil and gas exploration will be stepped up, and an aggressive sales pitch will begin, with the Government set to provide figures showing how much better Kiwis living in oil-rich regions are doing than their neighbours next door.

It may not have won the argument over asset sales - but it has won resigned acceptance. The Government is now backing itself to sell other unpopular parts of its programme - or if not to win voters over, at least to convince them that the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

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- The Dominion Post

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