Dunne's vote seals asset sales
A Labour MP drew parallels between the National Party and Adolf Hitler as controversial legislation allowing partial asset sales passed by a single vote.
The Opposition benches cried "Shame!" yesterday as National's junior whip Louise Upston cast the decisive proxy vote of UnitedFuture MP Peter Dunne, which saw the legislation pass by 61 votes to 60.
Mr Dunne was not at Parliament for the vote because he was attending the funeral of his son's girlfriend's mother.
In a statement, he said he had intended to speak in favour of the bill at its final reading, which was in the "best long-term interests of the country".
Opposition MPs continued to insist Mr Dunne had misled voters over his views on the partial asset sales plan.
Labour's state-owned enterprises spokesman Clayton Cosgrove said Mr Dunne's vote was "a travesty of democracy" because he had said he was against the sale of water resources before last year's election.
"Peter Dunne will go down in history as the man who gave the National Government the one vote they needed to sell New Zealanders out," he said.
Labour, the Green Party, Grey Power and the Council of Trade Unions are collecting signatures for a citizens-initiated referendum over the matter and have called on the sales to be postponed until a vote is held.
Some believe the Government has no mandate for the sales because several polls have shown a majority of voters are against the policy.
Labour's Wigram MP, Megan Woods, said yesterday: "Hitler had a pretty clear manifesto that he campaigned and won on ... does this make what he did OK?"
Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said most New Zealanders saw the policy as "a short-term fix".
Prime Minister John Key said yesterday that research for the Government by polling company UMR found people had a "very low level of understanding" about the partial asset sales programme.
The research, which the Government refused to reveal in full, had shown that 81 per cent of people did not know Mighty River Power was the first company being floated in the sales and 90 per cent had not owned shares before.
"About 80 or 90 per cent didn't know the Government was retaining 51 per cent of the companies ..." Mr Key said.
"There's not necessarily a high level of understanding, even though these debates have been rehearsed through the media during the election campaign and here in Parliament."
Mr Key promised from as far back as January last year that no more than 49 per cent of Mighty River Power, Genesis, Meridian, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand would be sold down in the sales, to raise between about $5 billion and $7b.
It was later decided that there would be a 10 per cent individual shareholding cap and the Government would try to allow no more than 15 per cent of the shares to fall into foreign hands when they were floated.
Mr Key said shares might be available to buy online and through banks, to help make them accessible to "mum and dad" retail investors.
The Government remained wary that a legal challenge was still possible, particularly by the Maori Council or Ngati Tuwharetoa over interests in Mighty River Power and Genesis, Mr Key said.
However, the Government was confident it could sell shares in the companies without prejudicing future Treaty settlements with iwi.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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