Asset sales programme to continue: Key

NO STOPPING: John Key says contentious partial asset sales programme will continue despite referendum result.
NO STOPPING: John Key says contentious partial asset sales programme will continue despite referendum result.

Prime Minister John Key says the contentious partial asset sales programme will continue despite the provisional results of the share offer referendum.

More than 1.3 million New Zealanders cast votes in the non-binding citizens initiated referendum; with the preliminary result released on Friday night showing 67.2 per cent did not support the Government's partial sell-off of Air New Zealand, Mighty River Power, Genesis Power and Meridian Energy.

Only 32.5 per cent of those who cast a vote backed the share floats.

All-up, just 44 per cent of eligible voters took part in the referendum.

Key, speaking this afternoon at the former Hobsonville Airbase north-west of Auckland, described the referendum as a "publicity stunt" which had cost the tax-payer up to $9m.

"Around about a quarter of New Zealanders voted against asset sales," Key said.

"Three-quarters of eligible New Zealanders said no they either weren't going to engage or voted for them.

"Three in four New Zealanders said no we don't agree with Labour and the Greens. I think it will be a dismal failure from their point of view."

Key said the referendum was not needed, claiming the Government had been re-elected at the 2011 General Election partially on the basis of the pending shares sell-off.

The results of the postal referendum was bad news for the opposition, he said.

He added Labour leader David Cunnliffe was "a bit deluded" in claiming the referendum was a victory for the anti-asset sales movement.

"I genuinely think Labour and the Greens will be very disappointed," Key said.

"From their point of view, they were hoping for a higher turnout ... it was a low turnout. Overall what it basically shows, it was pretty much a political stunt."

The referendum was triggered after 327,000 Kiwis signed a petition calling on the partial shares sale to be shelved by the Government.

To date, the Government has received $4 billion for the partial sell-off of Mighty River Power, Meridian Energy and Air New Zealand.

The partial sale of Genesis Energy is set down for the first half of 2014.

Finance Minister Bill English described the share sales programme as an important part of the Government's economic plan aimed to deliver more jobs, control debt and give New Zealanders one of the higher growth rates among developed countries.

"It has so far generated $4b which we are investing in new public assets like schools and hospitals without borrowing from foreign lenders," English said.

"Quite simply, we now have $4b less debt than we would have otherwise have had. If Labour and the Greens would rather have full State control of the companies and higher public debt, they should promise to borrow $4b to buy back Mighty River Power, Meridian Energy and Air New Zealand."

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said on Friday night that the provisional results of the referendum were a strong sign to the Government that the nation was opposed to the programme.

He called on Key to cancel the partial sale of Genesis Energy.

"John Key has arrogantly labelled Kiwis who oppose asset sales as extremists but tonight we have shown that by a margin of two to one Kiwis are against privatisation, and it is Mr Key who is out of touch with mainstream New Zealand," Norman said.

"New Zealanders have turned out in droves to say no more. This is a very high 'No' vote and a very good turnout for a postal vote. It's unambiguous. The Government must stop its privatisation agenda."

Fairfax Media