Labour keeps mum on asset fund

HAMISH RUTHERFORD AND ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 14:45 27/08/2014

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Labour leader David Cunliffe is refusing to be drawn on whether the party will announce plans for a new asset fund, but says he "stands behind public opinion" in opposition to asset sales.

The party is understood to be planning to set aside funds to buy mainly New Zealand assets, partly to woo NZ First leader Winston Peters into coalition.

Labour would likely need the support of both the Greens and NZ First to form a government. It has said a policy costing about $100 million a year is yet to be announced.

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Cunliffe would not be drawn on the issue, but said the party was in tune with the public in its opposition to asset sales.

"In previous governments we purchased back assets where they were in trouble and we stand behind the public interest knowing that the public doesn't want them sold," Cunliffe said.

Asked if an asset fund could be used to buy farms which were seen as strategic, Cunliffe said: "I think you're getting ahead of yourself."

He repeated his comment from yesterday that Labour would say more on the issue before the election.

Asked if he would buy back shares in Air New Zealand, in light of the company's soaring profits, Cunliffe said: "That's incredibly speculative."

Finance spokesman David Parker would not be drawn on what the policy would cover, but said the size of unallocated spending meant "if this was a big asset buyback fund, it would take 60 years".

It is understood the money is for buying assets, designed to form a clear point of difference from National and targeting Peters' sense of legacy.

The fund would benefit from some of the dividends the Crown reaps from its remaining state-owned commercial assets and could target shares in electricity assets, but might not be limited to former state-owned enterprises.

In the current term, the Government has sold 49 per cent stakes in Mighty River Power, Meridian and Genesis Energy and a smaller stake in Air New Zealand.

The sales, by way of market flotations, raised almost $5 billion.

Cunliffe is said to be focused on Peters being attracted by the office which he might hold, and also his legacy as a politician.

Peters has named opposition to foreign ownership as one of his key themes in the election. He has repeatedly vowed to buy back the assets sold under National.

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Peters has said this would be done with the help of the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, and has also vowed to create a state-guaranteed KiwiSaver provider that would buy predominantly New Zealand assets.

- Stuff

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