Asset-sales law 'being rushed' to dodge poll

DANYA LEVY
Last updated 05:00 08/06/2012

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Opposition parties say contentious asset-sales legislation could be passed under urgency because the Government fears the momentum that a citizens-initiated referendum is gaining – and the Government isn't ruling it out.

Parliament's finance and expenditure committee yesterday finished its deliberations on the Government's Mixed Ownership Bill to enact its plans to sell up to 49 per cent of state-owned power companies Mighty River Power, Meridian, Solid Energy and Genesis. The committee has spent the past month hearing from about 100 people mostly opposing the bill, after a total of 1400 written submissions were received.

Labour and the Greens claim National MPs on the committee outnumbered them to force an end to deliberations six weeks early and after only an hour of discussion. The bill was due to be reported back to Parliament on July 16.

Committee chairman and National MP Todd McClay said he expected the bill would now be reported back next week.

Labour and the Greens have released damning draft reports on the legislation. They have accused the Government of "ramming" it through the committee to minimise bad publicity, stifling and disrespecting members of the public, and not allowing enough time for evidence to be verified.

Labour MP David Clark said there was concern the Government would try to push the bill's next phases through the debating chamber under urgency.

A bid for a citizens-initiated referendum was launched last month by a coalition of Labour, the Greens, Grey Power, the Council of Trade Unions, Greenpeace and the Union of Student Associations.

Dr Clark said the Government wanted to get the bill passed and out of the news before the coalition gathered the 350,000 signatures it was aiming for.

"There will still have to be a referendum. They might have sold one asset or have one going through the sales process but there will still be two big assets that can be saved, so they will be trying to kill the issue before it comes to that."

Shares in the first asset to be partly privatised, Mighty River Power, are due to be put on the market some time after July.

Greens co-leader Russel Norman said he would not be surprised if the bill was passed under urgency. "Even if it isn't, the Government will still try to ram it through as fast as they can. They will try to get it through in the next couple of weeks."

The Government has only a one-vote majority for asset sales and is relying on the support of United Future leader Peter Dunne and ACT leader John Banks.

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A spokesman for Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee said the timetable for Parliament's next three-week session, starting on Tuesday, had not been finalised.

but he said he couldn't rule out the legislation coming back to the House as early as next week or being passed under urgency.

Mr McClay said he did not believe the process was being rushed. The committee had discussed the completed submissions on three occasions, over a period of "some hours".

Opposition complaints about the committee adopting the bill yesterday were not surprising as they opposed asset sales, he said.

"Whether the adoption was last week, this week or in two weeks' time, their position would not have changed. Some of the committee would never be ready."

- The Dominion Post

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