Two-thirds of voters oppose asset sales

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 21:29 13/12/2013
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Kiwis have voted overwhelmingly against the Government's asset sales programme, with opponents outnumbering supporters by more than two to one in a citizens-initiated referendum.

This evening the Electoral Commission revealed that 895,322 registered voters had said they did not support the Government selling up to 49 per cent of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genesis Power, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand.

That was just over double the 432,950 who said they did support the sales.

The poll is not binding and the Government has effectively said it would ignore the result.

On the day it opened Prime Minister John Key said it would be "interesting" if more than a million voted against, as it would be a different result to the election, referring to the number of voters who backed his National Party.

Turnout in the vote was 43.9 per cent of the total number of eligible registered voters.

Only two of New Zealand's 70 electorates, Epsom and Tamaki, voted in support of the sales programme. In Ikaroa-Rawhiti, which stretches from the Wairarapa to the East Cape, 94.7 per cent of voters were opposed.

In only 9 electorates did a majority of registered voters take part in the poll.

The poll was forced after Grey Power, as part of a coalition of groups against the sales, including Labour and the Green Party, collected hundreds of thousands of signatures calling for the vote.

It is estimated to have cost about $9 million, while the Green Party drew fire for using paid Parliamentary staff to help organise collections.

Previous referendum, including those calling for a reduction in the number of MPs, for smacking to be kept legal, and even for hard labour for criminals, have also been ignored by the Government.

Labour leader David Cunliffe said the people of New Zealand had spoken out against the sales.

"Kiwis have clamoured to have their voice heard on asset sales. More than 310,000 backed the petition and now 1.3 million have voted. Over 67 per cent or almost 900,000 have said no to asset sales," Cunliffe said in a statement.

"The numbers are clear. Kiwis don’t want their assets sold. John Key must listen and call off the Genesis sale now. National’s claimed mandate to sell the assets has now disappeared."

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman also called for the Genesis sale, scheduled for early 2014, to be cancelled.

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"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."

This month the Government wrote down the amount it expects to raise from the sales from $5 billion-$7b to $4.6b-$5b.

Part of the fall was blamed on the withdrawal from sale of troubled mining company Solid Energy, as well as weak electricity demand and a plan by Labour and the Greens to overhaul the wholesale electricity market.

Finance Minister Bill English said the Opposition would be disappointed by the result. 

"The result is not  surprising," English said in a statement.

"It is broadly consistent with results in public opinion polls which also maintain strong support for National five years after it was elected.

"The public understands that the Government's economic programme is working and I am confident they support it."

English said the almost $4b raised from the partial sales of Meridian and Mighty River Power would be spent on public assets that would otherwise require borrowing.

"Quite simply, we now have $4 billion less debt than we would otherwise have had," English said.

"If Labour and the Greens would rather have full State control of the companies and higher public debt, they should promise to borrow $4 billion to buy back  Mighty River Power, Meridian Energy and Air New Zealand. If they do not then their referendum was nothing more than a costly stunt."

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce took to Twitter to dismiss Norman's claim that the result was "great".

Joyce said: "Pathetic spin Russel. After all that hype u failed to get 30% of eligible voters to turn out and vote against mixed ownership".

Otago University politics lecturer Bryce Edwards said the poll may have failed to reach its two unofficial targets, namely a 50 per cent turnout and for the no vote to exceed the 1,058,638 voters who backed National in the 2011 general election.

- Stuff

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