Labour may buy state assets back

21:00, Dec 15 2013

Labour leader David Cunliffe has given his strongest indication yet that his party would buy back state-owned assets if it became the Government.

He told Morning Report he "probably will" buy back the assets if Labour wins next year's election, although stopped short of saying where the money to do so would come from.

More than 1.3 million New Zealanders cast votes in the non-binding citizens' initiated referendum last week.

Prime Minister John Key had already announced beforehand that the results would not deter the Government from completing its asset sales programme.

The preliminary result released on Friday night showed 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.

Genesis is the only asset left to sell, and that's expected to happen early next year.
Labour has hailed the referendum as an "overwhelming opposition" to the sale of state assets, but with a low turnout, the Government has labelled the exercise a waste of money.

Only 44 per cent bothered to complete their referendum forms, which means only about one quarter of eligible voters actually voted against the sales.

Cunliffe dismissed the turnout figure as being "higher than most local body elections", which also attract notoriously low numbers of voters.

"Considering National tried every trick in the book, shunting it just before Christmas, announcing beforehand they were going to ignore it, and all the other cynical manouevres that they've made around it, I think it's a very good outcome and a very strong message."

Last week, Cunliffe said Labour "reserved the right" to buy back the assets, but this morning said the party "probably will".

"Let me say very clearly what our principles are. Firstly, we will not be privatising any state-owned assets. We believe in state ownership.

"Second is sure, we would like to buy some of those back and we probably will, just like we bought back Air New Zealand and we bought back TranzRail."

But he said he would not write a cheque he could not cash, without knowing what the state of the Government books were like.

This morning, Key said he thought Labour and the Greens would be "genuinely disappointed" with the referendum result.

"They are the only people who really campaigned, we didn't run the campaign," he told Breakfast.

"So the Greens went out there and knocked on doors, and went to the streets, they had billboards everywhere. In fact it's a very low turnout, and if you look at it: of New Zealanders, one in four bothered to vote no."