OPINION: Phew! SO much happened last week you could be forgiven for forgetting all about the anti-asset sales rally that attracted more than 3500 people in Auckland eight days ago.
As the week progressed, the emotional question of euthanasia dominated the headlines - should John Key put ACT out of its misery by turning off life support for John Banks now, or let ACT die a slow and agonising death at the next election? I believe Labour MP Maryan Street is also working on a private members bill about the same issue.
As the temporary member for Epsom, Mr Banks spent the week obfuscating on thin ice over anonymous donations and asset sales hardly got a look in. We were too busy worrying about Mr Banks' possible man-dates in a helicopter with Kim Dotcom to ask if the Government has a mandate to sell assets.
Of course they do.
Unlike the 1984 Labour Government, John Key made it very clear during the election campaign that he wanted to sell up to 49 per cent of some state assets if National became government.
National was returned, so that, technically, is a mandate. Now it seems that even if Parliament enjoys a Banks holiday, there will be a slim majority of MPs in favour of selling assets.
However, according to polls, as many of 70 per cent of Kiwis are opposed to asset sales.
Therefore, a significant number of New Zealanders probably voted for National even though they didn't agree with asset sales.
So what should the anti-asset political parties do, given that it looks unlikely that the Government will lose its majority or decide against asset sales before legislation is introduced?
The worrying thing about Labour is that both Phil Goff and David Shearer have lamented that if you sell state assets you lose them forever. Rubbish. KiwiRail is an asset that was sold by a National Government then eventually bought back in the dying days of Helen Clark's reign.
Trouble is; they paid way too much for an asset later described by Bill English as a dog. The satisfied smirks on the faces of Toll Holdings representatives when the sale was announced said it all.
So is there any way a future government can buy back our assets without paying KiwiRail prices?
I'm no share market expert, but I'm sure there is.
For example, if Labour warned hungry investors in August that if they returned to government they would only refund shareholders the cost or issue price of the share they bought, then a future Labour government would only pay the amount the asset was sold for.
If people bought shares at an inflated price (it's a pretty sure bet that the share price of these assets will initially rise) then they would know in advance that they could face a loss.
I'd also add a bit of a surcharge to the private investor to pay for the millions spent on consultants advising on asset sales and the ridiculous road-show selling the float to "Mum and Dad" that will occur later in the year.
I'm sure that such an anti-capitalist idea would make David Shearer quake in his moccasins, unless they did it in Finland first, but I'm not convinced "Mum and Dad" Kiwis would mind.
We were disgusted the way speculators used a well-intentioned government guarantee scheme to make easy money out of South Canterbury Finance, so getting tough on investors speculating on the taxpayer assets could be a vote winner.
And it beats paying KiwiRail prices that will give private investors, already enjoying healthy tax cuts, even more of a windfall.
Other alternatives could include nationalising the asset per se, so private shareholders lose everything.
Such socialistic action would cause a furore but, my goodness, it would be highly entertaining. Hell hath no fury like an outraged business community.
But if NZ First, Labour, Greens, the Maori Party and Mana really want to retain our assets and get our votes, tell us what you're going to do should assets be sold. Protest is fine, but it's constructive radical action that those of us interested in keeping state assets in state hands really want to hear.
- © Fairfax NZ News