Tough talking on asset sales

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 24/11/2011
Russell Norman
KENT BLECHYNDEN/ Fairfax Media

DEAL BREAKER: Green Party co-leaders Metiria Turei and Russel Norman at a press conference about state-owned assets.

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Prime Minister John Key is warning the election could be closer than voters think as his opponents seek to turn the final days of the campaign into a referendum on asset sales.

Unlikely allies the Green party yesterday flexed their muscle ahead of any post-election negotiations – signalling that asset sales are likely to be a deal breaker in any discussions with National.

The Greens have previously suggested any coalition or support deal with National is highly unlikely but said yesterday they would use what leverage they had to get asset sales taken off the table. "If the Green party has the leverage to do it, we will stop the sale of the assets," Green party co-leader Russel Norman said.

But Mr Key yesterday suggested National would be unlikely to can the asset sale process as part of any coalition or support arrangements. The latest Fairfax Media-Research International Poll has National on 54 per cent – enough to govern alone.

But if its support drops in the final days it could be in trouble.

Without the Greens, Mr Key will be reliant on the Maori Party, ACT or UnitedFuture to put together a government.

Only the Maori Party seems assured of returning to Parliament and it also opposes asset sales – though it might change its mind if iwi were first in line. Mr Key has previously ruled out preferential treatment for iwi, however.

Dr Norman refused to call the party's opposition to asset sales a bottom line – but the party's setting out of its position on asset sales yesterday was a clear signal to voters that a support deal with National is all but impossible.

The hard-ball talk by the Greens comes as Labour ramps up its campaign against asset sales and accuses National of having a secret plan to sell off icons like Kiwibank once it wins a second term. "They [National] are going to put all sorts of assets on the block if New Zealanders let them," Labour leader Phil Goff said.

He signed a pledge in red yesterday promising not to sell Kiwibank. Mr Goff also suggested Labour's polling had them much closer to National than public opinion polls were showing.

He was pinning his hopes on undecided voters swinging Labour's way.

"This week people who are undecided are starting to think about how they will cast their vote."

On the campaign trail yesterday, Mr Key reiterated the Government could pass a law imposing a 10 per cent limit on shares held by any individual in state-owned enterprises.

National plans to sell a 49 per cent stake in the four state-owned power companies. The debate has heated up in the past 24 hours since the release of official papers showing Treasury had given no advice on the 10 per cent cap.

The Greens and Labour have also accused the Government of withholding sensitive Treasury documents detailing the sales process.

Mr Goff will spend the last day on the campaign trail on an anti-asset sales bus tour. Mr Key leaves on a North Island bus tour this morning for the final stretch.

But the shadow of the so-called teapot tape affair still hangs over the campaign, after police swooped on media organisations to seize footage of a conversation between Mr Key and ACT candidate John Banks.

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Cameraman Bradley Ambrose had sought a ruling from the High Court over whether he could use a recording of Mr Banks and Mr Key chatting during a media stunt at a Newmarket cafe.

Chief High Court Judge Justice Winkelmann declined yesterday to make the declaratory judgment over whether the conversation was private. Mr Key has said the chat was private and police are investigating whether criminal charges should be laid after allegations the recording intercepted a private communication.

Mr Goff accused Mr Key of wasting police time and avoiding debate on important issues by dragging out the tea-tape saga.

"This has been a gigantic waste of police time and taxpayers' money."

- Fairfax Media

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