Asset sales just the start, says Green MP

LAURA BASHAM
Last updated 13:00 21/07/2012

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It's not just the Government's partial sale of state-owned companies that New Zealanders should be concerned about - a push for councils to privatise their revenue-generating assets is likely to be next, says Green Party local government spokesperson Eugenie Sage.

The Green list MP from Christchurch was in Nelson yesterday. She met Nelson Mayor Aldo Miccio and later was out in Trafalgar St collecting signatures for the nationwide petition calling for a citizens-initiated referendum on asset sales.

The Mixed Ownership Model Act allows the Government to sell up to 49 per cent of Mighty River Power, Genesis, Meridian and Solid Energy. It also plans to reduce its shareholding in Air New Zealand

Ms Sage said that in Christchurch, there had been distinct pressure from the Government on the Christchurch City Council to sell its assets.

She said Nelson had its port company, which provided an annual dividend of $4 million each to the Nelson city and Tasman district councils, which offset rates, and the Nelson Airport company also paid each council $200,000.

Ms Sage said the Government's change to the purpose of local government, with its requirements to focus on cost-effective service, seemed to be setting the stage to push local government out of any revenue-generating activities. "It would provide a platform to push councils to privatise their revenue-gathering assets and have those run by the private sector."

She said the Green Party had received a good response to the petition, with 80,000 people signing it in just two months.

"People realise that the assets generate dividends which can be offset against taxes. It's people's taxes that have built these assets, in the same way their rates built the assets the council has."

One of those signing the petition yesterday afternoon was Conor Hill, who has just returned to Nelson after travelling in Europe.

"I've been following this issue from afar and felt a bit powerless when overseas," he said.

Ms Sage said that during her meeting with Mr Miccio and deputy mayor Ali Boswijk, she had gained a helpful insight into a range of issues, including emphasising Nelson's importance as a food hub, and work on a secure energy future.

She said Nelson was one of New Zealand's food baskets, which needed more research and development and added-value processing, but the Government had not come up with a coherent regional economic development strategy.

Nelson also needed a smart coastal shipping strategy.

Ms Sage was more reticent about a call from Mrs Boswijk and councillor Gail Collingwood to remove GST from rates.

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"It's an interesting idea, and supports the need for a genuine conversation between central and local government about revenue sharing," she said.

- The Nelson Mail

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