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Asset sales law passes another stage

Published: 5:11PM Thursday June 14, 2012 Source: ONE News

Controversial asset sales legislation has passed another political stage this evening.

Around 100 people gathered outside Parliament this afternoon to voice their opposition to the Government's plan as it was given a second reading, but it was passed by politicians, 61 votes to 59.

The Mixed Ownership Model Bill will allow the sale of up to 49% of electricity companies Mighty River Power (MRP), Meridian Energy, and Genesis Energy, and coal-miner Solid Energy.

The first shares to go on sale, in Mighty River Power, are set to be offered in the next 16 weeks.

The Greens are calling for the Government to slow down and allow a referendum before assets sales become a reality.

They have written to the leaders of all the other political parties asking them to support an amendment to the Bill which would prohibit any sales, if the legislation is passed, until after a citizen-initiated referendum.

"We think it is important that the people of New Zealand are given the opportunity to have their voice on whether we should proceed with assets sales," Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said.

The Greens claim their Keep Our Assets petition has gathered 30,000 signatures since it was launched five weeks ago, but the Prime Minister is resisting calls to hold a referendum.

John Key says it is not necessary as Kiwis were able to have their say about whether they supported the plan at the election.

"National won with the biggest result it's ever had in MMP history and Labour had the worst result in MMP history so the people of New Zealand have spoken," he said.

But the issue provoked fiery exchanges in the debating chamber, New Zealand First claimed it was "about treason, it's about treachery, it's about betrayal."

But, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce insisted "the National led Government is committed to getting on top of debt, protecting and growing our economy. "

He stressed the legislation requires the Government to retain a 51% controlling shareholding, claiming the policy would "help control debt, increase savings, strengthen capital markets, and help get New Zealand through the worst economic times in nearly a century."

Labour's SOE spokesman Clayton Cosgrove called for a u-turn on the asset sales policy.

"They did it with education. They should do it with assets," he told Parliament. "Even if they get one away, the people of New Zealand have the opportunity to stop them on the second, and the third, and the fourth."

Describing the Bill's return to Parliament as a "dark day for New Zealand", Cosgrove admitted Labour had gone down the privatisation path in the past, but "learnt from its mistakes" and bought assets back.