On 30 September 2013, Prime Minister John Key announced that a referendum on asset sales would be via postal ballot and would take place between 22 November and 13 December. This is a citizens-initiated referendum on the National government’s plan to partially privatise four energy-related state-owned enterprises and to reduce the government’s share in Air New Zealand. John Key has stated that his government will not be bound by the results of such a referendum, in essence declaring that democracy doesn’t exist here. One wonders if Mr. Key is more beholden to his corporate masters than he is to the people who elected him and his party.

Despite his claim I feel we need to send a clear message to government indicating we want state assets to continue to be available for the benefit of all New Zealanders and for future generations.

Before the beginning of the sell-off of this country we were in an enviable position. There was virtually no unemployment and New Zealand was the epitome of an egalitarian society. Everyone had enough and few had too much. There was little crime and little disenfranchisement of youth. All that has changed and I suspect the sell-off has made a significant contribution to said changes.

Let’s look at just a few of the sales past governments have made.

The government sold Air New Zealand to a consortium in 1988. Following a financial collapse in 2001 the government injected new capital and became the dominant shareholder. That was a costly exercise for taxpayers.

Tranz Rail, New Zealand’s only significant rail operator, was sold to a consortium in 1993. In response to the implications of Tranz Rail’s declining financial viability, the government progressively bought back Tranz Rail’s assets between 2002 and 2008. Another costly exercise.

The ports of Auckland were partially privatised by one of its regional government owners in 1988, and then brought back fully into regional government ownership in 2005—at ratepayers’ expense.

The Bank of New Zealand has a long history of moving in and out of public ownership. The government last sold its shareholding in the BNZ to National Australia Bank in 1992. State-owned Kiwibank Limited was founded in 2001, employs more than 900 staff, adds over 300 new customers per day and has higher customer satisfaction ratings than the four large Australian-owned trading banks.

Proponents of private sector participation argue that privatisation leads to improvements in the efficiency and service quality of utilities. The Kiwibank experience disproves this argument.

Possible consequences of selling our public assets include an increase in power prices to profit foreign investors, a loss of income for the government due to lost dividend income, and diminished control over our public utilities and resources.

I reckon selling assets is a sale of our self-determination. How will you vote?

And in case you’re interested in a little more comparable background check out the experience with privatization in Costa Rica here: http://www.nationofchange.org/public-banking-costa-rica-remarkable-little-known-model-1384265843

Radio host, librarian, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See http://www.JohnHainesBooks.wordpress.com

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