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Crowd-sourcin’: asset sales question

Written By: - Date published: 11:37 am, February 21st, 2012 - 47 comments
Categories: democratic participation, privatisation, referendum - Tags:

Phil Goff must be feeling slightly odd right now. He campaigned relentless on the ‘own our future’ message for six months and, suddenly, everyone’s talking about it – 3 months too late. Economic sovereignty is suddenly the hot issue with the vast majority of Kiwis opposed to more foreign ownership and asset sales. If an election were held today, there would be no way in hell that asset sales would be able to win a majority in the new Parliament (it still oughtn’t win a majority now if its opponents focus on Peter Dunne and his vulnerable Ohariu seat).

The Nats are in a spin: Key is desperately trying to upgrade English’s numbers on the fiscal impact of asset sales, which he said “is not our best guess – it’s just a guess”, to a “best estimate”. Strange best estimate: you sell parts of five differently sized companies over four years and somehow bring in precisely $1,500 million ($200 million over book value) each year for a nice round total of $6 billion, and the foregone dividend flow is a nice, even 3.3%, which bears no relation to the actual historical dividend flow from these companies. The actual best estimate of asset sales revenue is the one in the PREFU: $3.86 billion – but you can see why Key would want a number more than 50% higher than that, eh?

It’s time for that asset sales referendum petition. There’s still chatter about it happening but nothing definite. It’s hard to understand why – it would be a fantastic mobilising opportunity for political parties, unions, and other activist groups. And a chance for MPs to knock on doors with a 75% chance the person will be on the same side of the issue as them – not often they get that kind of chance to build bonds.

Could be they need a little help. Maybe you can help draft the question.

Here’s the constraints:

  • The wording should be unambiguous but also simple enough to be understood by all
  • The wording in the petition becomes the words of the referendum, so it has to work for both
  • The answer to the referendum that is anti-asset sales should ideally be ‘yes’.

At Standard HQ, also known as The Kingslander, we’ve kicked it around a bit and come up with:

We the undersigned petition the House of Representatives that a referendum be held on the question: Should it be illegal for the government to sell or part sell any state-owned enterprise or any other publicly owned company unless it wins majority support for that sale in a referendum?

I’m sure you can improve on that…


47 comments on “Crowd-sourcin’: asset sales question”

  1. Lanthanide 1

    That’s a really dumb question, because you’re not asking whether the assets should be sold, you’re asking whether a hypothetical future referendum that asked that question should be obeyed or not.

    I also think trying to construct a question to which the answer “yes” means you’re against asset sales is going to make the wording confusing.

    Do you support the government selling or part-selling any state owned power generation assets in the current fiscal climate?
    Answer: no.

    • Blighty 1.1

      That’s a good question.

      I guess there’s a quesiton of whether the referendum should be seeking a law chagne to stop asset sales, or merely expressing dissent against the policy of asset sales.

      • Blighty 1.1.1

        Problem is your wording doesn’t cover Solid Energy and Air NZ and ‘current fiscal climate’ is pretty loose.

        You can’t say state-owned enterpeises because all they have to do is remove the comapny from schedule 1 of the SOE Act then (which they need to do anyway to sell them. At the same time, you can’t just say ‘assets’ because that includes schools, statehouses, ) and things that governments regularly sell and buy.

        How about;

        Do you support the sale or part-sale of state owned companies by the Government?


        Should the Government cease its policy of selling shares in state owned companies?

        • Lanthanide

          Yes, I deliberately said state-owned power generation assets simply to cut the scope, in particular I don’t mind too much about the sale of Air NZ shares and I would support the sale of TVNZ.

          I went with “current fiscal climate” as a way to highlight that the only reason the government is trying to sell these assets is the excuse of paying back debt etc and also point out that we really aren’t so bad as to desperately need the fire-sale of assets that they’re proposing – alternatives such as a fairer tax system are entirely feasible. I would be in favour of asset sales if it is what we had to do to avoid ‘default’ or some other nasty scenario, so answering “no” to the simple question of “do you support the sale of state assets by the government” wouldn’t be true.

      • Jackal 1.1.2

        Exactly! We already know that the majority of New Zealander’s don’t want National’s MOM asset sales… so a question that is designed to confirm that information is somewhat irrelevant.

        A question designed to achieve a referendum is required. Good luck getting the government to pass enabling legislation on the referendum for it to be binding though. The Clerk will have control on the wording of the referendum, which (as history has shown) could also be problematic.

        Firstly you need a petition with the signatures from 10% of all registered electors within 12 months… which considering public sentiment, shouldn’t be all that hard to achieve. Keep it simple:

        Do you support a referendum on the government’s policy to sell or partly sell state owned assets?

        • Lanthanide

          “We already know that the majority of New Zealander’s don’t want National’s MOM asset sales”

          Officially, we don’t know that, and could never know, unless it was on the census.

          The government is using their electoral win, and strong campaigning on asset sales (and the oppositions strong campaigning against assets sales) as evidence that the majority of NZers do want asset sales. The fact that this is specious logic doesn’t matter, simply because there is no official alternative measurement of this idea.

          Therefore having a referendum just on this opinion is sufficient and removes National’s “mandate” argument. Of course they’ll simply ignore the results, much as they ignored the anti-smacking referendum, but it’s the political point that is the goal here.

          • Jackal

            The goal is to stop asset sales. If there is no financial benefit and selling our assets will actually cost us as a country more money than it makes, the public will soon wake up to the con. The political goal will be scored by stopping the asset sales, which a referendum is more likely to achieve. A petition to get a referendum is also a default gauge of the publics wishes… because only those opposed to asset sales would sign it.

            • Lanthanide

              Only a binding referendum could stop asset sales. It is parliament that gets to decide whether a particular referendum is binding or not. With 61 votes, they would choose not.

              It is therefore (practically) impossible for a referendum to stop asset sales.

              • Jackal

                The thing is that a petition either against asset sales or seeking a referendum that gains the required level (around 280,000 signatures) of public support can be worded either way. An indicative petition would also show how many people are against asset sales.

                National might bang on about their minute majority giving them a mandate to sell our future, but they cannot simply ignore a referendum. If they did, the John Key party would take a huge political hit, and be even more likely to lose the next election.

                • Lanthanide

                  I’m not entirely sure where you’re going with this, because you seem to be agreeing with exactly what I’m saying, but acting like you don’t.

                  • Jackal

                    ? I think an indicative petition and then referendum would be more effective at potentially stopping asset sales than just a petition. So no! I’m not agreeing with you.

                    A referendum would give us an official public yes or no to asset sales. It is my educated guess that it will be a very big NO!

  2. ianmac 2

    Do you support the sale of Government Assets? Yes/No.

    Yes. Phil Goff did a great job of raising awareness and good ideas take time to seep into consciousness. Sort of wonder about that flurry of attention over the tea-tape and whether it just prevented a final push of support for Labour/anti Asset Sales. Joyce clever by far?

    • McFlock 2.1

      Do you support the sale of Government Assets, even in part? Yes/No.

      Given that the tossers are already arguing the distinction between whole and partial asset sales.

      • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 2.1.1

        So Air New Zealand could not sell a seat on one of its flights to a Chinese person?

        • Lanthanide

          If by “sell a seat” you mean the occupancy of a seat, then that is not an asset, it’s a service.

          If you mean sell the physical seat, then no, they shouldn’t do that. I’m not aware of any airlines that do sell individual seats to the public anyway.

          • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell

            OK, so the use of the seat is fine. No in-flight peanuts for Chinese people though, I guess.

            • McFlock

              How about we continue this conversation when your personal flight returns to earth orbit, okay?

              • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell

                Every peanut is a partial asset sale. Before you know it, we will be tenants in our own country.

                • Colonial Viper

                  They can have our production of peanuts, just not the land the peanuts are produced from. See the difference?

                • McFlock

                  reductio ad insanitas

                  • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell

                    They can have our production of peanuts, just not the land the peanuts are produced from.

                    OK, so by this criteria, selling the shares in Air NZ is fine.

                • Mike

                  The peanuts are not an asset, they are a part of a service if they’re free, or stock on the balance sheet if they charge for them.

                  What have Chinese people got to do with anything? Oh, of course, you’re confusing the Crafar farms sale with State owned asset sales. Let me guess, you think the high court is racist and based it’s decision on the fact that the bidder in question was a Chinese consortium. Of course the judge didn’t simply apply the law, nope he’s a racist.

        • thatguynz

          Where the fuck did your “a Chinese person?” meme come from?  i can’t see any reference to it in any posts above yours so assume you are trying to make a point?  Pretty damned poorly however I surmise.

          • QoT

            I’m guessing the memo has gone out about trying to paint all people who are anti-foreign ownership of land etc are Meanie Racist Heads Who Just Hate Innocent Chinese Individuals For No Reason.

            I mean, I’m sure plenty of people actually are xenophobic racists and wouldn’t be so upset if it were white Brits buying the Crafar farms, but it’s still a silly line to try to run against all opponents of the sale in the face of clear evidence it isn’t in line with existing law.

    • tc 2.2

      Joyce very clever and sinister with MSM lackeys in tow doing as asked.

      Anyone checked on how the hard done by Ambrose is doing these days or is he off shore now.

      Who paid his high court bills….not saying there’s anything suss but just how does a camerman pay all those bills.

    • mikesh 2.3

      The referendum question would have to include the words “or partial sale”.

  3. Ron 3

    I now that those poposed to assett sales would win this one hands down no matter what the question but referenda are a shitty way to run the country.
    You only have took at recent election results to see that most people don’t have the information or the interest to answer these questtions.
    I could rephrase that: most issues that could go to a referendum are complex and require adequate information and require voters to seriously think about that information to make sensible decisions. We’re simply not up to that in New Zealand.

  4. we the undersigned petition the parliament of new zealand to implement law changes that will restrict the sale of new zealand land to citizens and permanent residents only..
    non-citizens and non-permanent residents will still be able to lease land for commercial development..

    (i wd submit that if we do not do this now..that sooner or later..and probably sooner…

    ..we will become those tenants in our own land…

    ..we must retain that sovereignty over our own land..

    ..the alternative would be calamitous..

    ..and we are so small…and so constantly exposed..

    ..that we must close off the possibility of that ever happening..

    ..a lease-only/no-sale policy would provide that guarantee..


    ..also..we would not have to endure the groundhog day option..

    ..of fighting this bullshit case by case..)


  5. Details of requirements for a referendum here.

    You can’t have a referendum “about the way a referendum was held.” But I suppose a referendum about their being a future referendum should be fine.

    I’d still prefer a simpler question along Blighty’s line wrt support for asset sales. Mixing up requests for referenda amongst that blurs things. But the main thing is we need some sort of petition for a referendum at any rate.

    (Edit: oh, and happy to contribute to $604 cost)

  6. Frank 6

    On a slight detour…

    Phil Goff must be feeling slightly odd right now. He campaigned relentless on the ‘own our future’ message for six months and, suddenly, everyone’s talking about it – 3 months too late

    Of course.

    Because the last thing National would have wanted was a decision on the Crafar Farms made before the elections. Key and English knew full well what would have happened had this issue exploded in their faces prior to November 26.

    We’d be looking at a Labour-led government by now.

  7. duncan garner 7

    3 News Poll tonight.

    Q: Do you support partial asset sales?

    Results at 6.


    • lprent 7.1

      Will be interesting…

      • Herodotus 7.1.1

        What’s the point of a referendum we have had 3 others:no of mp’s, s59 and tougher penalties re law and not one was listened to by the mp’s so why is this different. We all know like in 08 the next election will result in a change on govt so the govt will put in place all those nasty policies just like the previous govt, stuff what the people think they want. In 2014 the irrevocable damage will have already been done

      • 62% against..34% for..3% braindead..


  8. Jan 8

    taking the manipulative wording of the pro-smacking referendum as our model would give us:… 😉

    Should the sale or part sale of New Zealand’s publicly owned infrastructure and assets into private ownership, as part of New Zealander’s “owning their own future”, be legal in New Zealand?

    Or for a yes response.

    Should all New Zealanders, as part of the sound management of New Zealand’s economy, continue in full ownership of own our State Owned Enterprises.

  9. Draco T Bastard 9

    Considering that we’ll be worse off if the government sells our assets, as the figures show, should the government sell them?

  10. Mike 10

    A referendum, as much as I wished otherwise is a waste of time as Key et al wouldn’t care less about what the public thought on this issue. They’re committed to this path. It would be better for United Future Voters (all 13,000 of them) who oppose asset sales (assuming that would be more than 6,500 of them to pile the pressure on Peter Dunne big time, as should National voters who oppose asset sales.

    Alternatively, take the seats electorate seats National won by the smallest majorities and try and find some factual and serious dirt on the National electorate MP in question to try and get a resignation and force a bi-election. Nasty I know but legitimate.

  11. The huge difference between the asset sales of the past is that power and dams are strategic
    assets,the life blood of nz and just should not be hocked off to those who can pay top dollar,
    or afford to dabble in the sharemarket.
    In a town in the uk their power assets were sold to a german company and now those
    town folk cant even afford to boil a jug,once lost,gone forever.
    Partially or fully selling strategic assets should not be allowed by any in-comming govt
    and should be written into law,they are hands off.
    Perhaps a citizens appeal to the high court would stop these assets being partially or fully
    If key and english were genuine about reducing debt they would introduce a capital gains
    tax,this tax touted by labour was the right path to go down and yet the key govt
    dismisses this,why? because he does not want to offend his mates and corporate
    friends who are pillaging nz for personal gain.
    When you consider $14-$20billion,(this is a soft estimate) tax riches from un-taxed\
    profit would be like striking gold for the economy and our assets would still be
    producing $1b a year for the tax payers.
    Just where is the logic,where is the economic nouse,from key and english?
    No where to be found is the answer.

  12. The daily mail uk,has a story on the selling off of their power assets.

  13. Further to my previous post it isn’t difficult to find that goldman sachs had a hand
    in greeces debt problem.
    A search ‘Goldman Sachs involved with greece debt problem’

  14. locus 14

    Do you agree – yes or no: “The government has no right to sell shares held on behalf of the NZ public without the majority of the NZ public showing their approval in a referendum”

  15. Geoffrey Robert Burns 15

    Most people are opposed to state asset sales. Therefore National does not have a mandate for even a partial sale of state assets. Nothing short of a change of government will stop National doing what it likes.
    If there is a clause in the legislation which only binds the crown to consider the Treaty of Waitangi private share holders can do what they like.
    All share holders should be bound by the Treaty of Waitangi because the Treaty covers the rights and responsibilities of all New Zealand citizens.
    If no one wants to be buy shares because they think such clause might restrict what they can do with their share well good.

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