Despite Key’s best efforts to inoculate against the “hidden agenda on asset sales” perception – he’s now peddling the story that National won’t start selling assets until 2011 – the truth seems to have slipped out.
A reliable source close to the party has leaked National’s broadcasting policy for the upcoming election. According to the source National would sell off TV2 to private investors and turn TV ONE into a non-commercial channel, thus making it completely dependent on government funding.
Sound strangely familiar? Selling off New Zealand’s strongest assets has always been an integral part of National’s psyche. It was Don Brash who, in 2004, couldn’t rule out selling TV2. Back in the 1990s it was part of the slash and burn agenda when Jenny Shipley used to joke that she had to check on a daily basis which of the assets has been sold off over night. Maurice Williamson still regrets that he never got around to selling it at the beginnings of the 1990s when he was in charge of broadcasting. And as late as 1998 Tony Ryall stated that in some stage in the future government would seriously have to look at the sale of TVNZ.
Even more interesting is that the Tories seem to have copied their ideas word for word from a suggestion made by investment bank Goldman Sachs JBWere in January 2007. Back then Goldman analyst Rodney Deacon suggested that, with TV2 sold, TV ONE could be transformed into a BBC-style, commercial-free, public channel fulfilling TVNZ charter obligations. He valued TV2 at $392 million but said that, based on recent media deals, it could fetch $436 million. Too bad that the Nats don’t like the charter much either.
John Key might be trying hard to kill off the sneaking suspicion that National, if given half a chance, would return to the old ways of cutting benefits and privatising state assets, but slowly the whole picture is starting to emerge. A quick reminder: In October last year, for example, he couldn’t remember being lobbied by Macquarie Bank over introducing private public partnerships into education – then later admitted to it. Then Bill English slipped up saying that he would like to sell state assets – only ‘partial floats’, of course. And in health John Key and Tony Ryall want to allow doctors to charge patients whatever they want and channel more money into the private sector. Go figure.