So, National expects 200,000 people to buy shares when it hocks off our assets. Call me simple but there’s 4.4 million of us, 3.3 million adults. Seems like nearly all of us won’t buy shares. But here’s the real rub: they’re talking about a bonus for the elite who can afford to buy shares and hold on to them. A gift from us to them. And National’s got no legal right to do it.
You might remember a joker called Charles I. Parliament pissed him off because it kept on criticising the fact that he was spending lots of taxpayer money on poorly run wars and whoring it up- and they refused to pass laws authorising his taxes and spending. So, he decided that he shouldn’t have to ask Parliament for the right to levy taxes and spend money. The Parliament rather thought he should. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, the issue was settled and Charles I ended up losing his head.
After that, things continued more or less in a settled manner for 350 years. The monarch and, later, their government could only raise money and spend money under the right of Act of Parliament. That’s why we have a budget each year.
The Constitution Act confirms this state of affairs:
It shall not be lawful for the Crown, except by or under an Act of Parliament,—
(a) to levy a tax; or
(b) to borrow money or to receive money borrowed from any person; or.
(c) to spend any public money.
Great. So we’re all clear on that.
National’s got this plan to give New Zealanders who buy shares in the state assets a bonus share for every 15 they hold for two years (if they follow the Queensland model precisely). It’s what you might call a looters’ bonus for the 6% of New Zealanders that National expects to buy shares, paid for by the other 94% of us who end up owning less of these companies.
As Russel Norman points out, that’s spending of public money. It’s taking taxpayer wealth and giving it to someone else. Whenever the Government wants to do this, it has to get Parliament’s permission. That’s why Treaty settlements have to go through Parliament – because they involve the Crown spending in the form of unrequited gifts to iwi in the form of land and, often, shares.
So, where’s the legislation where the Government has asked for and received Parliament’s permission to spend taxpayer wealth by giving away shares? Well, it’s nowhere. It’s not in the Budget, and it’s not in the Mixed Ownership Model Bill. And, they don’t have time to put it in a future law because they will be incurring this expenditure, in terms of the way the government accounts for these things, in a couple of months when it sells the Mighty River shares with a promise of bonus shares to come if people hold on to them.
John Key seemed to have trouble understanding this. The Budget, he said, allows for asset sales. Well, yes, the Budget does say the Government will sell shares in assets for cash and use that to buy other capital . But there’s a fundamental difference between selling something for market price and giving it away – the latter is expenditure, the former isn’t.
There’s no mention of giving away shares to anyone in the Budget. The Government has not got Parliament’s permission to do it.
How has National fucked up such a basic thing? I mean, it’s not like they couldn’t have put this in the Budget or the asset sales legislation – they still would have passed. But, at the same time, this isimportant stuff: it is a pillar of our democracy that Parliament is sovereign and the Government can’t tax or spend without its permission.
The reason National hasn’t asked for Parliament’s permission is that it is so disorganised that, two months from the first sale, it still hasn’t decided what form the looters’ bonus will take. They’ve been planning this for years and they still haven’t got the most simple things sorted with only weeks to go.
National’s got itself in the position of trying to pull the same shit that got Charles I a date with the axe simply because the ministers are too lazy and half-cocked.
How’s this going to play out? I see another embarrassing back down in John Key’s future. The looters’ bonus is going to go the way of increased class sizes. And even that won’t save him from the chop in 2014.