National was forced into a back down by the extremely negative public reaction to Bill English’s kite-flying over selling Kiwibank. Now, after initially supporting the idea of a sale, John Key has emphatically ruled it out… unless he changes his mind later.
When it comes to other public assets, Key is more circumspect. Asked by Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB if he would sell NZ Post (hey, isn’t Key’s right-hand man, Wayne Eagleson on holiday with the head of NZ Post?), Key would not rule it out saying he might “technically” sell it. I wonder if this is a hint of the kind of ‘hollowing out’ I suggested last week, whereby the government sells off the profit stream of the asset through bonds or non-voting shares but retains legal ownership.
Duncan Garner asked Key about other assets at the post-Cabinet press conference and got the semantic run around as well.
It’s clear. If National wasn’t planning asset sales they would just say so as other parties do, and the Nats eventually did over Kiwibank. The fact that National won’t rule out sales tells us they want to sell them but don’t have the courage to front up and have an honest public debate on the issue.
[Update: John Armstrong muses today on why Key backed English’s musings on a partial sale of Kiwibank for two weeks until Labour and the Progressives pointed out that he had promised nine times never to sell it. Armstrong comes up with some strange theory about not taking the post-Budget wind from English’s sails. The obvious truth is that before becoming PM Key was saying whatever it took to get elected and had either forgotten his categorical statements on Kiwibank or was hoping everyone else had.
Predictably, Armstrong congratulates Key, saying it was a pragmatic decision to take Kiwibank off the table because its special circumstances make selling it impractical, disproving claims the privatisation agenda is ideological. Funny, a couple of weeks ago we were being told Kiwibank’s special were why it needed to be sold. The real reason that Kiwibank has the cast-iron guarantee is it happened to be the asset at the centre of the secret tape. It makes no more sense to sell any other public assets than it does Kiwibank and any attempt to sell them will meet with the same opposition]