Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Peters: Use super funds to buy back state assets

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters. Photo / Mark Mitchell
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Green Party and Labour have both admitted they cannot commit to buying back shares in state assets which are sold under National - but NZ First leader Winston Peters continues to claim it can be done and has proposed using funds from KiwiSaver or the Super Fund to do so.

The Mixed Ownership Model legislation is expected to pass its final stage tomorrow, opening the way for the first partial sale of up to 49 per cent in Mighty River Power.

A Key Research poll in the Herald on Sunday showed although nearly two-thirds of voters opposed the asset sales, 60 per cent wanted to buy shares if they could afford it - including 52 per cent of Green voters and 54 per cent of Labour voters. The first SOEs up for partial sale include Genesis Energy, Meridian, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand.

Finance minister Bill English has attempted to blunt Opposition attacks on the asset sales plans by challenging them to confirm that they felt strongly enough to buy the assets back under a future Government.

NZ First leader Winston Peters has made that pledge, but both Labour and the Green Party have said they could not make that commitment because it would be fiscally irresponsible.

On 3 News' The Nation over the weekend, Mr Peters said NZ First would pay no more than the opening price of the initial share offer. Asked where the money would come from, he said there were many options rather than borrowing offshore - including borrowing from the Super Fund or KiwiSaver.

"Or more importantly, why couldn't we just ask the New Zealand people at that time - are you in to get this back in our name and I have enough belief in New Zealanders to know that they will have a memory of what happened here, how they were sold down the drain, to put their hand up."

Green co-leader Russel Norman said it was not responsible to commit to buying back the assets when the economic outlook was uncertain. However the party would revise its stance closer to the 2014 election.

"We just can't make the promise that Winston is making. We will do whatever we can, but it is two years away, the books are getting into a terrible mess because of National, and closer to the time we will make an announcement but at the moment we can't."

Dr Norman said that at the least, the Green Party would want to introduce tighter regulation to the electricity market, and add in a requirement for the companies to act in a socially responsible manner.

He said it was also important that the companies which were partially sold off were subject to the Official Information Act - something that will not happen under National's model.

Dr Norman said a petition to try to force a referendum on asset sales had about 100,000 signatures - one-third of the way to the 310,000 required.

Labour's SOEs' spokesman Clayton Cosgrove said on The Nation that Mr Peters' promise was fiscally irresponsible given it was not known how much those shares would be worth in 2014.

He said a situation of a Government bailout could arise, as it had with Air New Zealand which the Government had had to move on. "So that's not to say you would not address that issue if it happened, but I can't commit to an open-ended fiscal envelope. That would be fiscally irresponsible in my view."

- NZ Herald

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