Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Key's power play won't stop the bills going up

113 comments
Anti-privatisation protesters are gearing up for a fight. Photo / Greg Bowker
Anti-privatisation protesters are gearing up for a fight. Photo / Greg Bowker

It was a very lame performance by Prime Minister John Key in the first week of Parliament, although he did manage to come up with three headline policies that some conservatives will salivate over - welfare reform, contracting out schools, and privatisation.

A closer look suggests his first policy, welfare reform - aside from the usual public beneficiary-bashing - will affect little more than 1 per cent of those who receive a state benefit.

Key knows forcing people to work and slashing benefits may excite mean-spirited rednecks, but in reality it's all nonsense.

After all, does anyone really believe 160,000 New Zealanders are living the high life on $200 a week rather than working?

Any fool knows the only way to get people off the dole is to create jobs.

That's only possible if a government has an actual jobs-creation plan, which clearly this one does not.

Key's only foray into creating employment was when he promised 4000 jobs by building a nationwide bicycle track.

After three years, there still isn't a single job.

The welfare reform means that anyone receiving a benefit will be penalised if they don't meet certain performance criteria. Maybe our Prime Minister's taxpayer income should be reduced because of his lack of delivery of agreed outputs.

Even his second idea of contracting the running of schools is a damp squib. Privatisation of our education to profit-making corporations is a wet dream for right-wing ideologues. But trialling two non-performing schools in South and West Auckland as "charter schools" will hardly revolutionise our education system, let alone society.

But the third platform is very serious. Selling our electricity cash cows goes to the heart of our sovereignty.

It isn't true to say that selling 49 per cent of the asset is all good news because it raises billions of dollars but keeps control in public hands. Once private shareholder directors sit on the boards, any pretence of public control is gone.

Commercially, it also makes no sense to sell. Even the right-wingers no longer pretend that privatisation makes any business sense for us. The Government disclosed that the average annual shareholders' return from the four power companies over the past five years was an eye-watering 18.5 per cent.

Who in their right mind sells a golden goose that is giving their money back every five years? Green Party leader Russel Norman reckons the returns will be even better in future. That's because Mercury power bills will go up 5 per cent and those from Genesis will go up 5.8 per cent in April.

We know that the shares will eventually end up in the hands of professional investment funds that will gouge even more profits from their hapless customers. Whatever the sales price, power prices will go up to cover the bank loans the new owners will take.

Key saying he will use the sale money for investing in health and education is insulting. He cuts the taxes for the wealthy so our rich now pay less tax than even their wealthy counterparts in the United States. Then he uses the lack of tax revenue as a pretext to sell our profitable assets to these same people.

Fortunately, key leaders are getting their act together. Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly has taken up an initiative from the Green Party and is convening an anti-privatisation campaign meeting in 10 days. Attending will be the main trade unions, all the opposition parliamentary parties and influential organisations such as Grey Power. These groups have more than half a million members.

Two out of three New Zealanders already oppose the asset sales. With this organisational grunt behind such a campaign, it means that for the first time since Key became Prime Minister, he is vulnerable.

My message to the Prime Minister is that in the 1980s, New Zealanders stood by and watched our children's birthright hocked off to overseas interests - who made a fortune. This time we'll fight to save what's left. See you on the streets.

- Herald on Sunday

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 29 Dec 2014 02:04:25 Processing Time: 545ms