Peters 'forgets' NZ First support for power reforms

By Audrey Young

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has begun to use speeches to bad-mouth Max Bradford's electricity reforms of the 1990s and yesterday was no exception.

At a speech to Grey Power in Porirua, he took a brief moment to invite audience feedback over reforms.

"Do you remember who did it?" he asked. A few mumbled "Max Bradford". It wasn't loud enough so he asked again. "Max Bradford," a few said with a bit more bitterness.

Mr Peters cranked up similar sentiment in his keynote speech to his party's annual conference on July 20.

"With power prices going through the roof, why are we not amalgamating the power companies created during the mindless National Party reforms?"

Mindless National Party reforms? Max Bradford? Yes, but Mr Peters has created the fiction that New Zealand First opposed them.

In fact Mr Bradford had strong support at the time from National's coalition partner from December 1996 to August 1998, New Zealand First.

And not just the sort of passive support a party gives when it might be swallowing a dead rat or a dead fish of a policy.

When Mr Bradford as Energy Minister held a press conference to announce his reforms, New Zealand First deputy leader and energy spokesman Peter Brown was at his side.

The reforms included a decision in principle to split ECNZ into three SOEs (Genesis, Mighty River Power and Meridian) and the ownership separation of line and energy businesses. (ECNZ had already been restructured in 1996 to allow the formation of the Contact Energy SOE.)

The Electricity Industry Reform Act 1998, with separation of lines and business, was introduced in May 1998 and passed in late June of that year, with the unwavering support of New Zealand First.

Mr Brown, who is still energy spokesman and deputy leader of New Zealand First, said during the third reading: "This bill will deliver cheaper power prices for the consumer. It will start with the split of ECNZ. With the baby ECNZs, Contact Energy and the private generators, we will have true competition in this country for wholesale electricity ... Innovation and efficiency will come in, and the price will go down. The splitting of the lines and the energy business will ensure that the price will go through to the consumer at a lower level. That will be a win-win situation for the consumer."

So the next time Mr Peters asks an audience "who did it?" the full answer is that he could not have done it without New Zealand First.

In favour were National 44, New Zealand First 17, Act 8, United Future 1, and Alamein Kopu, 1. Against were Labour 37, and the Alliance 12.

The coalition collapsed on August 12, however, and Jenny Shipley's National Government almost immediately began the process for selling Contact Energy, which had been expressly ruled out in the coalition agreement.

- NZ Herald

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