Sir Bob Jones

Commentary on issues of the day from the property tycoon, author and former politician

Sir Bob Jones: National finds enough rope for its asset sales

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Sir Bob Jones believes that selling Air New Zealand makes sense. Photo / Supplied
Sir Bob Jones believes that selling Air New Zealand makes sense. Photo / Supplied

Defending the contentious asset sales policy, the Prime Minister argues he was open about his party's intentions before the last election and thus has a mandate. The openness was commendable but not so his assumption. His party would still have won if it had also proposed publicly hanging the unemployed, which, mind you, when one quietly considers it, does have some merit.

After all, public hangings were immensely popular entertainments in Britain, drawing enormous crowds and in the process creating much happiness and gainful work, (hangmen for example) plus considerable food and beverage, manufacturing and purveying employment. The sole shortcoming with the public hanging industry though was its brevity.

This was resolved by introducing multiple successive hangings, thereby ensuring a decent day's family outing and a corresponding greater demand for food and drinks. Learning from this, boxing promoters of the day introduced preliminary bouts; these multiple hangings and preliminary fights initiatives marking yet another giant stride forward in the march of civilisation.

But what does all of this prove? Well for starters, that reading newspapers is educational, as I'll bet you didn't know that before.

The asset sales hullabaloo was reminiscent of the 1980s Douglas asset disposals. According to the protesters back then, it was vital the government owned printing works, talk-back radio stations, shipping companies, weekly news magazines, tourist agencies, hotels and so on. How absurd that sounds today.

I believe the function of government is to govern and not own businesses. But, in the latest asset sales furore, I found myself sympathising with the protesters. Here's why.

Since the advent of the industrial revolution every business has sought the bliss of a monopoly. The competitive market economy denies that, except in unique situations, such as for example with our hydro electricity generating dams. So why sell them?

Here the Government becomes a little slippery. To reduce debt, says the Finance Minister, despite our public debt being low by world standards and interest rates never being lower. To enable future capital-raising, argues the PM, overlooking that if, as an appeasement to objectors, the Government intends retaining half ownership, it will still be up for 50 per cent of any capital-raising while receiving only half the previous dividend return.

Our existing dams are monopolies, thanks to the greenies' wrong assertion that they always damage the environment. They certainly can do, such as the ill-considered enormous Mekong dam planned by Laos, which likely will be stopped by the other Mekong nations. But in New Zealand? I don't think so.

Rather than wreck the environment, they've enhanced it. Prior to the construction (despite the then massive public protest) of the huge South Island dams, the top end of the food chain in the rivers to be dammed were brown trout, averaging in weight at maturity, rarely more than 3lb. Today, Otago newspapers regularly show photos of anglers holding 15lb and upwards trout, caught from these dam-created lakes.

Have a chat to nymphs, cockabullies and the other diverse lake life, all the way up the food chain, and they'll tell you they're now living the life of Riley, having escaped the arduous river existence of their ancestors.

Additionally, the lakes have created yachting, boating, lakeside residences and other pluses. Nevertheless, as the greenies are currently in the policy ascendancy and people enjoying themselves always hugely upsets them, new dams are out.

I have a sneaking suspicion the bleak buggers might even oppose resurrecting public hangings for the same kill-joy reasons, but I mustn't pre-judge them.

One absolute certainty is that the people who bitterly opposed the construction of our dams are exactly the same types now opposing their sale. What puzzles me is why the Government doesn't sell TVNZ. The rationale for owning it was to ensure quality public broadcasting. It's hardly debatable that TVNZ's fare is, with few exceptions, a diet of populist trash, yet inexplicably, its one attempt to create a channel providing a degree of quality broadcasting it's now closing.

Selling Air New Zealand makes sense. The financial performance of commercial airlines, being a modern business, is assessable. Their global history amounts to a net loss (more educational value from your newspaper). That's not peculiar to airlines yet there are always buyers, for as the PM knows from his past employment, the investment industry is noted for its irrationality.

It's time the Government was more innovative. For example, here's a cost-cutting idea which admittedly would be divisive. Halve the number of MPs. The nation would immediately fall into two passionate camps, being 4.3 million or so people enthusiastically in favour, and 123 MPs, half now facing unemployment, vehemently against.

But I've already solved that new unemployment problem; we simply hang them. Here's a prediction. Watch wily Winston try and pinch my public hangings resurrection idea at the next election.

- NZ Herald

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