John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Ad campaign waste of taxpayer money

The sales process for Mighty River Power shares begins today with pre-registration.  Photo / Alan Gibson
The sales process for Mighty River Power shares begins today with pre-registration. Photo / Alan Gibson

The public may well question the value of the $1 million-plus, taxpayer-funded advertising campaign to drum up interest in buying shares in Mighty River Power. Not because majority opinion has long been heavily skewed against the privatisation of state assets whether such sell-offs be holus-bolus or - as in this case - only partial. The public could be justified in questioning the publicity campaign because it is not really necessary.

The only problem awaiting National in the forthcoming float of up to 49 per cent of the state-owned power generator is that the offer is likely to be heavily over-subscribed and applications will have to be scaled back, thereby leaving some investors disappointed.

The local sharemarket has been enjoying a bull run for months as share prices soar on the back of demand from cash shifting out of low-interest bank deposits along with bountiful super funds looking for profitable resting places.

Shares in Mighty River Power - the jewel in the state's energy crown - will be snapped up. The Government will have no trouble hitting its target of 85 to 90 per cent New Zealand ownership. A loyalty share bonus scheme will keep it at that level - or close to it - this side of next year's election.

Opposition MPs can keep arguing the wrongs of state asset sales. But - judging from opinion polls - that was an argument they had already won long before it began. Those MPs will now only be talking to themselves. Yesterday's announcement - much to National's relief - marks what should be a pronounced shift in the debate. With the float a fait accompli, the question now - as far as most people are concerned - is whether Mighty River Power shares will be a good investment.

The need for Opposition parties to review their tactics was tacitly acknowledged by Winston Peters, who said he would use his influence in the next coalition Government to buy back shares in Mighty River Power and the two other state generators also earmarked for partial floats, Meridian Energy and Genesis Energy.

Peters can try. Given fiscal conditions will still be extremely tight after next year's election, Labour and the Greens will surely have more pressing priorities for any spare cash.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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