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Current as of 27/02/17 04:59AM NZST

What really ruffles Kiwi feathers

By Lynley Bilby

New Zealanders are loath to relinquish even a partial ownership share in national assets such as power companies - but the asset sales debate hasn't harmed the Government's polling one jot.

Roy and Zoe McEvoy. Photo / Neville Marriner
Roy and Zoe McEvoy. Photo / Neville Marriner

Christmas with family is over and Ray McEvoy is flying home with Air NZ, just like he does every year.

The 83-year-old has been farming just outside Dargaville for 50 years. He loves his family, he likes his work, he trusts Air NZ and he votes National.

Now, he's sitting in Auckland Airport's domestic terminal beside his 81-year-old wife Zoe and they're catching up on a bit of reading while they wait for their Link flight to Whangarei. Then it's back to the stud Hereford herd.

They've just been to New Plymouth for Christmas to visit family but because they're flying between provincial North Island airports they're relying on Air New Zealand to make the journey. It's a trip the devoted great-grandparents take several times a year.

Yet McEvoy, sporting a patriotic silver fern on his polo top, has no qualms with an increase in private ownership of the flagship carrier. "If the country needs the money it's not hurting anyone to sell partly - not fully though."

McEvoy may support asset sales of Air NZ and four power companies, but his sentiment is not shared by most New Zealanders.

A Key Research- Herald on Sunday poll reveals three out of five Kiwis want to keep tight hold of the country's engine room. Only 32.1 per cent of eligible voters support the Government's mixed-ownership model for Mighty River Power, Genesis, Meridian, Solid Energy and an increased sale of Air NZ; 59.2 per cent oppose the sales.

Those aged between 45 and 64 years - the voting bloc that lived through the dismantling of state-owned enterprises during the 80s - are the strongest opponents of the sales.

Organisers of a petition to force a national referendum on the asset sales told the Herald on Sunday they had now topped the magic number of 310,000 signatures and will present the petition to Parliament's clerk next month.

Keep Our Assets organiser and Grey Power president Roy Reid called on the Government to halt the sales until a non-binding referendum could take place, saying ministers could not ignore the widespread discontent over their plans.

Palmerston North Hospital chaplain Sande Ramage was flying home to Palmerston North this week, after Christmas with family.

She said our national carrier was far more than a transport company, playing a vital role bringing communities closer. "Air New Zealand and the power companies are symbolic as a society. If you only treat them as bricks and mortar assets then you miss the point. They are part of an unseen fabric that pulls our society together."

The Anglican priest, 58 and tattooed, makes around six trips a year by air and said our national carrier tapped into the Kiwi psyche.

Just before Christmas the Treasury advised caution in the proposed timetable, warning the stock market would not be able to cope with the partial sale of three state-owned power companies in one year and recommended the Government sell no more than one company every six months.

The Government had planned to begin selling shares in Mighty River Power this year but put it off until 2013 to allow more time to consult Maori.

Yet despite the opposition to the asset sales, Prime Minister John Key continues to enjoy unmatched favour in the Key Research- Herald on Sunday poll: 59.8 per cent of eligible voters nominate him their preferred leader.

If an election were held tomorrow, 46.9 per cent of voters would tick the National box. As long as National's coalition partners in Act and United Future held their electorate seats, John Key would be returned to the Beehive as Prime Minister.

Ray McEvoy will certainly be supporting Key's return for a third term in office.

So he's a National supporter, then?

"I'm a farmer," he responds.

Of course he is.

- Herald on Sunday

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