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Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is an APNZ news reporter based in Wellington.

Govt defends asset sale mandate

The partial sale of the state-owned electricity generator was previously scheduled to take place in November. Photo / Simon Baker
The partial sale of the state-owned electricity generator was previously scheduled to take place in November. Photo / Simon Baker

The Meridian Energy float has reignited the battle over whether the Government has a mandate to sell off assets while a referendum on the issue is yet to be held.

The Government yesterday announced the state-owned power company would be listed on the sharemarket on October 29, with the sale of 49 per cent of the company expected to raise about $2.3 billion.

It comes after a petition by the Keep Our Assets coalition was confirmed earlier this month to have enough signatures to force a citizens-initiated referendum on asset sales. A date for the referendum is yet to be set.

Prime Minister John Key says the last election gave the Government a mandate for its partial asset sales programme, while opposition parties have urged the Government to halt its plans until the referendum is held.

Key this morning denied he was ignoring democracy.

"No, because someone signs a referendum doesn't mean they're necessarily going to vote opposed to it," he told TV3`s Firstline.

"Over a million people voted in the last election for National when the then Labour leader said this election is a referendum on asset sales."

Key said the people who signed the petition were absolutely entitled to be heard.

But the referendum asked whether people supported asset sales - not whether they wanted the programme to be stopped.

"That's a different question, actually, some people might accept."

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman told Radio New Zealand the majority of people at the last election voted for parties opposed to asset sales.

He said taking account of votes for the Conservative Party, which opposed asset sales but did not pass the threshold to get into Parliament, 51 per cent of electors voted for parties against the sales.

Norman said voting for Key or National did not mean someone supported asset sales.

"Most people didn't. On top of that again we've got a citizens-initiated referendum underway right now.

"I would say to the Government, suspend the asset sale programme so we can hold the referendum at the same time as the next general election, and then we can specifically test, do New Zealanders want to go ahead with privatisation of these key energy assets, or do they want to keep them in public ownership?"

Norman said the Government was being "incredibly arrogant" and Key was saying the people who signed the petition for a referendum did not count.

The Government has until early next month to declare a date for the referendum.

- APNZ

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