The Government has resolutely vowed to push on with the sale of shares in state-owned Genesis Energy, even as a new survey reveals angry voters are turning their backs on the National Party and its asset sales programme.
A Herald on Sunday-Key Research poll shows Labour's vote soaring from 31 per cent, a year ago, to 40 per cent this week.
That is Labour's best result since 2007, and will be a welcome Christmas present for new leader David Cunliffe.
Asked how the asset sales would affect their vote, 37 per cent of the 500 respondents said they would be much less likely to vote for National.
It won't keep John Key awake at night: his party is still polling at a very healthy 48 per cent, and support for him as prime minister (45 per cent) is more than double that of Cunliffe (18 per cent).
Preliminary results of a citizens-initiated referendum, published on Friday, showed two out of three voters opposed asset sales. But only 44 per cent of the public voted, enabling Prime Minister John Key to dismiss the referendum as a "political stunt".
"Three in four New Zealanders said no, we don't agree with Labour and the Greens," Key told media yesterday at Hobsonville Airbase in Auckland.
"I genuinely think Labour and the Greens will be very disappointed ... I think it will be a dismal failure from their point of view."
The Young Nats went one step further, posting a photo of John Key drinking a beer at a barbecue with the caption: "The provisional results for the asset sales referendum are ... who cares, it's Friday. Have a good one."
Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said the Herald on Sunday poll confirmed that, for most people, the share sales programme would either not change their voting intentions or would reinforce their support for National.
He reiterated National's intention to sell part of Genesis Energy early next year. "As we have said previously, the Government plans to sell a minority stake in Genesis in the first half of next year, subject to market conditions."
Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove accused him of disregarding democracy and the 1.3 million people who voted in the postal referendum. "What I find outrageous is that National will ignore this referendum completely. They are telling New Zealanders that National doesn't care what they want.
"This is more about John Key and Bill English's political vanity and pride."
When asked whether Labour would buy back the assets if it gained the Treasury benches, he refused to answer directly, insisting only that Labour "reserved the right to act in the public interest".
Greens co-leader Russel Norman said asset sales had become an albatross around the neck of the National Party. "They can say what they like but the fact is asset sales have always been unpopular - even with National voters," he said. "This has really dented voter confidence in the party."
The Herald on Sunday poll's worst news is for the Greens, whose vote share drops from 13 per cent to 8 per cent, and for the smaller parties, none of whom break 1 per cent.
However, with National and a Labour-Greens coalition tied on 48 per cent, this poll would nonetheless put the future of the country in the hands of small party power-brokers. Peter Dunne is likely to return and support National; Hone Harawira is likely to return and support Labour - leaving the Maori Party as the most likely broker.
Co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell would seek to persuade members to stick with National for another term - but would likely demand weighty government concessions on issues such as oil-drilling.