Finance Minister Bill English announced last week that Radio New Zealand and Kiwi Rail are "relics of a bygone era" and "worthless assets".

He was quick to say this does not signal they are for sale.

Arguably though, this is only because the National Government's agenda of privatising public services has gone so spectacularly badly.

Electricity reforms promised increased efficiency and competition would lower power prices. Instead, profits are pocketed privately while frail elders shiver in their beds.

Advertisement

After being sold, Kiwi Rail was devalued by private owners then bought back (because relic though it may be, it remains a strategic and environmental asset). Now it's expected to be profitable under unfair competition from publicly subsidised roads. It grieves me to agree with Richard Prebble, but he is correct - to level the playing field, the rail corridor should be funded, as overcrowded roads are, by the NZ Transport Authority.

The charter school experiment has seen a constant litany of reported failures.

The attempt to sell off state housing to private providers found no local takers and contracting prisons to global outsourcing giant Serco has attracted such an avalanche of reports of violence, contraband, deaths and injuries that the Department of Corrections has had to step back in.

Spin maestro, PM John Key - always alert to an easy way out - says this shows the advantage of the private model where contracts can be cancelled whereas government doesn't have that option with the public service.

Apparently social services are next to be privatised, although recent reports of terrified beneficiaries having their pittances terminated - on cunning pretexts such as non-attendance at appointments of which the Ministry of Social Services somehow neglected to notify them - would suggest the current government is quite capable of turning what was once known as social security into social insecurity all on its own (albeit with the help of the concept illustrated by the social media meme, "The rich persuading the middle classes to blame the poor").

Private contractors' primary aim is profit, whereas the primary aim of public services is community wellbeing. The current government seems unable, or unwilling to perceive the difference.

For example, Bill English claimed Radio New Zealand "was worth a billion, worth $300 million today and will be worth nothing soon". Clearly the only kind of value he recognises is monetary.

Radio New Zealand is the sole nationwide source of in-depth news delivered independently of the kind of commercial imperatives - advertising and ratings - which might affect the editorial integrity of content, and is therefore a priceless democratic (and strategic civil defence) asset, mercifully free of the need to pander to the popular prejudices of the lowest common denominator with the opiates of sport, sensationalism and shopping.

Advertisement

Any attack on Radio New Zealand is an attack on democracy itself, although admittedly the elitist market rationalists of the National Government have a vested interest in keeping the masses ignorant.

One cannot help but wonder though, if they do not value the public services they were elected to deliver and if these alleged economic geniuses can't manage them efficiently enough to produce the primary outcome of community well-being, why did they bother standing for election at all?