By AUDREY YOUNG political reporter
Alliance leader Jim Anderton last night staged a vigorous defence of the so-called People's Bank to pre-empt the release today of confidential warnings given to the Government.
The Coalition gave approval in February for the bank to be set up by the state-owned enterprise NZ Post.
This was despite warnings from its top three finance advisory agencies, the Treasury, the Crown Company Monitoring Advisory Unit within Treasury, and the Reserve Bank.
The Alliance campaigned heavily for the bank last election and its approval was seen as the quid pro quo for the junior Coalition partner's backing Labour's superannuation fund proposal.
Mr Anderton used a speech last night to try to blunt the impact advice on the bank - due to be released today under the Official Information Act.
"Of course Treasury, CCMAU and the Reserve Bank opposed the kiwi bank," he told the People's Centre in Wellington.
"The policy establishment over the last 15 years has advised successive Governments to sell most of our strategic assets.
"They are not much likely to change their view quickly."
Although he took their advice seriously, "the public elects political parties to make decisions."
Revisiting campaign themes of economic nationalism, he said the bank was about "New Zealanders owning New Zealand assets."
"We should have some control over our own social and economic destiny.
"We should keep in New Zealand some of the profits that are made in New Zealand."
He said even people who did not switch banks would benefit from it.
"I predict that the overseas owned-banks will stop closing branches now.
They won't dare close branches when there is a kiwi bank branch about to open for business down the road."
The number of bank branches in New Zealand fell from 1500 in 1993 to 900 in 1999.
Mr Anderton said the mostly foreign-owned registered banks "are making more money in New Zealand than virtually anywhere else in the world."
Last year the 17 registered banks made a combined operating profit of $1470 million, up by 13 per cent on the year before.
"In other words the existing banks are making a fortune."
The as-yet-unnamed bank, due to open next year, would have a family focus. Accounts for children would be free, and it would open at the weekend.
Its fees would be up to 30 per cent cheaper than those of existing banks.