New Zealanders don't much like the idea of selling off big chunks of their energy companies and national airline - but if the Government proceeds with the sale, they want a piece of the action.

A Key Research poll, commissioned by the Herald on Sunday, reveals almost 60 per cent of respondents would like to buy shares in Mighty River, Genesis, Meridian, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand.

It comes after the Government tried to shore up support for its beleaguered asset sales strategy by proposing a "loyalty share" for Kiwi mum-and-dad investors who buy shares and hold on to them.

Nearly two-thirds of New Zealanders still oppose the sales, the survey shows, and that is reflected in the mounting numbers of signatures on a petition to force a citizen-initiated referendum. The petition is being promoted by a wide-based coalition: Labour, NZ First, the Greens and interest groups ranging from student associations to Grey Power.


Spokesman Roy Reid said 95,000 people's signatures had been counted so far, and he estimated up to 50,000 more were on petition forms that had not yet been returned to be counted.

The growing opposition to the asset sales may be reflected in support for Labour and the Greens, each of whom has gained three percentage points of support since the election. That takes Labour to 30.4 per cent and the Greens to 14.8.

The final vote on the Mixed Ownership Member Bill is to take place in Parliament on Tuesday. Last night, Green co-leader Metiria Turei warned the Government they had no mandate to pass it into law.

She understood why people might want to buy the shares, just to keep them in New Zealand hands. "New Zealanders understand that these are shares in profitable, stable companies, but that is why they should stay in public ownership, not private ownership.

"I wouldn't buy these shares on principle. I consider that I already have shares in these companies and they are being taken from me by force and without consent."

The poll shows National holding its support with 47.9 per cent, but NZ First, Mana and Act have all taken a big hit. Peter Dunne's United Future didn't even register.

What this means is that if an election were held tomorrow and party leaders like Dunne, Hone Harawira and John Banks held their stronghold seats, National could still lead a government. But if NZ First were to squeak back in, either by winning an electorate or increasing their party vote, then it would be anyone's game. The Labour-led and National-led blocs would hold 60 seats apiece, and two or three Maori Party MPs would hold the balance of power.

John Key was firm on the partial asset sales this week. "On the mixed-ownership model debate, the Government has been very clear about its intentions since well before the 2011 election," he said.


Yesterday, his spokeswoman welcomed the poll result. "The poll shows investors are interested in exploring the option of investing in assets under the mixed-ownership model, where the Government retains 51 per cent majority ownership and control," she said.