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Parliament is grinding its way through asset sales legislation with Labour MPs vowing to hold it up for as long as they can.

The bill is in its committee stage, when every clause can be debated, and opposition parties have put up 34 amendments.

The government has to pass the bill before it can sell 49 per cent of the shares in four state-owned energy companies, and it has enough votes to get it through.

But Labour says it won't give up.

"We're not going to wave the white flag, 80 per cent of New Zealanders say they don't want their assets flogged off and we're going to fight for them," Labour's state-owned enterprises spokesman Clayton Cosgrove told reporters.

Surveys have shown more than 70 per cent of voters oppose asset sales but Prime Minister John Key believes the tide will turn.

"Over time, as they get to see the merits of the overall programme ... and as they have an opportunity to invest, then I think they will warm to that," he said.

The government expects to raise about $6 billion from the share sale and says its only alternative is to borrow the money, which it won't do.

"Countries that can't control their debt don't control their destinies," State-owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall told parliament.

Government MPs brandished details of assets sold by a Labour government in the 1980s as they countered claims that it was "economic madness" to partially privatise the companies.

"In just three years, Labour sold 15 state assets for almost $10 billion to the highest bidder," Mr Ryall said.

Pointing at Labour MPs who were part of that government, he said they never told voters about the sales policy before they were elected.

"Those same people are now criticising the National government's mandated, long signalled, partial share offer to New Zealanders."