Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The leopard doesn't change its spots

Back in the 1990's, the then National government attracted widespread opposition for its policy of corruptly flogging off state-owned enterprises at bargain-basement prices to their donors, who then ran them into the ground in an attempt to maximise their profits. Since then, they've been desperately trying to disown that dirty history. Their 2005 State-owned Enterprises Policy promised to retain a host of SOEs, including TVNZ, the rail network, and the electricity companies (though as The Hollow Men revealed, this was simply a lie for public consumption, and internally National was as committed to asset sales as it was in the 90's). More recently, John Key has attempted to use his ascension to the leadership to position National more towards the centre, and imply that those heartless, Revolutionary, hard-right neoliberal policies are in the past (though without ever going on record to explicitly disclaim them, of course).

Anyone tempted to believe that National really has changed might want to read this little slip from SOE spokesperson Gerry Brownlee on Agenda on Saturday. While talking about Mercury Energy's killing of Folole Muliaga, he said:

SOEs are there because the state in New Zealand was very very involved in a whole range of activities over a number of years, they were a transition place where the government of the day, a Labour government actually said maybe the state doesn’t have to be involved with all this stuff let's park them up for a few years and see what happens. It's been 20 years, no reconsideration of the model and no development of the model either, and one of the interesting things is Mr Mallard talked about the scrutiny of select committees and other such, I think we do our best but I don’t think we get the same scrutiny as you would if there was a series of large institutional shareholders

(Emphasis added)

In other words, Brownlee wants to privatise some of our most productive assets, our state-owned electricity companies. And he's suggesting this as a response to the heartless killing of a sick woman by an electricity company - which any reasonable person would take as a sign that our SOEs are already behaving far too much like the private sector.

The leopard does not change its spots. National is as heartless and devoted to serving the interests of their rich donors as they were in the 90's. Anyone who thinks any differently simply hasn't been paying enough attention.


If they manage to make it over the line in 2008, I say let them try their privatisation agenda. Trying - yet again - to ambush the public with massively unpopular policies (privatisations, cuts to health spending, slashing the incomes of poor N.Zer's) once in office will simply make National unelectable for the 15 years, if not destroy them electorally forever.

Posted by Sanctuary : 6/05/2007 05:35:00 PM

Idiot the only power company that killed anyone has been a SoE as far as I am aware.

And you are against privatisation on that point.

So what privately owned electricty companies have killed their consumers?

Also I could point to the continual opposition by the left and greens in particular to any new energy schemes like Aqua, etc that have been squashed.

Also the fact the RMA has been used to make even wind farms uneconomic due to the compliance costs of going through the whole process.

This has forced up the price of electricity for all consumers, but espically vunerable are people on low or fixed incomes.

The fact that these people could not afford to pay their power bill is a direct result of the left and the Greens.

The chickens are coming home to roost, but all you can do is blame big business.

I think a hard look in the mirror is in order and you anti-anything policy of the left.

Or are you going to know support more energy projects and the Waikato transmission line project?

Posted by Anonymous : 6/05/2007 06:41:00 PM

And once more, I/S don't need no stinking evidence to hand down a murder conviction. Yes, the leopard doesn't change its spots at all but in this case, I'm sincerely glad that Mr. Savant won't actually be joining the Police force, the judiciary or entering Parliament any time soon.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 6/05/2007 06:49:00 PM

First of all I concur with the sentiments of the the previous anonymous commentator. You blatantly assert that the conduct of Meridian is the type of contact practiced by a private sector company.

In actual fact a private company with the goal of maximising its profit would probably have a similar if not stronger incentive than an SOE to avoid this type of conduct because of the subsequent negative publicity. The blunt calculus of the situation is that Meridian will probably lose a large amount of income from good willed consumers changing providers or refusing to change to Meridian in the future and this will have outweighed the amount that they would have lost from not disconnecting. Shareholders and a good Board of Directors would be very unimpressed.

Secondly I took Mr Brownlee's statement to be a refloating of the idea that SOES could have potentially up to 49% private shareholding. Such a scenario would still allow some large institutional shareholders. In what way is that "heartless" as your ludicrous hyperbole suggests?

Posted by Anonymous : 6/05/2007 07:09:00 PM

Sanctuary: while I think you're right about the electoral consequences of another 1990-style betrayal, I'd really rather not take the chance. It's taken us over a decade to recover from their last one, remember.

Anon: actually, I'm against privatisation because it transfers vital public assets into private hands - usually in a corrupt fashion - where they are then run into the ground to the detriment of the New Zealand public (see for example Telecom and TranzRail). It also strips the government of revenue which is used to pay for roads, hospitals and schools (which is what the issue is really about - redirecting public revenue to private pockets). And this is a rather different issue from whether big business is held to some basic environmental standards by the RMA.

As for behaviour, we've seen far too many incidents in NZ of SOE's forgetting that they are publicly owned and legally required to act in a socially responsible manner, and instead operating like the worst villains of the private sector. This can be laid squarely at the feet of the SOE model and the subsequent importation of private sector managers and culture. IMHO if we want these businesses to behave in a socially responsible manner - and it is clear that the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders do - then further privatisation is exactly the wrong direction to move in.

Craig: nice dodge. But while you're here, perhaps you'd like to comment on the honesty (or otherwise) of National's advocacy of its agenda?

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/05/2007 07:25:00 PM

I've also heard, around the lunchroom chit-chat, that National intend to privatise and sell Kiwibank just as soon as they are in a position to do so.

Does anyone have evidence to confirm or deny this rumour?

Posted by Anonymous : 6/05/2007 08:04:00 PM

National are NEVER going to give us any Policy statement other than - "Oh We will do it MUCH better!" Especially while they bask in the rather false position of a good popularity rating.
I agree that SOE's have not been behaving too well recently. Perhaps todays cabinet meeting may help to get them back on track. I believe however that there is another much more important reason why it is VITAL that we retain our SOEs. Sooner or later (preferably sooner) the rest of the country and the world is going to wake up to the fact that Global warming is the biggest problem facing us as a species. We may in our ignorance kill off every other species on the planet (Who cares about Tuatara?) - but we do so at our peril.
When the human race does eventually wake up, then in the words of the immortal G W Bush - "We shall declare war on Climate Change!" Now you don't go down the road to the local stock market to enlist a company to fight this war - it a NATIONAL objective. In a war EVERYONE'S involved. It requires a united front if it to be fought successfully. Privatising the energy sector would be the MOST insane action a nation could take!
It is the role of a successful company to sell its product not to ask consumers to conserve it! We can see the results clearly in the USA where electrical energy has been in the hands of private companies since its inception - Edison and Westinghouse. Now the citizens of that country are so conditioned to the use of electricity they use it at a rate that exceeds by far all others. Even the model of SOE is perhaps too commercial. The govt - if it to be serious about reducing Carbon Emissions must implement policies that include reducing our reliance on electrical energy. Burning coal and oil at peak times is really out of the question. It's much more difficult to do that if the Electrical Suppliers are all independently owned.


Posted by Anonymous : 6/05/2007 08:19:00 PM

It doesn't matter what the question is, for the right the answer is always "privatize it". If Mr Brownlee won't tell us what is party's policies are, perhaps he will tell us how much money the likely buyers of our SOEs have paid him and his mates to flog off our publicly owned assets?

Posted by Anonymous : 6/05/2007 10:05:00 PM

Maybe no power company killed anyone...

Maybe the victim's husband will be charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life...

Maybe people should wait.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/05/2007 10:40:00 PM


You should talk to some people in Chch low income advocacy about how that nasty private company Contact is doing with low income customers compared with the SOEs.

Brownlee's comments may relate to HC's again blaming National for the problems wiht the current electricty system, ignoring the last 7 years.

I just can't see how you can sustain this govt good-private bad meme. Seems kneejerk rather than thought out.

Plenty of other countries seem to cope with private powercos without a problem. Aus and the US both have much cheaper power prices as well.


Posted by Anonymous : 6/05/2007 10:43:00 PM

I can see this whole Hollow Men thing is going to be dredged up whenever a left winger wants to attack National.

What a dreadful post. So what exactly is evil again? SOEs, private power companies or state owned non SOE's?

Posted by Just my opinion : 6/06/2007 04:43:00 AM

Anyway, I thought the fact that she woman refused proper care and went for the witch doctor treatment killed her.

Posted by Just my opinion : 6/06/2007 04:44:00 AM

if some monkey sold all the assets for $5 each the damage would already be done - being unelectable after that wouldn't bring the assets back.


Posted by Anonymous : 6/06/2007 06:52:00 AM

I/S wrote:
nice dodge. But while you're here, perhaps you'd like to comment on the honesty (or otherwise) of National's advocacy of its agenda?

To be honest, I/S, I think it's about as useful as trying to engage with one of the right-wing hysterics who see the the dead hand of the Liarbore commie-atheist dykeocracy behind everything? The wonderful thing about a conspiracy theory is that it's impossible to disprove, because you either accept 'the truth' without question, or you're one of two things: a mindless dupe, or one of them.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 6/06/2007 07:49:00 AM

I/S dont you think it is hypocritical to scream murder at mercury without any investigations being done, but you insist that Ahmed Zaoui is an innocent man, despite overseas jurisdictions completing thorough investigations about him?

It is clear that this was a very sick, obsese women whose family chose not to immediately contact the medics. I dont see you condemming them?

Posted by Anonymous : 6/06/2007 08:31:00 AM

What an astonishing post, I/S.

Long bow, buddy, attempting to predict what National would have done, had they won the 2005 election that Labour stole with taxpayers' money.

What you cannot counter is that Labour has been in charge of the ownership and governance of the vast majority of electricity assets for the last eight years, and yet there is no competition in the energy sector. It isn't in the government's economic interest to regulate behaviour of power companies, and that situation won't change until the ownership interest is removed.

The best thing to do is to transfer electricity generation and retail assets to the Cullen Fund. You trust the Cullen fund to manage billions of dollars of taxpayers' money without acting corruptly: why not for the governance of SOEs as well? Then government can get on with the business of regulating behaviour of the industry in the best interests of consumers.

Posted by Insolent Prick : 6/06/2007 09:25:00 AM

"Your monkey has a point, sir"

We just might be better off with a regulated privately held electricity industry. Currently we have ineffective regulation, justified (I suppose) by the industry being mostly in public ownership.

Labour seems to have frozen the SOE's as they were in 1999. Only Air NZ and Ontrack have been renationalised - and only then under duress. The remaining SOEs operate exactly as they did under the Nats.

Posted by Rich : 6/06/2007 09:43:00 AM

Corruptly sold off.


Please be so kind as to give three examples of corruption in the assett sales of the '90s.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/06/2007 09:53:00 AM

I cant believe you wrote this I/S!!!
and I wont bother wasting my time explaining why. You should be able to work it out for yourself

Posted by Swimming : 6/06/2007 10:22:00 AM

The sale of New Zealand Rail was not corrupt, and the matter has been shamelessly hijacked for political purposes by socialists at all levels.

The board of ONTRACK is occupied by no less a personage than the Labour Party president Mr Mike Williams (who also sits on the Transit New Zealand board) and until recently staunch trade unionist Ray Potroz, and former Labour cabinet minister Clive Matthewson. ONTRACK is thus a political vehicle for government policy.

National's political attack on SOEs has focused on the fact that the government has appointed and continues to appoint political directors who are there to further political goals for Labour. The rail sector boasts 100% union coverage and the union is pushing to affiliate with the militant MUNZ union.

ONTRACK has been in protracted negotiations over several years with rail operator Toll NZ. Unsurprisingly, Toll's strong anti union stance has probably inspired an equally tough stance from ONTRACK because of its strong union links on the board.

I would expect a change of government in 2008 to result in a marked improvement in dealings between Toll NZ and ONTRACK as the latter's overtly political anti-business objectives are removed. Remember that there are those within Labour who want to see all rail operations renationalised and are not above using the ONTRACK SOE as a vehicle to push Toll out of the NZ marketplace.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/06/2007 12:13:00 PM

Your claims are a lie. Brownlee has made an example, but he made no statement about privatising.

When are you standing for Parliament for the Greens or some other socialist vehicle for political hyperbole, you appear to have some sort of talent at it.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/06/2007 12:18:00 PM

I really think that Sir Humphrey's ISP should have consulted with the Ministry of Right Wing Nutjobs before cutting them off. They've all crawled out of the woodwork now...

Posted by Rich : 6/06/2007 12:53:00 PM

So, Anon, you want to:

1) rip up all our rail network and
2) slash railway workers jobs.

Cool, sounds good.

Brendon "Millsy" Milly
Unhappy with life.

(why dont you fuck ff and not come back)

Posted by Anonymous : 6/06/2007 01:25:00 PM

If you read the link about National's policy it makes it clear there are some things like Landcorp farms it intended to privitase. As for the Hollow men exposing a hiden aenda of privitisation, beyond stated in the policy, I'd like to see page numbers given.
Milsey, can you debate by:
1) Putting reasonable arguements behind your ideas, not name calling and derogatory terms. In one comment of your you talk about "dirty stinking filthy foreigners". Why the "dirty stinking filthy part". The comment could due be labbled rascist.
2)Not constructing straw men to argue against. Anonymous was attacking the politicization of ONTRACK's board, no saying the rail network should be riped up or jobs slashed.
If so, prove it, because it appears you have to resort to abuse and misinterpreting other peoples arguements because you don't have more reasoned ones.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/06/2007 02:48:00 PM

Mr Mills, the private sector can run rail better than the socialist state ever did. The Railways Department in its heyday was a byword for inefficiency, slow deliveries and lousy customer service. As a government agency they were charged with soaking up unemployment in the Muldoon era and did so at the cost of huge losses. Over a billion dollars of debt was written off by the government in 1990 on forming NZ Rail Ltd.

The previous owners of Tranz Rail had a go at making the operations profitable, their selling down of their stakes sent a strong message about the difficulty of successfully competing with road transport when roads are subsidised by the ratepayers and taxpayers at large yet rail is not. Despite being seven years in office and pro-rail, Labour has not done anything to address this inequality. National at least did move to put roads on an equal commercial footing.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/06/2007 04:33:00 PM

That raises another point that Labour has been selling public land from the SoE Landcorp.

Even land that is under claim by Maori through the Waitangi Tribunal.

It's seems Labour just cares about getting the land into private hands before a decision can be made if it should be returned.

Pretty much extingishing the claim by Maori, like with the Seabed and Foreshore legislation passed by Labour.

But nothing to see here from the left - move along.

God you guy are DUMB!

Posted by Anonymous : 6/06/2007 05:09:00 PM

Well, having read the comments here, I've developed the distinct feeling that the right wingers out there hope to win by by keeping people ignorant. There is a definite whiff of terror in the slightly more than usual level of vindictive personal insults (aimed at closing down the debate) flowing around here.

I suspect that they think that if people discover what National's policies are, their support will drop like a stone.

Posted by Sanctuary : 6/06/2007 05:26:00 PM

"the private sector can run rail better than the socialist state ever did" so much better in fact that it has to be aided by cheap track fees and govt handouts!
As for the so called efficiencies of the privatisation of the Electrical sector, again the private companies are handed almost grattis a power network that was paid for by the people of NZ. The are cash cows! for god sake if they can't make a buck selling stuff that has cost them practically NOTHING to create they are woefully ineffiecient.

As for the "corruptness" of the privatisation process in the late 80's early 90's - why is that some NZers (M Fay et al) to name a few are now FABULOUSLY wealthy as a result of the sale process while the rest of us only saw the family silverware walk out the door to buyers overseas. We are now left paying excessively for utilities that WE payed to create in the first place?


Posted by Anonymous : 6/06/2007 09:09:00 PM

So Macro, your definition of 'corruption' is someone who buys something cheap and sells it for more and makes a lot of money in the process?

So if I buy something expensive and sell it cheap, does that make me the opposite of corrupt?


Posted by Anonymous : 6/07/2007 08:59:00 AM

Wasn't NZRailways protected by a law banning trucking anything within 40 miles of a railway line?

Posted by Anonymous : 6/07/2007 09:51:00 AM