From 100% ownership by 100% of New Zealanders Green Party analysis shows that half the retail shares went to just 13,000 people and organisations, with 10 per cent of the retail shares sold to a mere 400 investors who put in nearly $250,000 each on average. Altogether the 113,000 retail investors amounted to less than half the number anticipated by the government.
As Russel Norman put it, “National said that 113,000 ‘mums and dads’ had bought Mighty River Power shares. Now, we learn that companies, trusts, and financial institutions were counted by National as ‘mums and dads’.”
With the largest of the generator/retailers, Meridian, next in line for sale, it’s impossible to see anything other than even greater concentration of ownership occurring. As Mighty River Power shares traded below their float price there are already calls from some for a sweeter loyalty deal – in other words a bigger subsidy – for those who buy in next time around. There is talk of splitting the sale into at least two chunks.
All of this gives us more time and even more reason to make a referendum on the asset sales count. We have just five weeks to get the last 16,500 valid signatures needed to force a referendum on the government’s asset sales programme. And there are no more chances after this one.
Not only is the programme failing in its own terms (attracting non-investors into the share market – none of the other justifications for sales made any sense at all), its continuation in the face of the failure and public opposition to privatisation adds to the lengthening list of ways in which the government is using a one vote majority Parliament to play without democracy:
• Writing to other parties to say that it would set up a process to discuss the recommended changes to MMP and then a few months later saying it won’t make any changes because those same parties hadn’t been able to reach a consensus (even though not a single discussion had been convened by the Minister)
• Criminalising protest at sea
• Legislating over the rights of parents of adult disabled children to go to court for the remedies that three consecutive court decisions had said they were entitled to
• Legislating to lock in increased gambling opportunities at Sky City for 35 years without any of the existing checks and balances and giving Sky City the right to sue a future government for restoring current or new controls
• Promising to veto 26 weeks paid parental leave even if a majority of MPs vote for it
• Much of what’s happening in Christchurch
Whether or not the government holds the referendum before the next sale, or the one after that; and whether or not it heeds the outcome; the referendum does present it with a serious political problem.
Despite its continued primacy in opinion polls, the inevitability of the political equivalent of the second law of thermodynamics is starting to take shape around the government. Russel Norman’s brutal description of the government at the Green Party conference last weekend tested this narrative. The commentary that followed from those who disagreed did not refute his substantive critique, but only the Muldoon analogy.
Some have labelled the petition effort for the referendum as futile in the face of the government’s determination to sell on. Think again. The government has two options in the face of a growing concern at its anti-democratic disposition. One is to box on regardless, in which case the success of the petition and the referendum will give hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who sign and then vote even more reason to turn out in 2014. The other is to listen to the people and to stop. I’d call that a win-win.
Download it now, sign and post it back by 30 June: