Why I’m not buying the Stop Asset Sales campaign

… and it ain’t because of road safety rules or the stellar work Labour’s designers did making the authorisation as small as possible while remaining vaguely legible.

It starts with a speech by David Cunliffe in November 2010:

Crucially in a capital constrained fiscal environment, we will better leverage the Crown’s balance sheet in new and innovative ways.

We can expand public-private partnerships for new transport infrastructure.  The project scale must be right and the PPP benefits must outweigh any increase in cost of capital, but that leaves plenty of scope for win-wins .

We can unleash State Owned Enterprises to create and grow new subsidiaries with private partners and shareholders, without diluting the taxpayer’s equity, or wholly or partially privatizing the SOE.

We can turn old models of Government participation in economic development on their head by using equity rather than grants; private sector exports [sic] rather than bureaucrats, and rigorous performance measures rather than public sector doubletalk.

Which with its combination of basically saying “we like the good kinds of privatisation which aren’t really privatisation but are a magical process of getting private investment in public assets without them expecting any form of stake or ownership in return” plus buying into “the public sector are fat and lazy” rhetoric plus the line that “no seriously, this is totes New and Innovative and not the same old neoliberal shit with a few sops to our remaining lefty fans” was depressing enough.

Anyhoo, the sadly-in-hiatus Marty G took to that on The Standard, got a pretty awesomely upfront response from Cunliffe, and then pointed out that PPPs are still universally shit and that expecting to get honest, balanced advice from Treasury?  Tell ‘im ‘e’s dreaming:

There’s a difference between National and Labour’s policies on SOEs and privatisation  – National: we might part sell SOEs, Labour: we might part sell new subsidiaries of SOEs as long as it doesn’t dilute equity in existing SOEs – but they look very similar to the casual observer. Especially since National could just adopt Labour’s policy, carve SOEs into ‘new subsidiaries’, and sell them off for the same result as its policy.

The notoriously ‘pro-road at any cost’ NZTA, Treasury, and MED will be chomping at the bit for sell-offs and PPPs, and providing advice that everything will be fine.

Fast-forward to recent weeks, and Labour launch a bold, certainly attention-grabbing, Stop Asset Sales campaign.  It’s probably good marketing, it’s a nice clear message, it would definitely be nice if it seemed to be part of a concerted campaign, and it’s got two major weaknesses in that the non-politically-aware demographic might just be confused, because That Nice Mr Key said they wouldn’t totally sell asset sales* while the more-politically-aware demographic look at speeches like Cunliffe’s above and wonder, “Shouldn’t those signs read “Stop Asset Sales, terms & conditions apply”?”

And then you get a snarky hater like me who first of all looks at the “donate a sign” page for the campaign and thinks “If Labour is literally spending $10 per sign and can’t even give a discount on a 10-sign donation I may not want such fiscal geniuses in charge of my country’s economy” and then sees Trevor Mallard trying to sell the line that:

Phil Goff has made it clear that No Asset sales means just that.

Which he really, really hasn’t if you’re a sarcastic wench like me.  Consider:

“My position is I don’t want to see the SOEs sold at all,” Mr Goff replied.

“I just want to consider flogging off small parts of them under a theoretically restrictive set of conditions,” he continued.

“What I am saying to you today very clearly is that Labour won’t be selling the assets that all of us as New Zealanders own now.”

“But my Finance spokesperson also says very clearly that we will consider arrangements which basically boil down to partial privatisation, giving the private sector the benefits and putting the risk onto the public sector.”

“But I have to look after the interests of all New Zealanders, both as taxpayers and consumers.”

Because you can always spot the Labour leaders by the way they categorise New Zealanders as consumers and taxpayers,** unlike the right who focus on New Zealanders’ rights as citizens … oh wait.

“As taxpayers it doesn’t make sense to us to lose control of those assets.”

“Which of course is exactly the line National is running with that whole “keeping a controlling stake” thing, but we mean, um, a different kind of not-losing-control-of-those-assets …”

“The difference is when you have sold them you have lost them and lose the dividend stream forever.”

… Unless you don’t sell them but instead allow private investment in their subsidiaries and expand public-private partnerships, right?

Goff scoffed at National’s plans to sell to “mum and dad” investors. “Mums and dads can’t even afford the power bills, let alone to buy the power companies,” he said.

Mr Goff was later observed looking puzzled and asking his political advisors, “Do you peeps think I should have maybe led with that strong, punchy mums-and-dads line instead of waffling on in terms which actually leave a lot of space for us to organise schemes and partial privatisations which the good people spending their $10 per sign will probably consider a betrayal of a rather blunt, uncompromising campaign statement?”


*And even lefties aren’t entirely comfortable expressing the view that everything is a lie.

**Maybe if Goff loves consumers and taxpayers so much he could set up an Association for them.


  1. reader

    We’re doomed – fucked – munted – rooted -pukaru.

    And I hold those useless, craven, Labour parliamentary sell-outs more reponsible than National, who at least have never pretended to represent me.

    So, I passively look on as Labour implodes in slow motion, and what’s left of the left fails to unite (let alone launch)though over well-being and even our survival depends on it, thinking “thank Christ I don’t have kids”.

    On the bright side Matt McCarten is on the improve. We’re still fucked but.

    • QoT

      Yep, I don’t think it’s a wild conclusion to assume that NACT wouldn’t have been able to get away with so much ridiculous shit if there’d been a credible, vocal, mainstream Opposition party. Love the Greens, interested to see what McCarten and Harawira get up to, but there’s only so much minor parties can do while our media keep pretending this is some kind of US Presidential battle and MMP is all a figment of our imaginations.

      • reader

        Someone else in the pol blogosphere said it, and I’m feeling the same way. Bitter disappointment and anger have given way to actual hatred for the NZ Labour Party.

        They have refused to move away from neo-liberalism despite irrefutable evidence that it has comprehensively failed. They are defiant. The party is further right (i)and(/i) more redneck than it was under Helen Clark, and turning a blind eye as those at the bottom and at the margins in other ways, are stripped of their means of support, their human rights, and their dignity.

        And they are a bunch of hypocrits and liars selling us the same old crap (more partial privatisation anyone?) flossied up as social democracy. With the gall to be surprised that most New Zealanders aren’t buying it. Utter contempt.

        • QoT

          What seriously twists my knickers is how many Labourites (Trotter esp) actually advocate being more redneck, less like Clark, on the basis that what won Clark three elections somehow magically became a bad thing in election no. 4 – rather than people having government fatigue, or Labour clearly losing its way and getting bogged down in scandals, the whole blame gets laid at the feet of Helen Clark Was A Nasty Social Engineering Authoritarian.

          I guess this makes sense when the current leadership were all Cabinet ministers under Clark and need to find a reason why Labour’s dire prospects aren’t just as due to them too.

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