national's policy on state owned assets for the 2005 election was very mild. It was for no full sales, and maybe one or two minor part-sales. Something that even Labour has done in Government – sell some minor state assets.
Labour of course would have you believe National plans to sell the roads, the seas, the air and the water, rather than have a rational debate over whether or not the NZ Government needs to own a chain of garages (Vehicle Testing NZ).
And having semi-sucessfully managed a fear campaign in 2005, they were all poised to do so again. For months on end they tried to talk up Auckland Airport as some sort of state asset sale they were stopping when the reality was it has been a privately owned company since Winston sold it in 1998.
So at the Labour Party Congress this weekend, they were all set to start their campaign of fear and loathing on asset sales. Yet quietly on Sunday morning on Agenda, John Key took their toys away:
GUYON Alright you rightly point out it was sold by the National government in 1998 now that brings us to this position. What is your position now as a National Party on state asset sales?
JOHN Well National's had some time to reflect on that and the position that we've decided to have is the following one. That in the first term of the National government there will be no state assets that will be sold either partially or fully.
GUYON So no state assets, you're completely firm on that?
JOHN That's right.
Colin Espiner caught on to the wonderful timing:
COLIN ESPINER – Christchurch Press
Mr Key the Prime Minister addressed the Labour Party's annual congress, the election congress yesterday and one of the things she said was that asset sales were a defining issue for Labour, and a defining issue for the election, you've just essentially inoculated that, was that your intention?
COLIN Sure, but you're also avoiding skirting around the issue of asset sales where you're gonna get clobbered by Labour, and they were warming up, they've been warming up on this one for weeks and you've essentially ripped the rug from under them haven't you?
Yes he has.
John Armstrong I think is 100% wrong on this being a fumble, because Key only ruled them out for the first term of office. Far from being a fumble, it was a move of brilliant timing and within a few weeks, the issue will have little resonance with anyone but those who are in no way swinging voters. No party ever gives a guarantee beyond one election, and no-one outside Helen Clark and a few commentators really get excited about what may or many not happen in two elections time.
Now my personal view on asset sales i blogged back in July 2005, and listed 13 SOEs I would happily sell. But even National under Don Brash was talking at most a partial float of Solid Energy and maybe a few farms.
If you are not going to have a bold asset sale programme (such as I would do), then it is politically stupid to have a 5% programme where you attract all the scaremongering over asset sales, just to allow say a 20% share holding in some coal mines.
So despite personally favouring a bold programme of asset sales, I am delighted that National has shut down Labour's ability to effectively scare-monger on this issue, because frankly you should either do a bold programme, or do no programme at all. The 2005 Brash policy was so modest, it wasn't worth the hassle and distraction it would be.
So overall I thought Key did very well on Agenda – a very in depth and extended interview. And I say that having been pretty critical of how Key handled the Peters issue the week before.
While I am very relaxed about going from a 5% asset sale policy to a 0% asset sale policy, I am somewhat concerned over the dropping of bulk funding. Sure, I understand the politics around not provoking the PPTA and NZEI into a full-scale jihad, but if we are serious about lifting our economic game, we need to lift our educational game, and the current way we fund and staff our schools will not achieve that. Having said no to bulk funding, the onus is on National to come up with some other ways to improve management and funding of our schools.