Wednesday, 27 June 2012

A Thing Well Made

The Mixed Ownership Model Bill was passed into law yesterday, the government passing the legislation despite the efforts of the opposition, questions from various commentators about the viability of the sales and strong public concern with about 80% of people opposing the sales.

The focus on Peter Dunne as the MP that allowed the legislation to pass is, in my opinion, misplaced.  In accordance with the principle of collective responsibility, I believe each of the 61 people that voted for the Bill are equally responsible.  As the vote was 61 for versus 60 against, any one of the 61 could have ensured that the Bill was not passed.  This would have brought the government down, however I have no objections to that happening.

As I have said before, I do not support the Mixed Ownership Model Bill.  I take a dim view of the Bill, because one of its effects is to take assets that are owned by the people of New Zealand and held on their behalf by the government (whichever government happens to be in power).  Taking assets is akin to theft.  Using legislation to enable theft does not legitimise the theft, as the ongoing Waitangi Tribunal proceedings demonstrate, and the use of legislation to legitimise the otherwise illegal or immoral actions of a government is a tool employed by dictatorial regimes, left, right and third way, around the world, since time immemorial.  None of which makes it right, and all 61 people who voted for the legislation are equally to blame.

The actual sales are still not certain to go ahead, for several reasons.
National have chosen to target assets that rely on water supply and have prepared, but are yet to introduce, legislation that will reform the ownership and management of water.  It goes hand in hand with the upcoming reform of local government, however the implications for the asset sales process seem to have been under-estimated.  Claims for the ownership of water are yet to be resolved by the Waitangi Tribunal.
The government may fall before the sales can proceed.  It seems unlikely, given that it has been 100 years since a government lost the confidence of the House.  However this government has a thin majority, as demonstrated by yesterday's vote, and has been dogged by controversy, forced into backdowns and mocked.  Given the falling trend in the polls, I expect there are a few backbench government MPs who are feeling a bit insecure in their seats.  Though there is a more recent precedent than Mackenzie in 1912 for the power that backbench MPs hold when there is a slim majority, and controversial policy.

The idea of having "Mixed Ownership" is not viable long term.  It is a half measure, half-arsed, ambivalent, equivocal.  The companies subject to the MOM Act must, at some stage, be returned to the ownership of the citizens on New Zealand.  The question of whether this is done Argentine style or via a buy-back, and if a buy-back is selected, how and at what price, must wait until we have a new government.

The alternative to a 49% sale, and return to full public ownership, is the sale of 100% of the companies.  The Prime Minister may have alluded to this in his answer to the final supplementary question to Question Two yesterday.

The allusion in the choice of the title for the post is an analogy.  I'll leave it to readers to decide how good an analogy it is; I rate it as OK.  It's one of my favourite songs, and it has links to Christchurch.

Muttonbirds - The Muttonbirds, 1992

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