BUSINESSDESK: Legislation to allow the partial sale of state-owned energy companies returned to Parliament this afternoon as the government prepares for the sale of a minority stake in power MightyRiverPower in the next 16 weeks.
The Mixed Ownership Model Bill will allow the sale of up to 49% of electricity companies MRP, Meridian Energy and Genesis Energy, and coal-miner Solid Energy, against a backdrop of widespread public opposition and a national petition seeking a citizens' initiated referendum on the policy.
However, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said in a speech for the bill's second reading that the National-led government had gained a mandate for partial sales at last year's general election.
He stressed the legislation requires the government to retain a 51% controlling shareholding, claiming the policy would "help control debt, increase savings, strengthen capital markets, and help get New Zealand through the worst economic times in nearly a century".
Labour's SOE spokesman Clayton Cosgrove called for a U-turn on the asset sales policy.
"They did it with education. They should do it with assets," he told Parliament.
"Even if they get one away, the people of New Zealand have the opportunity to stop them on the second, and the third, and the fourth."
Describing the bill's return to Parliament as a "dark day for New Zealand", Mr Cosgrove admitted Labour had gone down the privatisation path in the past, but "learnt from its mistakes" and bought assets back.
A crowd of around 50 people gathered outside Parliament in the early afternoon to protest against the policy.