Labour rewrites history over its SOE record

editor's insight

Nevil Gibson

Labour and its opposition mates are rewriting history in their attempts to score political points over the collapse of Solid Energy.

Like other state-owned enterprises under the former Labour government, Solid Energy was encouraged to diversify its core business and take advantage of subsidies encouraging investment in renewable resources and technologies.

To try to put the blame for the company’s plight on National and its assets sales programme is turning reality on its head.

The same goes for Meridian and Mighty River Power having to sell out of similar forays after closer inspection by the Treasury and other as part of the government’s selldown policy.

That has included MRP withdrawing from a project in the US that was driven by government renewable energy subsidies there.

The press gallery, including Radio Labour, have echoed the opposition line that somehow Finance Minister Bill English is responsible for the near half-billion-dollar plus loss in value at Solid Energy (based on equity of $423 million in June 30, 2012 accounts)..

More cheekily, former Labour president Mike Williams has said coal isn’t a desirable industry because of climate changes and he sees no problem in losing all the jobs. (Labour has a similar view of casino jobs.)

Then there’s Labour telecommunications spokeswoman Clare Curran’s linking of Telecom’s planned reduction in its huge workforce to the National’s handling of the economy.

In widely reported statement that displays a deep ignorance of business as well as history, she is quoted as saying the economy “continues to haemorrhage jobs,” adding that the government “has no idea how to get the economy working and creating jobs.”

In interviews, she describes the economy as weak or worse, flouting facts such as the latest retail sales figures, record exports and strong household and consumer confidence.

It is also worth noting her list of recently announced jobs losses – at Telecom, Contact Energy, New Zealand Post, Mainzeal, et al – can mostly be tracked back to pre-global financial crisis decisions under the Labour government.

Telecom’s downsizing is the natural outcome of the split up ordered by the government and the need to remain competitive in a market that has created thousands of new jobs and opportunities.

Contact Energy, another former SOE, is also responding to market forces in electricity, where over-investment in supply was encouraged, and is looking to become more of a cash cow than an expansionist-minded company. 

New Zealand Post, like KiwiRail, is another case of a state-owned company that has had to keep shedding staff by holding on to operations that are no longer needed or have little future.

No amount of bleating by Ms Curran about this will change the facts that these two companies, like Solid Energy, are poor investments for the taxpayers as well as unreliable sources of future employment for Labour voters.

As for the Mainzeal collapse and a scaled-down wool-spinning factory in Oamaru, which have had well publicised job losses, is Ms Curran urging government bailouts as an alternative?

When this stuff is reported as “news” it is no wonder Fairfax political commentators say the public has no confidence in the National government’s handling of state-owned businesses – despite having more than 50% support in the latest opinion poll – and insist the alternative of private ownership “has not always been convincing.”

This usually means bringing up the old canards of Air New Zealand and NZ Rail, predecessor of KiwiRail.

In fact, the Air New Zealand collapse in 2001 after the Ansett acquisition was solely driven by events in Australia. The bailout was successful and the government could have hugely profited on its investment if had sold out in mid-2007 when the shares soared to $2.40.

Instead, Labour held on to them and, despite a recent surge to around $1.25, have failed to reach $1.50 since the GFC at a major opportunity cost to the taxpayer.

In the case of rail, Toll’s management of Tranz Rail made it attractive enough for Labour (at the behest of some large rail users) to spend $695 million on buying the rail and ferry assets off a reluctant seller.

Toll had the business in its books at $430 million and within a year (2009) the value of the purchase had been halved to $349 million.

KiwiRail’s latest accounts (to June 30, 2012) show a net loss of $2.3 billion and a write-off of two-thirds of its asset value to taxpayers – a cool $9.3 billion. Yes, billion.

If this is how governments manage businesses, which other ones do Ms Curran and Fairfax journalists think it should be running as well?

Instead of tortuous rationalisations to retain full ownership of SOEs, Labour and its media mates would be better off working out how taxpayers would be better off by selling them and in turn add to the economy’s momentum rather than hold it back.

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10 Comments & Questions

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$9.3 billion is what Clark and Cullen cost NZ Inc with rail.

Imagine how many poor kids that would feed, or families to shelter, or jobs to create...

Any time a Labour/Green/union shriller is being interviewed, I hope the other media ask them about this figure.

$9.3 billion... And that's long before any GFC or earthquake.

Labour should recuse themselves from parliament in shame for costing the taxpayer so much, which has had a direct result of all these school kids not getting enough free money from the taxpayer to be able to buy breakfast and lunch. And if the Labour politicians on recent TV are to believed saying it's not the parent's fault, it's the government's. Then this own goal of $9.3 billion has to be the worst of all own goals of all time.

The Labour Party and anyone associated with this should be prosecuted for economic treason and sabotage for NZ Inc to the tune of $9.3 billion.

Who would ever vote for them again?

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Who would ever vote for them again? Unfortunately, there is a large core of semi-literate easily led individuals in our country who can't see past socialist rhetoric, nor recognise its dangers.

The recent commetns from Labour, outlined in the above article, should be more than enough evidence to convince the majority of electors that Labour is the most devious, dishonest organisation in the country.

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Let these low-life morons tell us again why Solid Energy should be owned by the taxpayer.

What a bunch of two-faced liars.

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Good to put the record straight and place blame where it truely lies.
liberte

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"More cheekily, former Labour president Mike Williams has said coal isn’t a desirable industry because of climate changes and he sees no problem in losing all the jobs."

What utter rot. Even that clown Pachauri at the IPCC has had to admit there has been no global warming for 17 years!

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While I support the article 99%, anyone who quotes $9.3bn has no idea what they're talking about.

The govt paid $695m to buy the assets so that is the maximum they could have lost, together with any further equity injections since. Let's be honest - they probably have probably lost the lot, but it isn't $9.3bn. The $9.3b is an accounting asset value that the govt simply didn't pay for

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LieBore...the Party of Boring Liars!

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Asleep at the wheel Tony Ryall must be wishing he could bury his SOE mistakes like he can in Health.

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Wow, the red necks are rampant. Climate change deniers, personal abuse. Sounds like the NZ Tea Party. When people use the term "socialists" it always means they are part of ACT, which is now firmly embedded in National anyway.
Have a nice day.

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Thank you for a more balanced look at where, if any, blame should be apportioned. I am tired of reading Greens say wrong, Labour says National cocked up again, not once do you hear, The Greens/Labour say had National done XYZ the outcome would be A. As said before, if your not part of the solution your part of the problem. Labour/Greens et-al would do well to remember this. Or put more succinctly, get your facts right and put up or shut up.

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