Clark says asset sales a key issue for 2008 election

Prime Minister Helen Clark has identified asset sales as a key election issue and says the Government was right to veto the Auckland Airport share bid.

She told more than 600 cheering, foot-stamping delegates at Labour's annual congress today the decision had been "critical" because if it had gone ahead there would not have been any substantial benefits for New Zealand.

"The National Party and ACT have made it plain where they stand -- `sell it off', they cry," she said.

"This is a defining issue. In Labour we support special scrutiny being applied to bids for foreign ownership of strategic infrastructure on sensitive land."

Miss Clark said National had opposed the government buy-back of Air New Zealand and had said it would again sell the rail track if the Government succeeds in retrieving ownership of it.

"We have a vision for the future of New Zealand which sees New Zealanders in control of their destiny -- and not as a small pawn in the plans of others," she said.

Miss Clark's speech -- interrupted when a fire alarm went off in Wellington town Hall -- ranged across the Government's achievements since it has been in office.

She announced that the number of people on the unemployment benefit had dropped to less than 20,000 -- an 88 percent decrease since 1999.

"That is the lowest number since 1979, when our population was around one million smaller than it is today," she told the congress.

"In the past year alone, the number of people receiving the unemployment benefit has fallen by 9811, or 34 percent."

The congress is mainly dealing with election strategy and planning, and Miss Clark told delegates Labour had to win a fourth term so that gains already achieved would be guaranteed in the future.

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