20 Nov 2013

English concedes Govt likely to lose referendum

9:10 pm on 20 November 2013

The Finance Minister has conceded the Government is likely to lose the referendum on its partial privatisation programme.

Bill English says job creation the key to more equality.

Bill English says job creation the key to more equality. Photo: RNZ

But Bill English has also dismissed criticism that the sales have failed because the share prices of all three public floats have now fallen below what investors paid.

Voting papers on the citizens-initiated referendum are expected to arrive in letterboxes on Friday.

Mr English is not expecting a majority vote in favour of the share sales, but said on Wednesday he expects that many people won't vote. The Government will not be bound by the result.

The minister also rejected accusations from the Opposition that the partial privatisation programme has been dealt another blow, with Air New Zealand, Meridian Energy and Mighty River Power shares all trading below their issue price.

Mr English said if people invested for a quick profit, they might be disappointed. However, he said they will still be getting good dividends and they haven't lost any money.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says low turnout might be a problem and is urging people to vote.

"The Government will try to use anyone who doesn't vote as the basis for arguing that New Zealanders support privatisation," he said.

"If New Zealanders oppose privatisation, they really need to vote in the referendum, because if they don't, then John Key will take their non-vote as support to sell-off Kiwibank."

He said even though shares in three assets have already been sold, a substantial vote against the sales would send a strong message to the Government.

Dr Norman said the National Party should think again and take note of how people vote.