15 Jul 2012

Thousands march against asset sales

6:15 am on 15 July 2012

Protests against the partial sale of state assets took place across the country on Saturday, with up to 4000 people taking to the streets in Auckland.

The first of four state-owned energy companies is to be partially sold later this year when shares of Mighty River Power are floated on the stock exchange.

Demonstrations were held in 16 centres as part of a nationwide day of action against the Government's plans, coordinated by the group Aotearoa Is Not For Sale.

In Auckland, protestors marched from Britomart to Aotea Square, where politicians and activists spoke to the crowd. Part of Queen Street was closed for more than a hour.

MPs from the Labour, Green and Mana Parties shared the stage, all calling for a re-think on the government's plans to partially sell state assets.

Inspector Peter Gibson says it was very well organised.

"We had the assistance of the Pacific Island wardens from the council and of course the protestors organised their own escorts as well, so that worked."

Miriam Pierard from Aotearoa Is Not For Sale says her group will continue to work with opposition politicians, community groups and activists trying to stop the sales.

The group says only 10% of New Zealanders invest in the stock market.

"The rest of us struggle to pay our power bills that will only rise as these SOEs are sold."

One protester said she was mainly concerned about the impact of the sale on ordinary people and cited her experience in Britain when utilities were privatised and "the prices went through the roof".

"I can't afford to pay my power bill now - how am I going to afford it when it costs me double?"

Mana spokesperson John Minto told the crowd his party is concerned with the most vulnerable.

"There is no other name for it - this is theft. This will increase the gap between rich and poor in New Zealand."

Organisers says they are encouraged by the turnout and are planning more events in the coming weeks.

Other protests

In Christchurch, a crowd of more than 700 marched from Hagley Park to a reserve just beyond Riccarton Mall.

One of the organisers, Sharna Butcher, hopes the protests will send a clear message to the decision makers in Wellington that New Zealanders want to retain full control of their assets.

"It comes down to what you really want for the future of your children. It comes down to whether you want to sell out, or you want to hold true to what our ancestors have fought for."

The march caused disruption to traffic on Riccarton Road but was otherwise peaceful.

Those taking part included members of the Green, Labour and Mana parties well as workers' unions.

Another protester said it would be unwise for the government to sell strategic assets such as Air New Zealand and the power companies, which provide important flow-on benefits for the rest of the economy.

In Wellington about 200 people took part in a protest in Cuba Street in the central city.

The protest was organised by People Power Ohariu, and included speakers from the Labour Party and the Rail and Maritime Transport Union.

One of the organisers, John Maynard, was concerned private companies could take full control of New Zealand's state assets in the future.

"It could well be further down the track under our international trade agreements, the government's forced to sell the other 51%, because the Americans in the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement are complaining about state owned assets competing in the private marketplace.

"And we already own them equally, we don't need to sell them. These are assets that have been built up by generations."