14 Aug 2011

Party delegates question English over asset sales

5:59 am on 14 August 2011

Delegates to the National Party conference in Wellington this weekend have questioned the Finance Minister over asset sales.

In a broad-ranging speech about the economy, Mr English spoke of National's plans to further reform the financial sector and the public service.

But the questions from the floor indicated delegates were more interested in its policy to partially sell four state-owned energy companies.

If re-elected, National is promising to partially privatise Meridian Energy, Genesis Energy, Mighty River Power and Solid Energy, as well as selling part of the Government's shareholding in Air New Zealand.

Mr English said the country has nothing to fear from foreign investment in the state-owned energy companies.

He told delegates the Government would retain a 49% share and New Zealanders would be encouraged to buy the rest, possibly through initiatives such as loyalty schemes.

He acknowledged the Government can't prevent New Zealanders selling their shares.

"Kiwis will still have the opportunity to on-sell shares, otherwise it's not a market. You can't sort of say 'well you can have the share, but you're not allowed to sell it to anybody'. That ... doesn't even happen in places like China."

But Mr English says he is confident most local investors will keep their shares.

Getting young people off welfare a priority

On Sunday Prime Minister John Key will deliver his keynote speech, in which he'll reveal National's plans for welfare reform, with a special focus on youth unemployed.

He says youth unemployment is a major problem for New Zealand, which the new policy aims to address.

The Government has already made changes to the welfare system, requiring those on the unemployment benefit to reapply after 12 months.

It says that has resulted in nearly 7500 people not having their benefit renewed, and Mr Key says that shows tighter monitoring is having results.

He says the party will campaign on more substantial reforms at the November election, and, in his opening remarks to the conference, said young people will be a primary focus of those reforms.

"What we know is when young people go on welfare by definition they stay there for longer, they cost the state more, but most importantly, they rob themselves of a tremendous opportunity."

National to continue economic reform

Mr English told the conference that, if re-elected, National would continue economic reforms. It would further regulate the financial markets, look for more savings in the public sector and partially sell four state-owned energy assets.

The minister said New Zealand is well positioned to weather the global financial storm, and there were signs the economy had turned a corner.

He said the Government has made changes to the tax system, pushed ahead with a free trade agenda and has invested in infrastructure.