Retaining state assets 'defining issue': Greens

The Green party would make retaining state-owned energy companies "a top priority'' in any post election negotiations and hopes public opinion will see National will back down, as it did on plans for mining in conservation areas.

Co-leader Russel Norman said today the future ownership of state assets had become "a defining issue'' of Saturday's election.

"We think the economic arguments for sale that have been put forward by the National Party are weak and expose the limits of their economic vision for New Zealand.''

Citing polls that showed strong public opposition to National's plan to partially privatise four state-owned energy companies, Dr Norman said whoever led the next government must listen to New Zealanders and keep the assets in public ownership.

"To ensure voters are heard on this key issue, the Green Party will make keeping our public energy companies in public ownership a top priority in any post election negotiations; they are an essential part of our vision for a clean, green economy that works for everyone.''

However, Dr Norman stopped short of saying retaining state owned assets would be a bottom line for the Greens.

Kids, rivers, jobs, those are our priorities and we're not going to sacrifice a whole bunch of welfare things, we're not going to trade off one thing against the other. These are all critical issues for the Greens and keeping public assets is one of those issues.''

While the Greens have said it is "highly unlikely'' they would work with National in a formal coalition, they are expected to agree on a new "memorandum of understanding'' with National to advance Green policies such as home insulation subsidies.

While the assets policy has barely dented support for Prime Minister John Key and his Government, Greens co-leader Metiria Turei said it was clear many National voters opposed asset sales.

That gave her hope National would back down, as it did on plans to mine in Schedule Four conservation areas last year.

"Just as with the mining campaign. Many thousands of those who marched in the street against mining in our national parks voted for National but they did not want that policy proceed. We were able to be the political influence that helped prevent that alongside the community... We think we can do that again in the future.''

Dr Norman also repeated his call for Ombudsman Beverly Wakem to force National to release key information on asset sales before voters head to the polls this weekend.

He said the information originally sought by the Greens dealt with advice to the Government about whether measures to ensure privatised shares in the SOEs remain under New Zealand ownership were consistent with international trade obligations.

Dr Norman condemned National for suppressing the information ahead of the election and the Greens are asking Ms Wakem to reconsider her decision this week to uphold the Government's stance.

In her provisional decision supporting the Government's decision to withhold the information, Ms Wakem noted the relevant material "comprises early advice on one of the many aspects under consideration - limiting foreign ownership''.

In turning down the Green's application she said there was genuine and valid concern that releasing the information may commit the Government running its privatisation programme in a way that would " detrimentally affect investor participation, and therefore the level of return to the Crown''.

- The New Zealand Herald

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