I don’t think people realise the precedent that will be created if you allow a Government to nationalise the entire power generating industry, on the grounds that they are not competitive enough and charge too much.
First let’s address this question of whether the Greens-Labour proposal is a form of ‘nationalisation’, a term that’s been thrown out by National’s comms team and repeated by uncritical journalists.
A lot of left-wing critics of the Mixed Ownership Model have argued that it’s ‘looting’, or ‘theft’ of ‘the people’s assets’, and the problem with that is that National are selling shares in the power companies. The people are getting something back, probably several billion dollars. Likewise, nationalisation is when ownership of assets are transferred to the state, cf Air New Zealand, TranzRail etc. In this case it makes no sense to argue that the state is transferring ownership of the power companies, when it will still already have majority ownership of most of those power companies anyway. Regulation is not nationalisation, not even heavy-handed regulation. If you are, say, an arms company there is extensive government oversight into who you can sell your products to: does that mean that this industry is ‘nationalised’? Are tobacco companies ‘nationalised’? Bah.
But DPF is correct when he says that this is a significant development in New Zealand politics. Prior to the mid-1980s there was a general political consensus that the New Zealand economy should be dominated by state-owned industries, trade-unions and centralised bureaucracies over-seeing any private industry. This system was horribly flawed and in 1984 the Lange-Douglas government broke with the consensus, and for the last thirty years the pendulum has swung a long, long way the other way, far further than almost any other developed country in the entire world, and there’s been a broad consensus between Labour and National that our economy should be dominated by unregulated oligopolies.
The level of disconnect around this debate has been pretty funny, with various Ministers putting out press releases about the loss of share value in various energy companies, apparently oblivious to the fact that most of the country despise the power companies and see them as loathsome profiteers, and now DPF is warning that Labour and the Greens might introduce legislation to prevent price-gouging by the supermarket duopoly, an idea that is anathema to adherents of the cult of unregulated oligopolies, but probably sounds pretty good to about 90% of the population that have had to live with the spectacular failures of that ideology for the last three decades.