Prime Minister John Key has hit back at a TV3 report which claimed he misled the public about National's intention to sell shares in four state-owned energy companies and make cuts to jobs in the public service.
TV3 last night showed footage of a speech Key gave in 2008 when he was still leader of the opposition, in which he said National may not sell any SOEs, and that the government's dividend stream from the energy companies was large. Key also said the government did not have a debt problem at the time.
During the 2011 election campaign National said if re-elected it would sell up to 49% stakes in Mighty River Power, Genesis Energy, Solid Energy, and Meridian Energy, as well as selling down the taxpayers' 75% stake in Air New Zealand to no less than 49%.
Today after a speech on reforming the public sector, Key told media he gave the speech referred to in the TV3 story before the 2008 Pre Election Fiscal Update from Treasury.
“Back then I said we didn’t have a debt problem. Actually when we gave that speech it was before the PREFU in 2008 came out. In fact, we do have a debt problem now – that’s the first thing," Key said.
"Secondly, having had a closer look at it, my personal view now is the mixed-ownership model is a much better model [for the energy companies]," Key said.
"Having looked around a number of government departments, I don’t think the dividend returns are excessive. I’m not say they’re not bad, I think these are good assets, and that’s one of the reasons why I think they lend themselves to the mixed-ownership model. But they’re not actually excessive returns if you start taking out the issues like the one-off returns that Meridian had," he said.
In fact there was more likelihood of maximising those returns through the mixed-ownership model.
"Overall the closer I’ve had the chance to get in there and actually look at them all, we’re going to get better outcomes through the mixed-ownership model. That’s why we campaigned on it for a year before the last election, that’s why we were so upfront about it," Key said.
That was the same when it came to public sector change and job cuts in the public service.
“We had an election in 2011, we’ve been extremely transparent about what we’ve done, and we intend to follow through on it," Key said.
(Updates with video)