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Harawira: Commerce Amendment Bill

Commerce Amendment Bill

Hone Harawira, MP for Te Tai Tokerau

Thursday 20 March 2008

Mr Speaker, any bill that needs an explanatory NOTE of 48 pages is cause for concern, particularly when it gets slipped into the House just when everyone is gearing up for a long weekend; so we had a good look at this one.

It sounds good - protecting consumer interests by promoting competition, incentives for investment and innovation, sharing efficiency gains, quality services, and limiting excessive profits (yeah right).

But to understand why we are in the position we’re in at the moment, you have to take a look back to the 80s and the 90s, and successive government’s obscene rush to flog off the nation’s assets, when we got rolled by big business and trans-nationals swooping in, buying up all the infrastructure, cutting back on people and services, and shipping all the profits back overseas.

And that continuing privatisation of state assets and trading activities was the focus of the Privatisation by Stealth conference held in Christchurch last week to highlight the attempts by transnationals to swoop on Auckland Airport and Lyttelton Port, and the continued push for privately owned toll roads, road construction, state housing projects, rubbish collection – the list is endless.

Emanuel Savas, an adviser to Reagan and Thatcher, said in his 2000 book “Privatisation and public-private partnerships” that …

“privatisation is like dismantling a bomb — it must be done very carefully, for wrong decisions can have nasty consequences. There are obstacles to be overcome, arguments to be rebutted, proponents to be mobilised, and opponents to be thwarted”.

And yet we have allowed the very core sectors of our economy to be taken over by transnationals – our rail, our power, our transport infrastructure and even our banks – and government has been so hopeless at regulating those monopolies, that we’ve been locked into price increases, reduced service quality, and rundown infrastructure.

Electricity is the classic sector –

- mergers and takeovers at grossly inflated prices,

- allowing our electricity supply to end up in the hands if big business,

- and empty dams, while everyone points their finger at everyone else instead of owning the problem and dealing with it.

The big sweetener was supposed to be cheaper power of course, but what we got was price hikes of 5-15%, government having to pass more legislation in 1999 to rein in those power companies, and people still dying in 2007, because corporate profit was considered to be more important than people’s lives.

In Reclaiming the future: New Zealand and the global economy, Jane Kelsey says that the electricity market model was supposed to be based on consumer control, but what we got was power companies doing back-door deals to ensure their interests got higher priority than those of New Zealand’s own citizens.

The ultimate example of this is the deal Comalco NZ got for cheap electricity for its aluminium shelter at Bluff, an arrangement where Comalco got a lock on cheaper electricity than any of us have seen for decades, and exclusive access to nearly 17% of the nation’s total electricity output.

People are allowed to die in South Auckland so multinationals can profit – that’s what it was all about back then, that’s what it’s still all about now, and it’s why the key to our future lies in rolling back the nasty consequences of the nation’s privatisation programme.

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party’s position on this Bill is also determined by the fact that most of that privatisation of the nation’s infrastructure, and corporatisation of the nation’s assets, has impacted deeply on the treaty settlements that many of our people are going through now.

We welcome regulation that will open up markets to competition and promote greater choices and better prices for consumers, but given the recent history of rampant trans-nationalism and inadequate parliamentary oversight, we don’t know that putting all the decision-making authority into the hands of a single Minister, will lead to any more certainty, transparency and predictability for consumers.

And we will be interested in hearing from the views of beneficiary groups, energy watchdogs, the Child Poverty Action Group and other consumer bodies, as to how they see this Bill either helping, or harming their constituent’s future.

And in closing Mr Speaker, let me just remind the House that tomorrow is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, a day when our hearts and minds go back to 21 March 1960, when police killed 69 black people for daring to demonstrate against the hated apartheid "pass laws", and that today is the day we take steps of our own to help the poor black people of this country, to fight the discrimination of corporate greed.


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