Blowing raspberries and calling names is what politicians do when they have nothing else to say. When you have substantive alternatives, and you know they are popular, you argue for those. 

If you are a critic of Labour’s new, interventionist electricity policy, there are only two questions I’m really interested in:

Do you think the current system is working? And, if you don’t, what’s your alternative?

Unable to state whether they think the current system is broken, opponents of Labour’s policy have failed to state an alternative other than ‘keep things just as they are.’

Minister Joyce has openly stated he sees nothing at all wrong with current price levels, and the fast pace of power price rises. 

In what amounts to a Colbert-like parody, Colin Espiner manages to call Labour ‘Monster Raving Loony’, and never stops to reflect on his own statement, “I'm no fan of high power prices...”

If you follow that statement with the word ‘but’, instead of the word ‘therefore’, then you have no place abusing others’ intelligence or coherence. He had a pretty simple job - if he’s no fan of higher prices, what is he going to do about them? 

Other cheerleaders summoned Hugo Chavez, Polish shipyards and North Korea. 

Chavez has been the top talking point for the National Government’s cheerleaders. It makes me think they don’t really understand what is objectionable about North Korea and Hugo Chavez. Let me help them out: The suspension of democracy and human rights, militarism, global war-mongering, the mass impoverishment of citizens and gangersterism. Regulating the electricity sector to normalise profits? Not so much. 

When you have substantive alternatives, and you know they are popular, you argue for those. The abuse only comes out when you have nothing else left.

I wrote a bit about Margaret Thatcher recently when the old witch died, trying to work out how she got away with her war-mongering, impoverishment and anti-society morality. The answer is that she flattened the left with the simple declaration, ‘there is no alternative.’  There always was, but the left spent too much time calling Thatcher names instead of articulating a better policy.

Ironically, therefore, for all their summoning of the ghosts of Hugo Chavez, it is Labour’s opponents who are behaving today most like Arthur Scargill and the monster raving loonies who could never state their alternative.

National is now in the position of defending an indefensible, expensive, failing, unpopular, broken mess. Long may they continue.

Comments (6)

by barry on April 21, 2013

Interesting that you talk about Chavez and Thatcher.

Put aside the ridiculous comparison between Chavez and North Korea.  You, Josie should be ashamed to associate Chavez with "The suspension of democracy and human rights, militarism, global war-mongering, the mass impoverishment of citizens and gangersterism".

But Thatcher and Chavez both were blessed by oil riches.  In Thatchers case she gave it all away to the rich and claimed that it validated her policies.  Chavez gave it all away to the poor and claimed the same thing.

I would take Chavez over Thatcher any day.


by stuart munro on April 22, 2013
stuart munro

John Pilger had a lot of time for Chavez, and I have a lot of time for Pilger.

But the policy, though surely improvable, is the best thing to come out of Labour in several years. The Gnats are squealing because they know it's going to hurt them. Think of Paula Bennett when the Gnats squeal, she never allowed her vicious and ineffective agenda to be stopped just because she was hurting people.

Old governments should not go quiet into that good night, but rage, rage against the dying of the light...

by Matthew Percival on April 22, 2013
Matthew Percival

A bloke by the name of Lance Wiggs has come up with some ideas at the bottom of this long a rambling piece

Personally I struggle with the notion that power prices are too high. I haven't found the figures online but I believe we are the 4th or 5th cheapest in the OECD and 20% below the OECD average. The second string to that bow is that the Labour/Greens proposal is going to cut power bills by a maximum of 10% or $330 annually or $6 a week. If the wholesalers were creaming it shouldn't their proposal be able to cut power prices by 30%?

Yes the rate of change has been high. I'm not old enough to remember how we were so low way back when but I'd like to hear some analysis on how power prices were so low as opposed to looking at it now and analysing why power prices are "high".

The National Party led what's my number campaign has been a huge success and points us in the direction where we should go. 72% price rise in 9 years under Labour and a 20% rise since National came to office. The campaign has raised the consumers access to information and switching procedures and in doing so has made the market more efficient.

So the things we should be looking at to improve the electricity market are as follows:

 - Removing barriers to entry for new participants

 - Streamlining switching to minimise disruption and cost

 - Formulating a dividend policy for SOE's so governments can't stuff up the market by requesting exorbitant dividends.

I can accept that sometimes markets don't operate well. For instance markets with large start up costs & high barriers to entry for new participants can be problematic. I can accept that in some industries government intervention is required. However I'm yet to be convinced that the electricity market is as efficient as it could be and I believe there is still room to make this market more efficient. That is the path we should be pursuing.


by MJ on April 23, 2013

Hi Josie,

I noticed in the Herald there are a lot of writers complaining about Labour not guaranteeing their monopoly profits.

I wrote a letter to them which didn't get printed which pointed out that they are not pro-innovation or competition, - in fact they want government protection for their monopoly.

My last paragraph:

Here and overseas we see anti-democratic measures that prevent dissent or protest  greeted as sensible, powers that circumvent democratic safe-guards and quality-processes treated as necessary, but the idea of preventing a few private citizens from making monopoly profits is howled and jeered as belonging to that of a repressive regime.

by stuart munro on April 23, 2013
stuart munro

Wigg's proposals are reasonable on the face of it, but they presuppose income levels that cover current pricing levels. For many New Zealanders, especially those on low or fixed incomes, this has not been true for some years. 

For the Labour Party, there is also the question of relevance. If as a party they have become economic pragmatists rather than principled dissenters, then they still need to find meaningful points of difference with National. Of course no-one within the Washington consensus is actually pragmatic, because those policies don't work. If they do not find enough issues to create genuine cleavages then they cannot win.

The energy sector is ripe for reform in the public interest. And an astute National government would pre-empt the Labour Green initiative with a comprehensive solution just to quash the opposition. No fear of that, National is so incompetent it teeters on the edge of collapse on a daily basis.

This is of course of little benefit to the long suffering public. Will someone step up to the plate and take a swing at the slings and arrows of outrageous looting of state assets? Or is the backbench sinecure just too comfortable, and like a toothless and superannuated watchdog they'll take a sop of parliamentary super and wag their tails as the rest of NZ's assets are sold offshore.

by Josie Pagani on April 24, 2013
Josie Pagani

Thanks for the comments.

Those on the right continue to paint this as a lurch to the Left. But as Rod Oram pointed out on ZB Mike Hoskings, the policy addresses fundamental problems with our electricity system that have been around for years.

First that demand is likely to remain flat or increase only slightly in the future as people and industry become more energy consious. It was irresponsible of the government to think it could float Might RIver Power at the top of the price range, when the market has fundamentally changed.

And second, that today we have a system where a handful of big generators can 'game' the market by setting the highest price based on the most expensive generation (gas), rather than a real price based on their ability to produce cheap hydro power.

As energy analysts Molly Melhuish and Bryan Leyland have said, the generators can hold back power from cheap to run hydro stations, and use expensive gas-fired generation instead, so pushing the price of power up.

All that Labour's policy does is set up an independent regulator to act in the public interest, and allow that regulator - rather than the industry -  to influence prices, and create incentivs for them to use cheaper hydro power where possible.

Abit like a Reserve Bank Governor for electricity.

The electricity system hasn't been working for many years. If didn't matter so much when the generators were SOEs because the tax payer got the benefits of the dividends. It does matter once they are partially privatised, and those dividends go overseas. 

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