The fact that our Labour stalwart was alerted to the Parker speech by a newspaper column and blog post by a favourite bogey of many Labour MPs, Chris Trotter, did not help his/her case (or standing in the party).
"According to Labour’s policy: 'While the electricity market is on the cusp of becoming uncompetitive and exhibits monopoly-like characteristics, generation assets are diverse in nature, location and ownership.'
"What this means is that although Labour went into the last general election on a policy of 'No Asset Sales'; and in spite of the fact that its campaign advertising showed a vast banner, displaying that very message, being draped over a hydro-electricity generating dam; the party was unwilling to include electricity generators on the list of state-owned infrastructure that 'ought to be run in the New Zealand interest' – and never be sold to foreigners.
"Am I alone in thinking that Labour’s foreign investment policy fatally compromises its current campaign against asset sales? If the generation of electricity is an activity which properly belongs to the market, and if New Zealand’s electricity generation assets are 'diverse in nature, location and ownership' and, therefore, able to be purchased by foreign interests, then I’m at a loss to know why the Labour Party is opposed to their partial privatisation.”
“The New Zealand electricity industry has undergone significant reform in the last 20 years. First, the Electricity Corporation of New Zealand (ECNZ) was established in 1987 as a state owned enterprise to operate as a commercial, profit-making organisation. ECNZ was the sole provider of electricity in New Zealand, including generation, transmission and retail. Electricity was distributed through local electricity supply authorities.
"Then, in 1994, Transpower was separated from ECNZ and created as a state owned enterprise. In 1996, ECNZ was split into two more state owned enterprises - ECNZ and Contact Energy - and a wholesale electricity market was established. Another major reform was the privatisation of Contact Energy in 1999.
"The last significant reform was the separation of the lines and energy businesses of the former Electricity Supply Companies and the split of ECNZ into three competing state owned enterprises: Meridian Energy Limited, Genesis Power Limited and Mighty River Power Limited. These reforms were designed to introduce a more dynamic and competitive environment into the generation, distribution and retailing of electricity.”
So where does that leave us with the Parker speech and the somewhat long-bowalley conclusions drawn by Chris Trotter?
The Labour asset-sales policy is “no sales” of existing state-owned assets. The foreign investment policy is no foreign ownership of monopoly infrastructure.
The electricity generator Contact is already privately owned, so it would be subject to Labour’s foreign investment rules. These are designed to put limits on foreign ownership, not private ownership. Contact is not a monopoly, therefore overseas investment is possible under Labour's policy. There is really no contradiction here.
The question that could be asked is; should energy generation be deemed too important to the economy and the environment to allow any form of private ownership of it, whether that be locally-based or foreign (is there a difference in a globalised world?)?
The re-nationalisation of all privatised energy generation infrastructure and the removal of the clumsy and artificial market mechanisms currently in place in the sector is a move that would have wide support amongst New Zealanders.
This is not (yet) Labour policy.
It is up to Labour members and affiliates to push for such a policy if they want to see it enacted by a Labour-led government.
The current democratic reforms of the Labour Party organisational structure and policy-setting mechanisms will make adoption and fulfilment of policies like this more likely.