Skip to Content »

Chinese ownership of Wellington power lines

  • April 29th, 2008

I wish I could treat this news as immaterial. I know: 

  • that talk of the lines being “strategic” is drivel -they can’t take the lines away;
  • that the return they extract from us is constrained by competition law just as it has been under previous foreign and Vector ownership;
  • that Vector must consider they have better uses for the $735m they’ll get;
  • that if the buyer truly has deep experience of developing lines businesses in the world’s most dynamic economy we could benefit from technologies and management that comes only from  being “world class”.

But instead the news makes me depressed. It reminds me that:

  • for all of my adult life we New Zealanders have been spending more than we earn;
  • there are only two ways to do that – borrow from foreigners or sell assets to them, and we’ve been living high only from doing both;
  • when I turn on the lights I’m relying on the savings of people in a country many times poorer than us;
  • for the 9 years since I entered Parliament our leadership has squandered the most favourable terms of trade we could get, and we are no nearer paying our way in the world.

Instinctively hating these kind of sales is not stupid. It is no more stupid than railing against the waiting list and the x-ray machinery idle in a hospital because the radiologists have gone to Australia to double their incomes. What is stupid is not thinking it through to the solution. The solution is not banning “strategic assets” (whether people or wires or airports) from leaving. The solution is to stop voting for politicians who lie and pander to us, who pass laws that destroy our drive, and our risk-taking incentives, and our education quality, and our family strength.

Fear of foreign control is natural and healthy. There is a nasty suspicion that it will come to no good in the end. Ownership matters. As head offices leave a city so does self confidence and the kinds of people who exercise leadership, and arts patronage and interesting careers for our children.

But we are the feckless tenants who complain about their rent, while their  landlord lives in a smaller house in a crumby part of town with lots of family, rarely drinks, never eats out, while his kids do paper rounds and shifts in the family dairy fitted around their home work. We’d rather specialize in singing and dancing, and booze and loaf than save to buy our  own house, or even better, some houses overseas we could rent to foreigners.


  • Gnomer
  • April 29th, 2008
  • 12:07 pm

You’re right Stephen. It’s almost as though we’re in national character crisis,a mass equivalent of a burst of alcoholism or gambling or a temporary psychiatric illness.

While countries big like China and small like Singapore power ahead we fritter away our assets to live beyond our means. Could we even run a sovereign wealth fund like Singapore’s Temasek, or China’s Citic, or the others the Asians have? I fear we would break into it at the first economic downturn, and sell at the bottom of the market.

So we are becoming owned by more serious countries’ sovereign wealth funds and entrepreneurs like Li Ka-shing.

I blame the mad utopian views of our soft welfare socialism for the materialism that undermined us. It’s huge spend up on welfare, arts, and sports fools us into thinking we are doing well.
The media’s victim culture on health (we need more money for X or Y) tricks us us into thinking that welfare is an entitlement instead of a hard-earned

Leftists think we can by decree lift national living standards in the OECD ratings. They answer every small social problem by throwing money at it. And this has seeped into our souls.

When dormantly racist Australia closes the open door to New Zealanders because of our changing race mix, it may force us to face reality and roll up our sleeves again. Perhaps that is our best hope.

  • Spam
  • April 29th, 2008
  • 6:48 pm

I think its fairly clear from Cullen’s comments today that he is pushing the “sensitive” argument, rather than the strategic one as his ‘out’.

I think he should clarify further that when he says ‘sensitive’, he means that the asset is actually sensitive to labour’s internal polling; not to the country’s need.

  • Deborah Coddington
  • May 2nd, 2008
  • 2:39 pm

Good thinking, as usual. Rationally, there is nothing to “fear” from foreign ownership. The Government, however, has been totally opportunist over the two recent sales – Auckland International Airport, blocked for political reasons; Vector – condoned for political reasons.
I don’t really care who owns Vector, but I can’t help wondering why, suddenly, anything “Asian” or “Chinese” is so politically correct. Remember my North & South article about Asian crime, and the fuss it caused? If an American company had purchased Vector, would we be so mute? This morning’s news contained an item about methamphetamine, how it’s use is out of control, and it’s all coming in from Asia (in return for stolen paua). Why is there no outcry?
“Chinese” are the new Maori.

Leave your comments:

* Required fields. Your e-mail address will not be published on this site

You can use the following HTML tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>