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10. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Prime Minister: Further to his answers to Oral Question No 1 yesterday on the purchase of state assets by foreigners, what percentage of Contact shares are currently held by foreigners or corporations?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: The Prime Minister stands by his answers to questions, but he is not responsible for the Contact Energy share register.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday there were some very specific questions where the Prime Minister said he did not know. This question was allowed; if it was into an area that was not answerable by the Prime Minister, you would have ruled it out.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member makes a fair point. The question would not have been accepted had it not been seen to be in order. It is capable of answer, and I think the House does deserve an answer.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did answer the question. I stood by the answers to the questions asked yesterday. The Prime Minister is not responsible for the Contact Energy share register. That is an answer to the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I clearly remember the questions relating to the proportion of shares held by various groupings of people, and this question has been accepted as being in order. The meaning of the question is very clear. It is a question that is perfectly capable of answer. It should not be any big deal. It is not a matter that is a huge State secret, I would have thought. If it is not possible to obtain the information, that would be totally acceptable, but I would be surprised because the information should be reasonably readily available. Although I accept that the Minister could argue that he is not responsible for the share register, this question relates to answers to oral question No. 1 yesterday where these matters were canvassed by the Prime Minister.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I happen to be on my feet. It is a very simple thing. If the facts of a matter are not to be divulged, we have a serious problem. This is a very simple question. It does not imply anything. The question asks, in relation to the answers given yesterday, for the percentage of Contact Energy shares that are held by foreigners or corporations. It may not be possible to give exact figures on that. I am not sure whether the register would break down share ownership into foreigners or corporations. But some guidance to this House on a question asked in this House, on notice for a couple of hours, should be possible.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If you are to say that if a Minister makes any comment on any issue, then he is responsible for questions that go well outside his mandate—and surely the share register of a private company is not within the responsibility of any Minister in this House or the Prime Minister—then Ministers may make the habit of simply taking a very narrow perspective of questions and refusing to answer anything. Otherwise you will have Ministers responsible for every single little bit of New Zealand society.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not need any further help on this. The Speaker would probably be fairly grateful if Ministers took a fairly narrow view of some questions asked. It would be a step forward on many occasions. This is not some passing comment made by a Minister. This was a central issue in a question for oral answer yesterday, and it has been accepted as being in order. It is a primary question; it is not as if it is a supplementary question. I would not have thought it is a huge issue. It ought to be a matter of being possible to ascertain from the public record the proportion of shares that are held by foreigners or corporations, so making a big deal out of is in no one’s particular interest, I would have thought.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It does appear that your ruling has come as somewhat of a surprise to the Minister. Although we have started on the question, I would be happy to seek leave to have it deferred until tomorrow so that he can be briefed.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to have this question deferred. Is there any objection to that course of action? There is objection. Therefore, I invite the Minister to please answer the question.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is not possible to establish with accuracy whether New Zealanders or corporations or foreigners own the shares in Contact Energy—for instance, Tea Custodians Ltd—who would that be? Custodial Services Ltd—who would that be? ASB Nominees Ltd—who would that be? Custodial Services Ltd again—who would that be? What we do know is that Origin Energy owns 51 percent of the shares, because the shares were sold to it originally. Shareholding is very widespread. Other than Origin Energy, no institution, foreign or domestic, owns more than 5 percent of shares. The biggest non – Origin Energy shareholder is the Government, through the Superannuation Fund and ACC, which owns 5 percent of all shares in Contact Energy and 10 percent of the available non – Origin Energy shares.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the Minister.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Further to the answer to yesterday’s oral question No. 1, does the document that was being referred to extending the mixed-ownership model—which uses the same term for privatisation as the Government uses, which talks about selling the same companies as the Government plans to, which lists the Government’s objectives, and which was released by his Minister of Finance as part of Budget 2011—not represent Government policy on asset sales when it says: “significant participation by foreign investors will be essential to achieve the Government’s overall objectives.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is correct. It does not represent Government policy. The Government has—
Hon Annette King: How can that be?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, it is just advice from officials. We often disagree with advice from officials. The Government has decided that the proposition it is putting to the electorate is 51 percent Government ownership, and Kiwi mums and dads at the front of the queue. Treasury has a different view of how it should be done, and we disagree with that view.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Does his Government intend to prevent the on-sale of privatised State-owned enterprise shares to foreigners?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government will be getting advice between now and the election about what the rules should be about a float, but our general disposition would be to trust New Zealanders. We believe New Zealanders want to—
Hon Members: Ha, ha!
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, if Labour’s only reason for owning these companies is that it does not trust New Zealanders not to sell out New Zealand, then why does it not tell New Zealanders that? The only reason Labour wants to own these companies is that New Zealanders personally will sell out to foreigners.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Other than saying that he would get advice on it, I invite you to ask the Minister to address the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I believe the Minister did answer the question. He indicated details on the float having not yet been finalised, but he shared with the House his view of the matter at this stage. I think it was a perfectly reasonable answer to the question asked.