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Selling The Family Silver

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We are told times are tough. We need to sell the family silver. But who defines what tough is? Who makes that judgment call? And should we believe them?

Who also defines what the family silver is? State and community assets are there for a reason. It’s called ‘public good’. Some wise founding fathers and mothers decided for the common good that we should have this silver. It benefits us all, and should not benefit just the few.

Should we therefore allow assets controlled by the state or by local authorities to be sold for short term gain? What I expect from my governing body is for them to conserve, look after and it enhance the legacy, (paid for by our predecessors), which they have gained from those forebears. I expect them to look after my assets. For the public good.

Then there is the problem of what exactly is a state or local government asset. For my part I define it as roads, parks, hospitals, schools, state housing, and pensioner flats. Any thing that is there for the public good is a state asset. So why would be believe that selling ‘tradable’ entities like our power companies, our water treatment stations, our dams are the only state assets on the list for disposal?

What of those intangibles which make our communities work? New Zealand and all its cities, towns and villages exist and thrive because of public good. Our roads are there for public good, for trade, for shopping, for visiting, for pleasure, for our residents and for our visitors. They are state assets. Will they be sold when the easy jewels are gone?

Our hospitals and schools are there to protect our future not just the present. Without these jewels our communities would fail. They are state assets to be protected at all costs and should not be sold at the whim of any government, Tory or not. I have no confidence that after the easy stuff is gone the hard stuff will be prepared for sale.

Why would we expect our hospitals and schools to be safe? They are serious assets of some value. Not only the buildings, but land they are on, often in prime positions. I hear that Treasury has employed people skilled at preparing state assets for sale. Does that include our schools and hospitals?

For local authorities which are rich in assets, port companies, airports and the like it is so easy to look to them to sell for rate payer relief, this year at least. But then next year there are only libraries, pensioner flats, water stations, sewerage systems. We should not leave the foundations of a civilized society in the hands of the private sector. There is ample evidence to show that the public continue to pay even after the asset has been sold. Why do we not look at these lessons and learn from them?

Here on the Kapiti Coast, during my first term as a councillor, the then mayor attempted to sell our only family silver, our pensioner housing stock. The offer from a private firm was secret; the anger from the community when the news was leaked was astounding particularly in Otaki. It was the Otaki Borough Council who took up a government offer many years ago when they provided cheap loans to provide houses for our elderly on limited means.

Our family silver in Otaki was precious then and the community as a whole stood up and fought the decision to sell. Otaki is a community which honours its past and lives by a code of ‘public good’. We should be proud of that history, and honour it by stating loud and clear to whatever government or council which wants to dispose of our property – ‘hands off’. This is ours and we want to keep it for the public good of our children.

State and local assets must be protected. It is the only way we can protect our children’s future. Taxes and rates protect that future. We should pay them gladly.