Protest partial privatisation – boycott Mighty River Power

Following the SC decision on the Wai case, looks like there is going to be a final push against Asset Sales in which various union groups and other movements are calling for a National Day of Action (Date: 27 April 2013).

This week the MSM asked what National’s Plan B would have been, had the SC decision gone in favour of the NZMC. Its irrelevant. Who cares. They would have legislated against any finding. Much the same as Labour did with the Foreshore and Seabed. We can assume this.

But what was the Plan B for those in opposition to asset sales? A referendum that wouldn’t be held until after at least the first few SOE’s were partially privatised? Relying on Labour & Greens to create more widespread participation through actual action something that they’ve failed to effectively do already?

In the meantime they’ve left it to Mana’s activists, unions, blogs and other social movements to keep the issue live.

So Plan B now appears to be another mass demonstration. This is not the 1980’s. And its not Egypt. It might feel like an exercise of citizen power but there are always a few who manage to deflect from the real purpose by using the march as a platform for spreading their anti-Key sentiments. When they do that, citizen power is lost. National laugh off the protest as a bunch of radical left wing haters. It does more damage than good.

To make matters worse, opposition Leader, David Shearer ain’t gonna make the protest credible since he struggles to string together a single coherent sentence. And while the Greens will provide valid arguments, National have developed a knack for making common sense sound completely irrational.

Yes, I did just make that statement – the Greens argument is common sense because its not just focused on economic advantages or disadvantages but takes into account both social and environmental factors which are highly relevant and seldom considered.

I appreciate that there are people who are not opposed to the sale of these assets – in fact many, including Treasury see the full privatisation as providing more economic benefits. I also can understand the diverse philosophies/ideologies that compel people to either oppose or support privatisation schemes. But my point here is not to debate whether or not we should as a country partially privatise state owned assets. I want to focus on a more effective form of protest using our real power, that is, as Consumers.


Mighty River Power claims that its retail brands have a combined national market share of 18% of the physical electricity sales by volume. They boast around 370,000 customers.

The Greens have released figures that suggest they have collected 370,000 or so signatures for a citizens initiated referendum and the polls tell us that around 80% of New Zealander’s are opposed to the partial sell down.

Consumers are in control. Without them, businesses fail. This protest that is being organised needs to promote this power. The threat of loss of customers is enough to devalue a company. Actual migrations of customers will be even more effective. If those who oppose assets want to prevent the sale – then they must use their power as a consumer and boycott all Mighty River Power retail brands such as Mercury Energy.

The effect of this is in order to retain profits the company are likely to have to drive up its power prices – this would inevitably force other users to transfer their service to other power companies. The loss of customers (and customer instability) and hence lost profits is less attractive to potential investors and is the only effective way of getting the government to respect our power as citizens and consumers. As consumers we can drive down the value of the SOE’s in a show of opposition to its proposed partial privatisation. We often forget that governments serve us we do not serve them.

Its foreseeable how the government will respond – they’ll blame those who divest from Mighty River Power for its imminent sale. Its BS. They plan to sell anyway whether you take this action or not. Counter the rhetoric. Those who oppose these asset sales need to get smarter not angrier. They need to anticipate counter-responses and take more direct actions. Protesting about sales is a start but its not the same as taking direct action to prevent them. As a consumer in a consumption society – we have the power.

According to the NZH Mighty River is in the process of being listed on the ASX: now is the time.



  1. Just to keep it quick – this won’t work because a very large portion of the public supported the sale (and future sales) of state owned power companies. Double that with an also very large part of the public who don’t care and you are burning more of the public goodwill you talk about with demonstrations for a course of action that will at best look ineffectual.
    I agree wholeheartedly that Governments work for us and not the other way around – and you highlight a great point that as individuals we have a choice and as a consumer we can walk from one option to another with an instant measurable result. I just think that in this case there aren’t the numbers to make an effective stand – its almost the opposite when you look at the coverage that show the IPO is actually oversubscribed for mighty river.
    I’m not about your argument of action driving down price – as the first sold power company it would actually be in its best interest to drop prices as it is freed from more oversight and left to dictate terms of the market as the first cab off the rank, but this is of course no guarantee
    Maybe you need a heavily resourced rich friend (or tribe) – if you want more of a say on how these companies run then the easiest way it to but some of them

    Mackas Mate


  2. Yeah, fair points and it has since become apparent that few people care about the sales (or are apathetic?) either way, I accept this opposition campaign seems to be falling apart.

    I'm not convinced when you say that a very large portion of the public supported the sales, since the polls have consistently highlighted that a large majority would prefer to retain SOE's. However, I do appreciate the argument that many accepted the partial privatisation of SOE's by proxy when they voted National in the election (although you'll know I believe that argument to be contentious). I've also seen many who have signed the petition admit to registering their interest in Mighty River under the age old “if you cant beat em join em ethos” which appears to be in line with your concluding sentence.

    For the record, I'd rather see power companies treated as public utilities rather than profit making organisations.


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