Alastair Scott: We should be thinking about what [government’s] purpose is. Is it to own buildings? I say no, absolutely not.

Wairarapa MP says government should not own buildings

PAM GRAHAM
pam.graham@age.co.nz

Wairarapa MP Alastair Scott has been attacked by the finance minister in Parliament for saying governments shouldn’t own hospitals, and questioning whether they should own schools.

But National’s associate finance spokesman is unapologetic and says there needs to be a debate about what governments should own.

The political spat started in a debate in Parliament about Treasury’s investment statement on June 13 when Scott questioned if the government should own hospitals, houses, buildings, farms, schools, roads or “tarmac”.

“It makes no sense to me at all that the government should be the owner of our hospitals. It’s nonsense,” Scott said.

“We should be thinking about what [government’s] purpose is. Is it to own buildings? Is it to own hospitals? Is it to own schools and social houses? I say no, absolutely not.”

Finance Minister Grant Robertson got a transcript and on Wednesday launched an attack in Parliament’s general debate, asking if Scott had “revealed to us the direction of the National Party”.

“It’s going firmly in reverse.”

Robertson went to town on Scott’s reference to universities as a “lazy asset”, saying there were several problems with it.

“The first is we don’t actually own universities – they own themselves, and they’ll be thrilled to learn how lazy they have all been,” Robertson said.

Scott said it was unusual to be singled out for such a prolonged attack, so he must have struck a nerve.

“Grant Robertson reacted because he knows I’m right,” Scott said.

He said the Treasury document posed the question about what governments should do with assets, and he was simply answering it.

His point was, “let’s question the status quo”.

He had not got into trouble for his remarks, adding: “I get into more trouble if I’m late”.

In the debate, Scott went as far as to say, “We could privatise the army”, but then dismissed it as an idea.

He later said that was tongue-in-cheek because Defence Minister Ron Mark was in the House.

Scott said many people who worked for the government did not work in buildings owned by the government, and there were already hospitals and schools not owned by the state.

He also said in Wairarapa there were no Housing New Zealand houses, as they were sold by a previous National government to Trust House 20 years ago.

Governments should look after people in need, but they did not have to own the houses they lived in, Scott said.

Robertson said the government was investing record sums of money in the provinces while National had eyes firmly fixed on the rear vision mirror.

Scott said it had been proven that the government was not a good owner of energy assets.

Asked if he would sell Wairarapa Hospital, he said he had not thought about it.

Certain things had to happen before things were sold.

One was competition.