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Issue #1550      6 June 2012

NSW power sale:

O’Farrell opens fire on National Parks

Last week NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell entered into an agreement under which the Shooters and Fishers Party would give the state government the upper house votes it needs to sell off the state’s Eraring, Delta and Macquarie power stations. Two power station development sites and a new coal mine are also to be sold.

In exchange, licensed amateur shooters will be granted access to 79 of the state’s 779 national parks, with the stated purpose of eliminating feral animals such as wild cats, dogs, goats, deer, rabbits and pigs.

The deal will have major adverse implications for climate change, and will endanger native fauna and the public in the national parks concerned.

When the coalition was in opposition, Farrell vigorously opposed opening up the parks to amateur shooters. He now claims that the agreement will be strictly limited to feral animals, and that the activities of shooters will be closely monitored by parks authorities.

However, regardless of their avowed self-restraint, the aim of shooters is to bag as many trophies as possible, and they will always be subject to the temptation to take shots at native fauna. According to Greens MP David Shoebridge, where shooters have been given access to parks in other states, feral animals have been deliberately released into parks in order to boost the next season’s kill for the shooters.

Nor is it possible for park rangers to police amateur shooters’ activities. This would require a ranger accompanying every shooter in order to veto illicit shots. This is not possible. The parks are understaffed and rangers are already hard-pressed carrying out their normal activities. In any case, unions representing rangers have vowed not to cooperate with the amateur shooters.

Rangers and the professional hunters sometimes employed by parks administrators are highly trained in ensuring public safety, which is not uppermost in the minds of amateur shooters.

Part of the rangers’ duties involves shooting feral animals, and culling introduced but tolerated species, such as the deer in the Royal National Park. Rangers are adept at this, and their intention is to preserve native fauna, not to kill for the sake of it.

But O’Farrell doesn’t seem concerned about any of these issues.

A sell-off sellout

By granting amateur shooters access to national parks, O’Farrell has dumped the principle of preserving national parks. He claims that his intention is “to unlock the asset value of the generators to assist us in rebuilding the economy by delivering the infrastructure needed to get this state going again”. For their part the Shooters and Fishers party claim that their primary intention was to get a better retrenchment deal for power station workers.

That’s a double dose of hypocrisy! When the coalition was in opposition O’Farrell gained popularity by blocking the sale of the generators; but when they took government it became his policy, for which he sought the support of the Shooters and Fishers party. That was consistent with the coalition’s fundamental policy of maintaining the predominance of the coal and gas industries in power generation.

O’Farrell’s idea that the proceeds of the sale will fund major essential works programs is untenable. Carrying that argument through to its logical conclusion, the government could justify opening up all the national parks, or even selling them off, in order to fund its programs.

Moreover, the government’s figures on the deal are highly suspect. Prior to the Coalition taking office the current treasurer Mike Baird described an estimated profit of $5 billion to $7 billion from the sale of the generators as “about half what these assets are worth”.

After taking office the government claimed the sale would realise $8 billion. However, according to a representative of merchant bank JPMorgan, proceeds from the sale are likely to only yield between $3 billion and $5 billion, because of market fluctuations and the imminent carbon tax. ”You almost couldn’t find a worse time to sell the assets”, he commented

And finally, it is not clear whether the income sacrificed by the government in selling off a money-spinning business has been fully taken into consideration in arriving at a sale price. Critical figures regarding this factor were blanked out in the consultant’s report which the government used to justify its decision to sell the assets.

The public will be the big loser in the transaction, which will produce very poor yields, with no guarantee that they will be used for key infrastructure projects as the government has promised. The price of energy will soar under a privately owned electricity system.

For their part, the conservative Shooters and Fishers party previously blocked passage of the power sale legislation in order to force the government to open the parks up to the amateur shooters. That was their objective, not the welfare of the power workers as they claim.

They claim that during negotiations with the government they won the workers an extra two years of guaranteed employment, and transfer payments of up to 30 weeks’ pay. Nevertheless, they actually betrayed the workers by allowing the legislation to pass.

The struggle for clean energy

The previous Labor government sold off the publicly-owned electricity trading and retailing organisations. With the sale of the generators power production will be almost entirely in private hands. O’Farrell has promised not to sell off the distribution system, the “poles and wires” – at least, not during his first term in office!

The new owners of the power generators won’t need to worry about the Liberal/National coalition interfering in their operations . Plans are already in place to build new coal-fired power stations at Mt Piper and Bayswater.

After the sale the O’Farrell government will absolve itself of responsibility for introducing clean energy production. To do so would require prohibition of the construction of new fossil-fuelled power stations, the phasing out of coal-fired power production and the building of new clean energy power stations under full government ownership and control. Nor is it conceivable that a future Labor government would take such initiatives.

The responsibility for achieving clean energy will have to be taken by parties with a strong environmental focus. These forces could form alliances.

Until then achievement of the best outcome will still be dependent on irresistible public pressure on the government by mass protests and petitions, as has always been the case.  

Next article – Silent march protests TAFE cuts

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