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Issue #1643      June 18, 2014

“Stop Power Sell Off”

“Stop the NSW Power Sell Off”, the “Poles & Wires Not 4 Sale”; that’s the message from the people of NSW to the state Coalition government. Premier Mike Baird is determined to push ahead despite strong public opposition. Like his federal counterpart Tony Abbott, Baird is determined to privatise the state’s assets, especially those that guarantee whopping profits for the private sector.

“Stop the sell off” protest in Sydney, 2008. (Photo: Anna Pha)

“In the last couple decades we’ve seen the privatisation of banks, telecommunications and aviation, and each time regional communities have suffered reductions to services, increased costs, job losses, and an impact on their local economy,” Stop the Sell Off campaign director Adam Kerslake said.

People’s memories of past privatisations, many of which started with all sorts of guarantees at 49 percent, are not forgotten. Nor are the higher prices and decline in quality and loss of services that followed.”

A survey by ReachTEL commissioned by the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) in four National Party-held regional NSW seats – Ballina, Dubbo, Port Macquarie and Tamworth – found that 14 percent of voters in those electorates support the privatisation of the state-owned electricity poles and wires network, while 70.3 percent are opposed. Even if the sell off were limited to 49 percent of the electricity network, support only rose a few percent to 17.1 percent.

To gain support from National Party members of the Coalition, Baird has agreed to leave Essential Energy, which serves rural NSW, in public hands. With state elections due next March, it would have been political suicide to agree to the privatisation of Essential Energy.

Misleading

Baird says he will limit the sale to 49 percent which gives the impression the government will still hold a majority ownership and control of the companies. But that is not the case. The plan is to sell the equivalent of 49 percent of the combined value of the four companies. As only three companies are being sold, then 49 percent of the total means that the private sector will hold a controlling share of more than 50 percent of at least one and most likely all three companies up for privatisation.

The first thing the new owners will do is set about increasing and maximising profits. This will be done by such means as:

  • sacking staff
  • attacking wages and working conditions
  • higher prices
  • short cuts in maintenance and reduction in investment in new infrastructure.

For the public this will mean:

  • a higher rate of disconnections with many on lower incomes unable to afford heating and hot water
  • loss of local jobs
  • reduced public safety – bushfires, storms, floods, etc
  • no accountability
  • loss of income for government – at present $2.5 billion per annum
  • fewer apprentices trained
  • less support for local sports teams, community groups and organisations like rescue helicopter services.

The commitment to spend the sales revenue on roads and trains and an infrastructure reward of around $2 billion from the federal government, even in cold hard economic budgetary terms, does not cover the loss of regular income in the years to come, let alone justify the hardship it will cause.

As for all the promises of passenger train routes – the public are not fooled. They have heard them for decades in the lead-up to every state election. The tollways, however, will go ahead. Public transport is not high on the agenda of a government that promotes the private, for-profit tollways and the use of cars.

Nor were people fooled by the offer of a one percent discount on official prices following privatisation for a couple of years. Rising prices and falling incomes are already taking their toll. According to the CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service of NSW, Alison Peters, there were 25,900 disconnections in the first half of 2013-14.

Public and trade union opposition stopped the former Labor government from privatising the electricity network. Now, it is time to defeat the Coalition’s plans. Residents of NSW are urged to lobby their local MP and Members of the Legislative Council. With elections on the horizon, they are more likely to hear your voice!

“We won’t rest until the NSW government backs down from this plan and commits to retaining Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy, Essential Energy and TransGrid – the companies that own and operate every power line in the state – in public ownership,” Kerslake said.

Guardian readers in NSW with access to the internet, are encouraged to visit the ETU Stop the Sell Off campaign website, (stoptheselloff.org.au), and email your local MP and local newspaper highlighting the impact privatisation will have on the local community and calling on them not to support it.

Next article – Editorial – Raw, ruling-class rhetoric

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