BY SHUA GARFIELD
HOBART — "Contrary to yet another commitment" is how Phillip Baker, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union's Tasmanian branch secretary, described plans by Labor Premier Jim Bacon's government to privatise software company Hydstra.
Baker was referring to commitments made at this year's ALP state conference not to privatise any part of Hydro Tasmania, the hydroelectricity company that supplies Tasmania's electricity. These commitments were themselves reiterations of election promises made by the ALP in the 1998 state election. At that time, the election promise played a major role in helping the ALP defeat the Liberal-Green coalition government.
"The technology is owned by the people of Tasmania and is not a plaything for the government to be traded across the boardroom table", Baker said on November 12.
Hydstra, which employs more than 20 workers, designs software to manage hydroelectric dams. The Bacon government is involved in talks to sell Hydstra to German company Kisters, Hydstra's only major international competitor. Tasmanian Greens MP Nick McKim warned that if Hydstra was sold to its only competitor, Hydro Tasmania would be forced to buy its software at monopoly rates, increasing costs for the public utility.
"The decision has not only been made in secret, but it is strategically incomprehensible", said McKim.
The revelations about the government's negotiations with Kisters come amid announcements of plans to privatise a number of state-owned public assets on Hobart's waterfront as part of a massive redevelopment plan. Anger has been expressed by the Greens and others that these plans have been pursued largely in secret, and that public consultation is likely to be restricted to the December-January holiday period.
From Green Left Weekly, November 19, 2003.
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