Baird to be questioned over NSW power industry sale

Issue 
Mike Baird.

NSW Liberal Premier Mike Baird is likely to be called before the parliamentary inquiry into the state government's proposed privatisation of the "poles and wires" of the state's electricity industry in May.

Baird will be questioned over allegations of government tampering with an expert report on the planned leasing of the power industry before the recent March state election.

Media reports suggest the premier's office intervened with investment bank UBS Australia after an initial statement in its advisory report to the government commented that the power sale would be "bad for the budget". After a phone call from the premier's office, the report was allegedly changed to remove this damning conclusion.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) is investigating this allegation, after a formal complaint from the Labor opposition, the April 20 Sydney Morning Herald reported. UBS is one of the state government's main advisers, and is expected to gain $10-20 million from the deal.

The parliamentary inquiry, chaired by Christian Democratic Party head Fred Nile, has been expanded from seven to nine members, after the Greens claimed the committee was a "stitch-up" designed to "silence opposition to the government's poles and wires privatisation".

The select committee will now include Nile, four government members, two ALP, one Greens MP and Shooters and Fishers Party leader Robert Borsak. The government now only needs the CDP's two Legislative Council votes to pass the power sell-off plan through parliament.

Greens NSW MP John Kaye said on April 15, that: "This inquiry will comprehensively ignore the impacts of electricity privatisation on the future of renewable energy. There will be no space for roof-top solar, wind or solar thermal. There will be no voice for technologies of the future that stand to lose badly in a privately-owned electricity network.

"Completely absent from the terms of reference are the consequences of the Baird government's power sell-off on low-cost battery storage and household stand-alone power generation. It's like the inquiry was happening 25 years ago.

"The Coalition and Christian Democrat majority will ensure that the dire implications of network privatisation for low-income households will be given little or no consideration. Contrary to what the Rev Nile told the media prior to the election, this inquiry has a pro-privatisation majority.

"The biased terms of reference raise real questions about the counterpart of the deal that Fred Nile has done with the government. Mike Baird's senior staffer Bay Warburton has been seen frequently entering Fred Nile's parliamentary office.

"It remains to be seen which of Fred Nile's pet projects are to be given a hearing from the government now that his inquiry has been heavily stacked in their favour.”

The trade-off for CDP support for the power deal could include such reactionary measures as the revival of an amended form of the anti-abortion Zoe's law, or a tightening of state opposition to equal marriage rights, for example.

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