'Baird in danger from power sell-off': Socialist Alliance candidate

February 13, 2015
Socialist Alliance NSW Legislative Council candidate Howard Byrnes.

"NSW Liberal Premier Mike Baird is in danger of going the way of his Queensland counterpart Campbell Newman, if he continues down the path of selling essential public assets," Howard Byrnes, Socialist Alliance candidate for the NSW Legislative Council, said on February 11.

"The issue of power industry privatisation effectively brought down the Newman Liberal-National Party government in the Queensland elections on January 31, and could cause a huge upset in the upcoming NSW elections as well," he said.

Byrnes is one of a team of 16 candidates standing for the Socialist Alliance in the NSW Upper House in the March 28 state election. Byrnes, a 54-year-old father of four, is a crane operator with three decades’ experience in the building industry. He is a workplace delegate in the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).

He was commenting on the findings of a Fairfax/Ipsos poll in early February, published in the February 10 Sydney Morning Herald. The poll found that support for Baird's plan for the sell-off of NSW electricity assets has fallen, despite his promise to use the proceeds to fund $20 billion worth of infrastructure projects.

Baird has announced that if re-elected, he will privatise transmission company Transgrid and 50.4% of distribution businesses Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy via a 99 year lease.

But the Fairfax/Ipsos poll revealed that less than a quarter of voters, 23%, support the partial privatisation of the electricity "poles and wires." This is a 6% drop in support since the last poll conducted last November.

Opposition to the sale has risen by 3% to 67%.

The SMH said: "Baird has said he anticipates earning around $13 billion from the transaction. A further $2 billion is expected in incentive payments from the federal government. The government says it can earn $5 billion in interest to bring the total to $20 billion.”

Byrnes said: "Even though the Baird government has a comfortable lead over the ALP in the polls, this could change quickly under the impact of the ongoing crisis of the Abbott federal government and as people realise how much they will be ripped off if the Liberals sell off more of the people's valuable assets to their big-business mates.

"The sale of NSW power assets will cost the people hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends to the public purse, for expenditure on vital services such as hospitals, schools and public transport, as well as resulting in sharp rises in electricity prices to the consumer — as has happened in Victoria and South Australia, where the power industry has been fully privatised for years.”

The February 10 SMH also reported that "a new study of public attitudes towards privatisation shows voter support for it has fallen over the past 25 years."

"Recent polling shows most voters don't think the public has been the main beneficiary of privatisation. When Essential Research asked people in 2011 to nominate who had benefited most from privatisation of enterprises like Telstra, Commonwealth Bank and power utilities, 59% said private companies were the biggest winners and 25% said governments. Only 6% thought the general public had benefited most.

"There's a surprisingly high level of support for ‘re-nationalising’ assets sold by governments years ago. A 2011 poll found 47% supported a government buy-back of Telstra, 44% favoured a buy-back of Qantas and 41% supported a buy-back of the Commonwealth Bank.”

Byrnes said: "These findings reinforce the Socialist Alliance’s demand for the nationalisation, or re-nationalisation, of major industries, particularly mining, banking and energy companies, under worker and community control, to benefit the interests of the people and the environment.

"We will continue to oppose the privatisation of the power industry in NSW, or anywhere else in Australia, and call for the re-nationalisation of vital public assets which have already been sold off to the super-rich multinational corporations.”

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