Don’t be fooled by Mike Baird’s sell-off spin

Friday, February 27, 2015

The other night the phone rang.

I picked it up and a recorded voice said something like “The NSW Premier Mike Baird isn’t going to lease the state’s electricity assets. He’s not going to sell them. He is going to create jobs. Don’t be fooled.”

Indeed, I thought.

This happened on the same day that the Hunter Valley’s unemployment rate topped 10% and set a 10-year record.

The link between unemployment and privatisation is so obvious that Baird can’t say the “P” word.
Gladys Berejiklian, Baird’s Minister for the Hunter, is also coy about the “P” word.

In response to the unemployment figures Berejiklian claimed that “the Newcastle CBD rejuvenation and state-wide infrastructure program” was a job creation program.

Rejuvenation really means “truncating” Newcastle’s rail line and “leasing” the Port of Newcastle to cover up its sale.

The “infrastructure program” is Liberal-speak for the electricity sell-off, closing Stockton Hospital, gifting its seafront to developers and privatising TAFE.

This offers rich pickings for developers if they can grab the rail corridor, for coal barons if they can export more fossil fuels through the world’s largest coal port, and private education providers if they can run profitable TAFE courses.

However, for public sector workers and the businesses that depend on their wages, there will be many thousands of jobs lost, reduced services and higher fees.

Privatisation means easy profits for the corporate rich.

Take the “job centres” industry. The Commonwealth Employment Service used to help people find jobs. In 1997 its network was replaced by private “job centres” companies (we have three in Newcastle’s main street alone).

The ABC revealed recently that a large number of the private “job centres” have been ripping off the government for years and have scant interest in finding jobs for anyone.

In Victoria, the privatisation of TAFE made thousands of unemployed Victorians end up with worthless qualifications while private vocational education providers gorged millions from the government subsidies.

In recent weeks, Australians have also seen Tony Abbott make misleading statements about where Navy vessels would be built.

In the Hunter, 900 ship builders at Forgacs are fighting to keep their jobs. They are demanding that planned new navy frigates be built in Australia.

Without endorsing the imperialist and militarist intentions of the Australian ruling class, the Forgacs workers have a point about the need to keep their jobs and in so doing retain heavy manufacturing capability in the Hunter.

This capability will be required to build the large numbers of wind turbines needed to generate cheap renewable energy. The reign of coal is ending and people urgently need alternative sources of energy. The retention of local manufacturing is part of that.

However, Labor is not being totally honest about the “P” word either.

It was a Labor government that sold the State Dockyards to Forgacs and contributed to the decline in Newcastle’s ship-building and repair capacity.

NSW Labor Leader Luke Foley has been shifting position in relation to the privatisation of electricity, the withdrawal of the state from the disability sector and committing to a fully funded TAFE.

Politicians from both sides know that we know that privatisation means profits for the rich and fewer jobs and services for the rest.

As Baird’s little phone message said: “Don’t be fooled.” I won’t be.

[Steve O’Brien is the Socialist Alliance candidate for Newcastle and a former BHP steelworker.]

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