Hydro privatisation: Greens propose lease

March 18, 1998

By Tony Iltis

HOBART — Polls have shown 63% of Tasmanians oppose the privatisation of the Hydro Electric Corporation and the Liberals, ALP and Greens all promised before the last state election to oppose the sale.

For the past year, however, the Rundle Liberal government has been advocating a partial sale, and now the Greens have proposed to lease the transmission, distribution and retail arms of the utility to private enterprise.

The Greens have projected their proposal as a win-win outcome, satisfying the government's arguments for privatisation while keeping the HEC in public hands. "Because of the Greens, the HEC will not be sold", said the Greens' parliamentary leader, Christine Milne.

Milne also justified the lease by saying it "will make sure that the Hydro cannot be sold for the duration of the lease ... If Labor is serious about not selling the Hydro, they will support the lease. If they secretly want to sell it, they will reject the lease."

A spokesperson for opposition leader Jim Bacon told Green Left that the suggestion Labor would sell the Hydro was "a straightforward, blatant lie". He described the proposed lease as "a sale by another name".

He pointed out that the lease would have to be for 30 to 100 years to be attractive to the private sector. The Greens say the lease may have a 15 to 50 year duration.

The Greens' energy spokesperson, Mike Foley, says the Greens will withdraw support for the lease if the following conditions are not met: no sale for the duration of the lease; a rigorous regulatory framework; a guaranteed long-term net financial benefit; maintenance guaranteed; a social and environmental cost-benefit analysis; full community consultation; no proceeds to be used for pork-barrelling; education funding to be a priority for lease proceeds; and the funds to be used to accelerate transition to a clean, green future.

Hobart Democratic Socialist Party organiser Alex Bainbridge described these conditions as "mostly nebulous". As well, "there is no mention of preventing retrenchments", he said. "The only reason a private operator would consider a lease arrangement is if it expects to make a profit. That money should stay in public hands, not be handed over to the corporate rich."

Bainbridge described the HEC's current problems as being linked to its corporatised nature. "If we are talking about social and environmental costs and benefits we should look at the current pricing regime. The more electricity a customer uses the cheaper the unit cost. This punishes the poor and encourages waste.

"Changing such policies would be impossible if the hydro was privately controlled. The HEC should remain publicly owned and operated, and made accountable to the community", he concluded.

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