The fight to keep NSW electricity in public hands must and can be won. If Premier Morris Iemma and treasurer Michael Costa get away with their plan to sell off the state's electricity generation capacity and its retail arms, working people and the community will get a dearer, less reliable service, and the chances of the state moving to a sustainable energy policy will be reduced to zero.
Polls show up to 86% of NSW residents oppose the sell-off. But this hasn't stopped a desperate premier from making a deal with the NSW opposition to try to get it through parliament in September. Nor has it stopped Iemma from adding NSW's weight to the successful lobbying of the federal ALP government for an Electricity Sector Adjustment Scheme, which will help preserve the market value of NSW's coal-fired power stations under carbon trading.
It is difficult to convey to those outside NSW how hated the sell-off proposal is. Socialist Alliance members, who have been holding regular Saturday petition stalls, haven't found anyone prepared to back the Labor-Liberal-NSW Business Chamber line.
But for Macquarie Street, electricity privatisation has become the do-or-die proof of the Labor government's trustworthiness with the big end of town. As a result, NSW Labor is now totally divided between the unions and ALP ranks, and the ministerial rump of the government.
This has overtaken the old divides between the Centre Unity right and the left factions. So bitter has the dispute become that pro-privatisation former premier Barrie Unsworth is talking of refounding the Labor right faction — an initiative that would go nowhere.
The Labor parliamentary caucus is in permanent turmoil, searching for a Brutus with the numbers to knife Iemma's Caesar.
Despite appearances, division also grips the Liberal Party. There are the privatisation true believers — spear carriers for the NSW Business Chamber reputedly led by energy spokesperson Mike Baird. Then there are also those, such as leader Barry O'Farrell, who want to win the 2010 state election but who also know how unpopular the sell-off proposal is. (The last Coalition leader who campaigned for electricity privatisation at an election, Kerry Chikarowski in 1999, took a pasting at the polls.)
The NSW Business Chamber is aware that the Coalition is divided on privatisation. Its president, Ian Penfold, greeted the news of the government-opposition deal with a statement that sounded half-threat, half-pleading. "Privatisation is in the best interests of NSW and both the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition to date have demonstrated real leadership in a non-partisan manner. I have every confidence that the two leadership groups can develop the right framework for privatisation — to fail on this issue would be a disaster for NSW."
These Macquarie Street shenanigans will continue, but we need to keep focused on building the movement that has helped generate the NSW government crisis — the campaign against the power sell-off.
The Power to the People — Stop the Privatisation Coalition is coordinating a series of petition stalls across 50 NSW electorates on August 16. These "Super Saturday" stalls will be staffed by activists including people from Your Rights at Work groups, unions, ALP rank-and-file members, the Greens, the Socialist Alliance, environmental groups, religious organisations and people who are just plain angry with Iemma's arrogant indifference to public opinion.
The plan is to gather thousands of signatures to increase the pressure on MPs, and to promote the next major protest initiative — a monster rally and march against electricity privatisation in late September. Some of the stalls outside MPs' offices will double as protest pickets.
The Socialist Alliance urges all members of the community to get involved because the bigger the campaign, the sooner the Iemma-Costa power sell-off proposal will sink.
[John Gauci is a NSW Teachers Federation councillor and Socialist Alliance member and is active in the campaign against the NSW power sell-off. If you would like to help staff a petition stall in your local area on August 16, contact Colin Drane (0419 698 396), Trevor Davies (0400 008 338) or John Gauci (0413 310 452). For copies of the leaflet visit http://www.stoptheselloff.org.au.]