Privatisation continues to be touted as a quick fix, so the mantra goes “public sector bad, private sector good”.
That is, using community funds and resources to build up a vital service or piece of infrastructure, usually over a period of many years, then when there is a “budget crisis” selling it off to yield a quick cash injection and the removal of an expense from the ledger — regardless of whether it is generating income or not — while giving sweetheart deals to the new owners to ensure monopoly-like conditions to maximise their profits.
Sound familiar? From ports to roads to electricity poles and wires to vocational colleges to healthcare to financial services and banking, the list goes on and on.
So it was refreshing to hear Rod Sims, the Chairperson of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, speaking to the Melbourne Economic Forum last week, say: “I'm now almost at the point of opposing privatisation because it's been done to boost proceeds, it's been done to boost asset sales and I think it's severely damaging our economy.”
Sims is a true believer in capitalism — in the same speech he said "I've been a very strong advocate of privatisation for probably 30 years; I believe it enhances economic efficiency. When you meet people in the street and they say 'I don't want privatisation because it boosts prices' and you dismiss them ... recent examples suggest they're right."
What becomes clear in all this, is that policies like privatisation are not being adopted because they are economically or practically sound, but because they fit a particular ideological mold, in this case neoliberal capitalism.
Indeed, Sims' main concern did not appear to be the negative social and economic effects that stem from privatisation but that people's trust in the concept of privatisation was being diminished. "I think a sharp uppercut is necessary and that's why I'm saying: stop the privatisation ...", which appears to be a call for a moratorium, rather than an end to the practice.
It is useful when supporters of the capitalist system, like Sims, challenge the status quo, but to really bring about meaningful change and reverse the disastrous policies of privatisation, what is needed is a powerful grassroots movement.
At Green Left Weekly we believe privatisation is a policy that benefits a small few at the expense of the majority. That is why we support and report on the grassroots campaigns fighting back against privatisation and other neoliberal economic policies that place individual wealth creation above all else.
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