Privatisation is theft: no energy sell-off!

August 23, 2008

The Socialist Alliance has condemned NSW Premier Morris Iemma's latest bid to rush through enabling legislation to sell off the state's energy retailers and generators.

The premier is recalling parliament early, on August 28, from its long winter recess to push through a vote on the sell-off of public assets estimated to be worth $15 billion.

Iemma has decided to call the Liberals' bluff following the August 21 release of the auditor-general's report into the terms of the sale.

The Liberals had made such a report a pre-requisite for their support for the sale. But as Green Left Weekly goes to press, leader Barry O'Farrell is not saying whether his party will support the enabling bill or not.

The Socialist Alliance, as part of the Power to the People campaign, is urging the campaign group — which includes unions, Labor members, Greens, socialists and other activists — to bring forward the massive anti-sell-off protest planned for September 20. Colin Drane from Power to the People confirmed to GLW that an emergency action outside parliament on August 28 was being considered.

Pip Hinman, who is standing for the Socialist Alliance in the Marrickville council elections, told GLW, "This is essential if we're to underline that fact that 85% of people across NSW oppose the sale. It will send a clear message to the premier and ALP MPs supporting the sale. Importantly too, it would show support for the MPs who have said that they will cross the floor and vote against the bill."

Predictably, the auditor-general Peter Achterstraat's report found nothing to suggest that the sell-off would be against the public's interest. Indeed, it relied on pro-privatisation advisors — Lexicon Partners — to prepare a lot of the report. Lexicon specialises in advising investors in utilities and other infrastructure.

While the report advises the government not to go ahead with the sale until the federal government's so-called "carbon pollution reduction scheme" is in place, it does recommend that generators and retailers be sold off simultaneously, not in stages as Iemma had offered as a "compromise" to the anti-privatisation unions.

As Bob and Betty Walker, anti-privatisation campaigners and authors of Privatisation — Sell Off or Sell Out? The Australian experience, pointed out in a statement on August 22, the auditor-general "has chosen to review the government's sale
strategy — and not address whether a sale would produce a net benefit for the State". They have criticised the 22-page report for failing "to provide the information necessary to Parliamentarians to make an informed decision on the proposed privatisation of the State's electricity assets".

The Walkers have criticised the report for repeating Iemma and treasurer Michael Costa's claims about the sale, and argue that the auditor-general should have nominated the criteria used in evaluating the privatisation proposals, and undertaken "a systematic review of the evidence before him".

The Walkers wrote that this sell-off looks like a re-run of the "disastrous" sale of the state bank of NSW "which was sold on the basis of a partial and incomplete report from the Auditor-General that withheld information from the community on the basis of claims about commercial confidentiality". That transaction, they noted, "was a rushed sale and a loss to the state of around $2.5 billion".

"Iemma is wrong to say that Achterstraat's report allays people's concerns", added Hinman. "If anything, this report, and Iemma's decision to recall parliament, makes it all the more clear that he never had any intention of 'keeping the door open' to those opposing the sale. He's also arrogantly ignoring his own party, which voted seven to one against the sell-off at its conference in May", she noted.

The Socialist Alliance is calling on voters in the council elections on September 13 to show their opposition to the energy privatisation by writing "No sell-off" on their ballot papers.

[To get in touch with Colin Drane from Power to the People, ring 0419 698 396. To help the Socialist Alliance election campaign, phone Alex on 0413 976 638.]

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