Up to 1000 people gathered outside state Parliament on November 15 to protest against plans by the Western Australian Coalition government to sell the state’s main electricity provider, Western Power.
The protest was organised by the Use your Power Group, headed by the Australian Services Union (ASU) and Electrical Trades Union. There was also strong support from the Maritime Union of Australia, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, United Voice, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and State School Teachers Union.
Unions WA secretary Meredith Hammond told the crowd the rally sent a message to Premier Colin Barnett that Western Power is not for sale and neither are other public assets, such as Fremantle Ports, TAB, Synergy and Horizon Power, that the state government is planning to privatise.
She said privatisation of Western Power would mean an increase in prices for Western Australians, jobs and apprenticeships would be cut, safety, repairs and services would decline and revenue would be lost.
Barnett agreed to speak to the crowd and promised that no decisions would be made about privatisation until after the March state election. He said if Western Power were to be privatised, either partially or fully, it would remain in Australian hands. The Premier’s claims were not believed by the crowd, who heckled him throughout his speech.
WA Greens spokesperson for energy Robin Chapple said the plans to privatise the Utah Point Bulk Handling Facility in Port Hedland show that Barnett was lying about his promise on waiting until after the state election to decide whether to proceed on the privatisation of Western Power.
Chapple said the Greens were opposed to any privatisation of the state’s public assets and blamed the government’s economic mismanagement of the Western Australian mining for the state’s debt.
WA secretary of the ETU Les McLaughlin called the government’s plans to privatise Western Power nothing more than a blatant cash grab. He said privatisation would increase the risks that regional communities would face from bushfires. He reminded the crowd that the inquiry into the December Victorian bushfires found that the privatisation of that state’s electricity had increased the risks to the affected communities. He said privatisation means an increase of profits for big business while everyone else suffers decline in services.
The rally was also addressed by ASU WA secretary Wayne Wood and state opposition leader Mark McGowan, who pledged that Labor would keep Western Power public if it won next year’s state election.
He evaded the question of whether Fremantle Ports would be privatised, much to the displeasure of the MUA members in the crowd.
ASU organiser Sanna Andrew told the crowd: “Colin Barnett wants to sell our public assets due to the government’s economic mismanagement of the mining boom. It belongs to the people and is not his to sell.”
Fremantle City Councillor and Socialist Alliance member Sam Wainwright told Green Left Weekly: “It’s clear that those strategic monopoly assets must remain in public hands if democracy is to mean anything, and for the best economic and social outcomes.”