Put Australia’s key industries in public hands

May 24, 2013
The national broadband network is one key asset that should not be privatised.

As part of its federal election campaign this year, the Socialist Alliance is calling for the mining industry, the big banks and the energy companies to be put back into public hands, so that they can be run in a way that respects the environment and social justice.

But several other important industries should also be in line for nationalisation under workers' and community control in future.

• Telecommunications: The privatisation of Telstra by the former Coalition government was a disaster for the country. Telstra as a private corporation, and a host of other telcos, have raised the prices of telephone and internet services, and offered a generally poorer deal for consumers.

We should re-nationalise Telstra to offer a planned national telecommunications service, at lower cost, for the whole country.

• National Broadband Network (NBN): The NBN is currently being rolled out as a fibre-to-the-household network by the federal Labor government. The Coalition is offering an outmoded fibre-to-the-node and copper-wire-to-the-door alternative, which is cheaper but will be obsolete before it is built.

In either case, the NBN is currently a publicly funded and owned utility. We should totally reject plans to privatise the NBN in future, and retain this crucial national communications infrastructure in public hands, but place it under a board of community and worker control to safeguard the interests of the people.

* Insurance: Recent fire, flood and storm disasters have highlighted the reality of climate change in Australia. Yet the private insurance industry refused to cover many householders suffering destruction from floods and other events, and has now increased premiums to an impossible level, leaving many homeowners facing likely ruin in future.

Nationalising — re-nationalising in some cases like Suncorp — the insurance industry could provide low-cost, universal coverage for disasters and accidents of all kinds, in the public interest.

• Retail: Australia's retail duopoly, Coles and Woolworths, control about 80% of the supermarket trade in this country. They blackmail small suppliers, including farmers and food manufacturers, to minimise purchase prices and maximise profits.

This system of extortion should be ended by putting these retail giants in public hands, under community and workers' control, to provide a better service to ordinary customers at lower prices, and improved dealings with small business suppliers and farmers.

• Car industry: General Motors-Holden (GMH) has recently announced the retrenchment of 500 jobs from its car plants in South Australia and Victoria, less than a year after the Gillard government announced a further $275 million hand-out to the corporate multinational. Successive federal and state governments have poured billions of dollars into GMH, Ford and the other vehicle companies over the years.

GMH management refuses to guarantee the future of the company in this country. Ford has now announced it will close its factories in Australia for good, destroying 1500 jobs in Geelong and Broadmeadows in Victoria.

Instead of throwing good money after bad to GMH and Ford, they should be nationalised under community and workers' control, to ensure a vehicle manufacturing industry is maintained for the future. Jobs can be saved by restructuring the industry to produce buses and light rail, instead of relying on production of petrol-guzzling private cars.

• Airlines: Qantas has sacked hundreds of workers in recent years, refused to bargain reasonably with unions, and faces the real threat of bankruptcy or takeover in the medium term. It was a disaster that the Bob Hawke Labor government privatised Qantas in the first place.

A nationalised, co-ordinated, reasonably priced network could be rationalised in future to meet real public transport needs, in tandem with the construction of a publicly owned Very Fast Train system along the east coast of the country, and further afield in future.

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