Seminar challenges privatisation
By Rob Graham and Melanie Sjoberg
ADELAIDE — Widespread concern and opposition to privatisation were demonstrated here on June 28-29, when 100 people attended a seminar, "Selling off the State".
Initiated by the SA branch of the CPSU PSU group, it attracted trade unionists, activists from anti-privatisation campaigns and concerned individuals. The main aims were to disseminate information and to form some kind of ongoing committee to coordinate and organise opposition to the Brown government's fire sale of state enterprises and infrastructure.
Feature speakers included Bob Ramsay (Public Service International), Bob Walker (School of Accounting, UNSW), Michael Padden (Public Sector Research Centre, UNSW) and Lee Hubbard (secretary, Victorian Trades Hall Council).
Bob Walker spoke on the international experience of privatisation, focusing on water. He pointed out that the huge multinational companies involved have very wide-ranging interests, from sewerage and sanitation to health services, housing and cable TV. Once in, they are almost impossible to remove.
Other speakers explained how privatisation is being redefined (contracting out, outsourcing, corporatisation). Implementation of the National Competition Policy of the Hilmer Report means that Australia is leading the world in putting into practice the neo-liberal agenda. Hilmer fits the framework of GATT, meaning government services are up for sale for the first time.
SA Institute of Teachers president Clare McCarty explained the methods employed in the attacks on education: funding of private schools, starving state schools of funds, privatising education services and so on. She explained that privatisation has always existed in education, because of funding to private schools, but it now becoming more widespread.
The information presented clearly demonstrated the importance of fighting the neo-liberal agenda, but the joint secretary of the CPSU, Wendy Caird, warned us against becoming "too ideological ourselves" in our opposition to it.
A feature of the second day was a performance in Victoria Square by Junction Theatre. Up to their usual standards, it was a biting satire on privatisation, and is available to be performed at other community functions.
The conference unanimously agreed to endorse an ongoing campaign, with water and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital as priorities. The PSU group offered to coordinate a public meeting with the aim of establishing a Public First-type campaign in Adelaide.
Other industrial action continues to threaten the Liberal government agenda of cuts and outsourcing. A mass meeting of 1800 police has imposed bans on revenue-raising activities, like speed cameras; the bans are being supported by the clerical staff, members of the Public Service Association.
PSA members in Correctional Services continue bans over problems with negotiations surrounding enterprise bargaining.