Unions launch 'NSW Not For Sale' campaign

Nurses protest against a public private partnership deal for a new hospital in Maitland, NSW, in August last year.

Unions NSW has launched a "NSW Not For Sale" campaign in the lead-up to the March 28 state elections. The campaign targets the state government's plans to privatise the power industry, as well as attacking private involvement in hospitals and TAFE.

The campaign involves TV advertisements, as well as a radio and digital blitz. It aims to mobilise union members and other volunteers for doorknocking and mass telephoning.

In addition, the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NMA) has announced a television ad campaign, opposing the "Americanisation" of public health, and saying that privatisation could leave people with tens of thousands of dollars in personal costs if they get sick.

NMA general secretary Brett Holmes said the ad was a response to state and federal health policy, as well as various trade deals being negotiated.

Premier Mike Baird has already been selling off public assets on a huge scale. In the past two years it sold $1 billion worth of property, ABC Online said.

"Office blocks, hospitals, schools and even an island are all up for grabs … In 2011-2012, the government sold state-owned assets worth $5 million.

"In late 2012, it established a new agency, Government Property NSW, to identify and manage the state's lucrative real estate portfolio. … Since April 2013, Government Property NSW has sold properties worth $1 billion.

"They have included seven office blocks worth $400 million, the Ausgrid building in Sydney's CBD for $151 million, and justice precinct buildings in Parramatta worth $170 million.

"It has also sold nine terrace houses in Millers Point for $22 million, and plans to sell another 293 of the historic properties," the ABC reported.

The government claimed it was selling properties that were not used to finance needed infrastructure. But Emeritus Professor of Economics at Sydney University Frank Stilwell said it was bad economic management for the government to sell increasingly valuable assets at a time when it could borrow the money so cheaply.

"As a citizen it makes me angry and as an economist it makes me very sad because there's no great economic logic at work here," Stilwell told the ABC.

"This is short-term interest being pursued against the long-term interest of the people and I think people are smart enough to see that this is not good economic strategy."

Stilwell said the government should be leasing underutilised buildings, rather than selling them.

"I think privatisation is inherently unpopular with the people, and certainly the recent election in Queensland shows that the sale of public assets was a major source of electoral damage for the incumbent government," he said.

"The problem in this case is that the sale of real estate assets tends to be done in dribs and drabs and isn't therefore quite as visible as the sale of electricity poles and wires, for example.

"So it tends to be done out of sight, but as soon as the people come to see what is happening, then I think one can expect that they will see it as bad economics, substituting short-term revenues for long-term economic management.”

Susan Price, Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Summer Hill in the March 28 elections, said on February 18: "This privatisation frenzy by the Baird state government is neoliberal insanity.

"They seem intent on flogging off anything that moves, belonging to the people. It is grand theft of the public purse, in the interests of big business.

"The Socialist Alliance demands a complete end to privatisation of public assets, of whatever kind. We stand for the defence and extension of the public sector, and the funding of essential new infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools and public transport facilities, by nationalising basic industries, and taxing the rich and big corporations.”

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