Victorian unionist: power privatisation a disaster

January 26, 2008

Green Left Weekly's Zane Alcorn spoke to John Parker, Secretary of Gippsland Trades and Labour Council, about environmental and industrial issues surrounding electricity privatisation.

@question = You were involved in consultation with what was the State Electricity Commission of Victoria (SEC) prior to it being privatised by then premier Jeff Kennett in 1995. Have the safety and conditions of workers in the energy sector been compromised since privatisation?

Absolutely. We had two workers killed last year. One of those workers I claim was killed through lack of maintenance, the other was probably killed through lack of equipment.

[Victoria's three main power stations have] become the powerhouses of shame if you like; they're basically just patching them up and keeping them going.

Also, they are running them [at full capacity] without any breaks. They do the minimum maintenance because they've got to get them back online to get profit.

Just a few months ago they dug too close to the Morwell River and the river came in [to a nearby coalfield]. That wouldn't have happened under the SEC. They wouldn't have tried to recover that last "mouthful". They're driven by profit. With the power stations, sooner or later there will be a major breakdown. The boilers really concern me.

@question = The NSW Labor government of Morris Iemma recently announced its intention to privatise electricity generation and retail in NSW, a move which is being met with strong opposition from Unions NSW. Iemma made no mention of privatising electricity during the state election. Do you think that government has any mandate to sell such a massive taxpayer-owned asset?

No. I think that previous NSW governments have floated [the idea] and people reacted against that.

If they want to privatise it they should take it to a referendum of the people <197> and I don't think they would get it up and therefore I don't think that they would do it.

The theft of public assets in my view is morally corrupt. It's done through collusion between politicians and some public servants and big business.

@subh = Do you think that the private sector has more motivation than the state to invest in clean energy? Do you believe that a transition to renewable energy will happen more quickly in the hands of the market, or as a public works program?

I reject that the private sector will do anything [about clean energy]. They are motivated by profit and only profit. They don't see that they have any obligation to the public. The only reason they would do anything is if they get a government handout or can up the prices. Private enterprise won't cooperate. I don't know any [example] in history where private enterprise has really rallied to fix the problem.

It has always wound up in the lap of the community.

On the whole, if you want to make major changes, it will have to be by regulation, and it will have to be the government leading that through its own investment. I don't believe that private enterprise has a role to play. Or if they do, they will only play that role if they are forced to.

@question = What about a mix of carbon trading and incentives?

Carbon trading is just a con. My view is: if somebody is putting some dirty stuff up in the atmosphere, stick 'em in jail. Fine them. Take the asset off them.

But to give them incentives to carbon trade <193> they just want to make money out of paper.

Why have a carbon trading process when all you have to do is regulate it?

It didn't take them long to pull out the capsicum sprays and spray the people that were yelling out at the tennis! But they don't spray a person that colludes and<193>

@question = Maybe that's a good idea<193>

Yes, just walk in to the boardrooms and capsicum spray them!

@question = NSW Treasurer Michael Costa has claimed that investing in renewable energy to upgrade the NSW grid would cost in excess of $15 billion whereas the planned privatisation of services would reap around $15 billion for the state. Costa claims privatisation would help NSW keep its AAA credit rating, whereas investing in renewable energy may send the state budget into deficit. Do you think investing in renewable energy is an important enough task that governments should consider taking out multi-billion dollar loans, and even incurring deficits?

I certainly think so. The issue over credit ratings [has] always been used as a con. Who are the people that supposedly give the credit ratings? Who do they work for? What other interests do they have? I don't trust the credit people.

If a government was to borrow for renewables, there is no reason why that can't be borrowed on a straight commercial basis and [be] paid back in the same way.

And I believe within 30 years Australia can be completely carbon free: zero emissions from power generation.

Our biggest problem in Victoria is that we haven't got an SEC. We have no control over where our next power station is going to be. The NSW government has control <197> and they made around $1 billion last year.

If [Costa] is giving away public assets [that are] his responsibility to look after <197> because he is too incompetent to build a proper power grid <197> then he should resign.

[The second part of this interview will be published in Green Left Weekly in coming weeks.]


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