Greens slam 'quick and nasty' inquiry into power sale

Issue 
A protest in Sydney on April 29 against the sale of NSW state power assets.

NSW Greens MP John Kaye has slammed the upper house inquiry, chaired by Christian Democrats leader Fred Nile, into the government's planned privatisation of the state's "poles and wires" electricity network. The public was given just seven days to make written submissions into the future of the NSW electricity grid, and will not be able to appear in person before the inquiry.

"By delivering a quick-and-nasty timetable to suit the political convenience of the [Mike] Baird government, Fred Nile has denied his inquiry any credibility," Kaye said on May 11.

"The public and key stakeholders are being shut out to deliver Premier Baird a green light for his legislation in time to start selling the poles and wires early in the second half of the year."

"By colluding with the government, Fred Nile has denied the committee the time to investigate the full impacts of the lease of the wires and poles," he said.

Amendments put forward by the Greens to broaden the inquiry to include the impacts of the leases on the renewable energy sector, job losses and the state's economy were defeated in the Legislative Council.

Prior to the opening of the inquiry on May 11, Baird announced the proposed introduction of legislation to give the energy minister the power to "step in" and seize control of electricity network businesses after they are privatised should they breach safety, security or reliability obligations.

Baird announced any new private companies will be subject to these rules, as part of a licence to operate the power network. He claimed the licence will give the government control over the "suitability and capability of the network operators," and set safety, reliability and other conditions.

The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) would oversee adherence to licence conditions. Fines of up to $1 million would apply for licence breaches.

Appearing before the parliamentary inquiry on May 11, Baird failed to answer allegations that his office intervened during the recent state election campaign to tamper with a report into the power sale plan, being prepared by government consultants UBS.

Baird arrogantly waved away the charge that one of his advisers had intervened to have a proposed statement in the report that power privatisation was "bad for the budget" deleted. He also said he was "bored" with the inquiry, and was unlikely to appear again to answer more questions.

The government is obviously determined to press ahead with its sell-off of the NSW people's most valuable single asset — its power industry infrastructure — irrespective of public opposition, and the strong case against it.

Announcing supposed licence restrictions on any future private operators of the network is a scam, which is designed to cover up the fact that thousands of jobs will be lost, electricity prices will increase, and safety and reliability will be reduced — all because corporate profit will determine the functioning of the power system.

The fight being conducted by the union movement and the Stop the Sell Off campaign against privatisation of the "poles in wires" in NSW should continue to be widely supported — irrespective of the findings of this rigged parliamentary inquiry.

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