Future privatisations likely under the NSW Coalition

February 17, 2023
Public Service Association of NSW members campaigning against privatisation. Photo: PSA NSW/Facebook

More privatisations of public assets are in store for New South Wales after Coalition Premier Dominic Perrottet refused to rule out more sell-offs in an election debate with Labor leader Chris Minns on 2GB on February 9.

The NSW Coalition is campaigning on its $100 billion “infrastructure program”, which has been largely funded by its unpopular sell-off of community assets.

The government has proved itself to be one of the most neoliberal regimes in Australia. Over its 12 years in power, it has sold off the power industry, roads, buses and trains, public housing, jails, TAFE campuses, health facilities, forests, the Land Titles Office and, soon, the Powerhouse Museum.

Perrottet has refused to rule out the sale of Sydney Water in the future. He doubled down on his privatisation threat in a media conference on February 13.

“What we have is a long-term economic strategy to keep NSW moving forward, that has been our approach. It’s a balanced approach to financial management in our state, a combination of affordable and sustainable debt position, asset recycling [privatisation], lower taxes,” the Sydney Morning Herald quoted him saying.

The Coalition took more than $30 billion from the controversial power infrastructure sell-off, $20 billion from the WestConnex tollway and $5 billion from the ports deal.

Former NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon noted in her 2017 booklet Sold off, Sold out: The disaster of privatisation, that between 2011 and 2017, the Coalition sold more than $62 billion in public assets. It either privatised, or prepared to privatise, public buses and trains, hospitals, public housing, prisons, the land titles registry, state forests and crown lands.

Minns said during the February 9 debate that Labor would end the privatisation of state assets, adding that the ever-increasing toll fees on Sydney motorways is evidence that privatisation is hurting commuters. He said once the money was spent, any income those assets once generated would go to the private sector.

However, Labor’s record in office does not inspire confidence that Minns as Premier will stick to his promise. Bob Carr, Morris Iemma, Nathan Rees and Kristina Keneally all sold off public assets: Labor under Iemma nearly split in 2008 over the plan to privatise the NSW electricity industry.

Along with corruption, electricity privatisation played a significant role in the downfall of Labor government and the reason for the Coalition gaining power from in 2011.

The January Roy Morgan poll indicates that the Coalition will not win on March 25, with Labor on 55% (up 3% points since last November) ahead of the Liberal-National Coalition on 45% (down 3% points) on a two-party preferred basis.

Sydney’s private tollway system is proving to be a major political headache for the Coalition, as workers living in Sydney's west and south west are forced to fork out bigger and bigger sums.

The government has been forced to issue a rebate scheme for eligible motorists. NSW Labor is promising to cap tolls at $60 a week if it wins.

Campaigners against WestConnex have long argued that private toll roads discriminate against Western Sydney residents. Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Rod Sims told the annual regulatory conference last July that “privatising assets without allowing for competition or regulation, creates private monopolies that raise prices, reduce efficiency and harm the economy”.

Steve O’Brien, lead candidate on the Socialist Alliance (SA) Legislative Council ticket told Green Left that the party believes the privatised assets need to be taken back into public ownership.

“We need to start with the NSW power industry, because this will rapidly assist in the rapid shift to renewable energy and the creation of green jobs.

“We also want all the privatised train, bus and tram networks to be renationalised. Every day, I experience the disaster of these privatisations in Newcastle.

“WestConnex needs to be publicly owned and operated: that way we will be able to re-fit sections with public transport and avoid paying out millions of dollars to the private tollway consortiums.

“The smartest way to rejuvenate public education, including public schools, TAFE and pre-school education, is to increase assistance to them rather than private education.”

O’Brien summed up SA’s People before Profit ticket as “putting the public ownership of state resources under democratic and community control, in the interests of the environment and social justice for all”.

[For more information on Socialist Alliance “People before profit” ticket, visit the website.]

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