The Unsworth report supporting electricity privatisation in NSW was yesterday (Monday) considered by the Labor Party’s administrative committee, its peak executive body, and flicked through to the NSW Labor Party conference in May. A minority report was also sent through to the conference.
Some sources say the admin committee rejected the report as well flicking it through, in what footballers would call a hospital pass, to the conference, which is expected to have an overwhelming majority against privatisation. Either way, it doesn’t matter, as the Unsworth report is a dead duck. It will be a factor in the May conference only as a ghostly presence.
The Unsworth majority, as expected, says selling the electricity system would not violate Labor Party policy, giving the privatisation supporters such as Premier Morris Iemma and Treasurer Mick Costa a handful of feathers to cover their vital parts in the discussion leading up to the conference.
You’ll have to buy the Financial Review to read about this, because it’s not reported in the other daily papers in Sydney, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and The Daily Telegraph.
The Herald and The Australian do report on one outcome of the admin committee meeting: Premier Morris Iemma’s call for the expulsion of Labor machine insider Joe Scimone and several disgraced Wollongong councillors caught up in the spectacular corruption scandal in that city. The Unsworth report apparently wasn’t considered newsworthy because things are not going at all well for the supporters of electricity privatisation.
The biggest problem for the government and other privatisation supporters is that the majority of the Unsworth committee is a minority in the Labor Party, and the minority on the committee is a big majority in the party.
The Financial Review has two pages of coverage on what it obviously sees as a central political issue for its readers.
It argues that the NSW electricity system needs investment that the government can’t afford. This is disingenuous to say the least, as there has been very little private investment in electricity infrastructure in the states with privatised systems, Victoria and South Australia.
Additionally, if private companies can contemplate investing in the electricity system and presumably making a profit (which is the only reason why a private company would invest), why couldn’t the government do exactly the same thing? A private investor would have to borrow for such a project, just as the government would, and in the long run either owner of the system could expect to make a profit.
That makes nonsense of claims that a state-owned electricity system competes for funds with other public infrastructure.
The Financial Review will have to do better than try to tell us private investors want to get hold of the electricity system because of their eagerness to deliver a service. They want profits that would otherwise belong to the people of NSW.
The government supporters accuse the privatisation opponents of being ideologically driven, but the same can be said of the government. The government supporters obviously prefer neoliberalism rather than the traditional Labor support of state ownership of essential services.
The Financial Review reveals a more pressing consideration for private companies wanting to get hold of the electricity system, expressing disquiet about the Unsworth committee’s recommendation that no concessions on pollution should be included as a condition of the sale.
The Financial Review protests about this, saying it “would be a hard pill to swallow” and “would wipe significant value from the coal-fired generators”.
Not only does the private sector want to get its hands on the NSW electricity system, it wants any sale to be accompanied by a licence to pollute.