Barrie Unsworth’s mirrabee


Ed Lewis

It’s most unlikely you will see the magic, disappearing mirrabee,
For if you turn most quickly round, it disappears beneath the ground.

The report of the Unsworth committee on the Iemma-Costa privatisation proposal for the NSW electricity system was supposed to hit the deck yesterday (Friday), but if media coverage of this momentous event is anything to go by, the report seems to been dropped overboard instead. Perhaps there will be more news on Monday, after the Labor Party’s Administrative Committee considers the report and formally releases it, but what has happened to all the leaks, which were more like a torrent earlier in the week?

Perhaps the report is proving not to be the cure-all the privatisation supporters in the media and the government were hoping for.

The leaks on the report during the past week obviously came from government supporters on the committee, confidently predicting that it would break the deadlock between the government supporters of the privatisation and the majority of Labor Party members and affiliated unions opposing it.

The Unsworth committee was appointed by the government to report on the privatisation proposal and whether it violated Labor Party policy. Not surprisingly, it was packed with government supporters and headed by Barrie Unsworth, former NSW premier and old-style right-winger in the Bruvver Ducker mould.

Importantly, though, in a sop to the unions and Labor Party members who oppose the privatisation, several opponents of the privatisation were included: Unions NSW assistant secretary Matt Thistlethwaite, United Services Union official Ben Kruze and the Public Service Association’s Steve Turner.

The views of these dissenting members on the committee’s findings weren’t mentioned in the leaks reported in The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald prior to the release of the report, which doesn’t say much for the resourcefulness of the reporters on this matter. They seem to have relied entirely on the views of the government supporters on the committee. Imre Saluszinsky, for example, in The Australian yesterday (March 7) says:

“Because the Unsworth committee includes three of the unionists who have been most vocally opposed to the sale — Unions NSW deputy secretary Matt Thistlethwaite, United Services Union chief Ben Kruse and Public Service Association chief Steve Turner — it will give Mr Iemma a solid platform to move ahead with the sale.”

The reality could hardly be more different, as the three opponents on the 10-member committee intend to submit a dissenting report. Fortunately, we still have ABC News, despite the best efforts of the Howard government to destroy it, because this seems to be the only place that has reported the opponents’ intention.

It says: “But the committee has not been unanimous in its endorsement of the plans. Its three union representatives remain opposed and have produced a dissenting report.”

The dissenting report means that the Unsworth committee solves nothing for the Costa-Iemma privatisation push and its supporters. The deadlock remains between the government on one side and most affiliated unions and Labor Party members on the other.

Consequently, the Unsworth report has disappeared from view. Perhaps Unsworth’s mirrabee will reappear on Monday, otherwise it will probably be visible only to those who turn around quickly enough at the Labor Party conference in May.


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