Environmentalists fall for Unsworth sucker bait

by

Ed Lewis

Total Environment Centre director Jeff Angel was one of the members of the Unsworth committee, appointed by the NSW government to approve its proposal to privatise the state’s electricity system. The findings of the Unsworth committee were never in doubt, since the body was packed with government supporters from the start.

To have any credibility, though, the committee needed a minority of opponents of the privatisation, or independent figures. Jeff Angel might have been expected to be one of those independent figures, but as it turns out, he simply provided a bit of green window dressing for the Unsworth majority, supporting the handover of public assets to the private sector.

As Greens MP John Kaye points out, the privatisation would hand over control of facilities that produce 37 per cent of the NSW’s greenhouse gas emissions, removing them from government control, as any contract of sale would almost certainly provide some level of exemption from future changes of government policy, or expose the NSW public to heavy compensation payouts in the event of a policy change.

“While it’s not surprising that the Premier’s hand-selected supporters signed off on the privatisation, it quite shocking that Jeff Angel ignored the arguments of the overwhelming majority of the environment movement,” John Kaye told Crikey.com yesterday.

Angel was “prepared to trade off the environmental and social benefits of public ownership for the flimsy chance that some of his suggestions might be adopted”, Kaye said.

Another environmental group, Greenpeace, also took the Unsworth sucker bait, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The Herald reports that Greenpeace is backing aspects of the Unsworth report because it supposedly contains tough environmental recommendations. The Financial Review yesterday also pointed to those recommendations, complaining that they would reduce the price a private bidder for the electricity assets would be prepared to pay.

Greenpeace and Angel would be well advised to be very careful about what they are backing, as the Financial Review points out this morning in an article titled Wriggle room in Unsworth report.

Quoting the University of NSW Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets, Tracy Ong reports that Unsworth’s report leaves a lot of “wriggle room” for polluters.

She reports Jeff Angel saying Unsworth had recommended that a number of carbon emission indemnities be ruled out for any buyer of the electricity assets.

That’s not how UNSW’s Hugh Outhred sees it, though. He says the environmental provisions in the Unsworth report are deliberately ambiguous, ruling out indemnities for carbon emissions on the one hand, but also saying financial assistance to meet carbon permit costs should be clarified. In other words, the public may end up subsidising a private owner of the electricity system to comply with climate laws.

“If I was on the committee trying to work out what this implies, it’s just meaningless,” Outhred said.

Angel has been around NGO circles for long enough to understand that he was sitting in a room packed with masters of doubletalk, but he was still played for a sucker. Greenpeace would do well to have a close look at its position as well.

There is nothing to be gained environmentally by handing over public assets to private companies. The main outcome of such a move is to remove them from public control and almost certainly to exempt them in advance from climate change legislation.

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One Response to “Environmentalists fall for Unsworth sucker bait”

  1. Tom McLoughlin Says:

    Alas, Jeff is no sucker, my sincere belief is he is a suck up – and that’s my view as a solicitor in NSW with plenty of back up. Greenpeace on the other hand are likely duped, being far less cynical, genuinely financially independent and either youthful inexperience on the vagaries of this complex policy debate or reassured (falsely) by a VERY experienced NGO operative in Jeff Angel. Too tricky to belong in the green movement if you ask me.

    Never forget Jeff was in the foyer outside Carr’s personal office in 96 and was told by the upbeat staffers they had a plan to ‘do a Telstra’ and set up a $450M green fund with the revenue from the public’s natural monopoly, which will always turn a healthy profit. Which of course implied Big Jeff to get a cut of that action and greater status for a green blessing.

    The ALP Right have always said “we can work with Jeff”. Given what we know of the rotten ALP machine this is no compliment.

    Self interest and self aggrandisement of Jeff at the helm of good ship TEC is the agenda, always has been, and why my friend and mentor Milo Dunphy, TEC founder, never trusted him even as his co-director (a status which itself was a manipulative impertinece). Nor do I trust him, since at least 1996 on a raft of policy issues. His career is littered with busted or disillusioned mid level idealist campaigners sold short in trade offs of political capital that Jeff never built or earned. Carl Drury (Snowy River), Frank Miller (Goulburn landfill), myself and ChipStop network on the Eden chipmill, Traditional Owner Neville Williams/Benny Zable/Ian Cohen/Ruth Rosenhek re Lake Cowal cyanide pit mine, Dr John Kaye of the Greens over the Unsworth report. As I have said to angsty Dr Kaye, get in line John.

    Angel says the energy sector already operates like private industry. I heard him on ABC radio. This is demonstrably false regarding say level of unionism, govt power to control universal service obligations and pricing for poor folks. It also totally ignores that market failure has delivered us the climate threat. Who in their right mind thinks the capitalist market will not cheat on the solutions? As I like to say WW2 was not resolved by leaving it to market forces, for God sake.

    Fact is Jeff should be working INSIDE the ALP Right government.

    By the way why did the ALP pay off TEC to fund the Green Games Watch in 95-96 (Faulkner as federal environment minister)? Because in 92 in the bid document no less the SOCOG cheated by fraudulently claimed two green groups endorsed the green bid – TEC and NSW Nature Conservation Council. Rather than stand against public popularity for the Games, these two groups took the pound of flesh instead. But all it achieved really was to confuse the hard hitting agenda of Greenpeace who were the real architects of the green bid – to clean up a world scale pollution problem at Homebush – still there under the cap, still in the fish too.

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