Morris Iemma, master politician


Ed Lewis

You’ve got to hand it to NSW Premier Morris Iemma, no one can stuff things up quite as royally as he can.

On Saturday he’ll face an unwinnable fight at the NSW Labor Party conference over electricity privatisation.

He and his Hayek-worshipping treasurer Mick Costa have pulled on electricity privatisation in the midst of the biggest capitalist crisis since the Great Depression, at a time when the corporate raiders that might have bought the system a couple of years ago are frantically trying to disentangle themselves frrom arrangements that could land them in the bankruptcy courts.

On top of that, Iemma and Costa are pressing ahead with the privatisation as the federal government is belatedly putting together a carbon trading scheme to comply with the Kyoto Protocol. If the geniuses of Macquarie Street hoped to get a reasonable price for the electricity system in the midst of a capitalist crisis, the imminence of carbon trading has just slashed the price even more. Either that, or they’ll have to give away concessions that will wreck the federal carbon trading scheme.

All that means the people of NSW are unlikely to get anything like the true value of these public assets if this blundering government goes ahead with the sale.

And there’s more. In a year when there have been food riots around the world because of rising prices of essentials, partly because large areas of agricultural land have been turned over to crops for ethanol production, Iemma has announced that his government is considering making 10 per cent ethanol in petrol compulsory by 2010. The present level is 2 per cent.

The switch to ethanol production worldwide, as oil prices have risen dramatically, is no small matter. Next year, about 30 per cent of the US corn crop will go to ethanol production, and George Bush has projected replacing 75 per cent of US oil imports with ethanol by 2025. On top of that, large areas of productive land in Brazil have been turned over to crops for ethanol.

Producing ethanol from corn and other grain is massively wasteful. To produce a tank of ethanol for an SUV requires enough grain to feed a child for a year. Ethanol from sugar cane is a little more efficient, but turning over land that could produce food to ethanol production seems a touch short-sighted in a hungry world.

Nice one Morris.

Then there’s the white elephant $1 billion desalination plant on the shores of Botany Bay. Bob Carr, when he was premier looked at desalination and described it as like bottling electricity, it was so expensive. The plant is likely to sit idle for much of the time and it has been widely suggested that water saving measures would be more effective than the desalination plant, which will add at least $100 a year to the water bill of every Sydney residence.

No worries, says Iemma, the plant’s going ahead. Well, it was until last week when work had to stop because construction activity on the pipeline to the plant was shaking houses so badly in the suburb of Kurnell that residents feared their homes would be damaged. The residents, naturally, protested and work was halted until the problem can be sorted out.

You’ve got to admit, Iemma doesn’t do things by halves. He stuffs up on a grand scale.


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