No amount of spin can disguise bad policy

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Parramatta meeting against electricity privatisation

Phil Sandford

The people of NSW have been betrayed over the proposed sell-off of the electricity industry, Unions NSW secretary John Robertson told a 60-strong meeting in Parramatta on 3 June.

“Morris Iemma gave undertakings to a number of electricity unions before the 2007 election that he was not going to privatise the electricity industry and that he was going to provide better services and more services”, he said.

“Now he is privatising an essential service. People rely on affordable electricity, they rely on electricity that is reliable, and they rely on it being available in such a way that they are not paying to prop up the profits of big business and multinationals, but that is what we are going to see.”

Robertson said the government was obsessed with spin but with no substance: “We’re not selling, we’re leasing”, “We’re keeping the poles and wires”, “We’re providing protections for workers”.

But the government is providing another $24 million a year to make sure people are not disconnected — evidence of the fact that prices are going to rise. “We’ll see price increases that are not going back into the government coffers to provide additional services to the people of NSW, but price increases to repay the debt that the private sector takes on to buy or lease these assets,” Robertson commented.

The selloff proposal will do absolutely nothing to guarantee the future electricity needs of NSW. The government is now saying that it has to sell power so it doesn’t have to build additional base load generating capacity, but if the private sector doesn’t do this by 2010 the government will do it anyway.

“They are desperately running an ideological agenda being pushed by Michael Costa to privatise electricity,” Robertson said. “But there is still time to convince MPs to vote in support of the Labor Party conference decision. They are not in parliament because they are Morris Iemma or Michael Costa but because they carry the Labor Party badge.”

Robertson called for people to phone, email and fax their MPs to get them to support the Labor Party conference decision, adding: “I am still hopeful that the government will not be able to push this selloff through.”

Greens MP John Kaye was unable to attend the meeting as parliament was sitting late but he sent the following statement:

On behalf of The Greens I congratulate Your Rights at Work Parramatta for standing up for the environmental, social and economic benefits of a publicly owned electricity industry.

The arguments for privatisation simply do not stack up. Not only does this state not need new base load power stations but if it did, the state could afford to build them with out risking bankruptcy.

The arguments for public ownership are overwhelming. The loss of jobs, the loss of state income to fund public education, transport and health and the loss of control over an essential service cannot be compensated for by the income from the sale.

There is never a good time to sell the electricity industry but this is a particularly silly time. Uncertainty created by emissions trading on the stock market turmoil will wipe billions off the sale price.

It is not Michael Costa’s industry to sell. It is not even yours and mine. It was built by workers of past generations and paid for by households of generations gone. We hold it in trust.

The Greens are committed to stopping the sell off, not only because it is bad economics, bad for the environment, bad for workers and bad for the households.

In the end this a battle for the type of society we want our children to inherit. Will it be one where crucial social, environmental and economic decisions are made by the board rooms of multinational banks? Or will it be one in which those decisions are made collectively by all of us for the common good?

Emma Brindley, Communications Officer for the Electrical Trades Union, thanked those at the meeting for campaigning in support of the power workers. “We have had fantastic support, numerous letters, emails, and telephone calls from our members and from the community against privatisation and in support of our campaign,” she said.

“The Your Rights at Work groups, which were established to take on the Howard government, are taking on Iemma and Costa just as strongly, which is fantastic. All of you should be credited for your enthusiasm, commitment and activism.”

Brindley said she hoped that the NSW government remembered the victory that the union members and the Your Rights at Work campaign across the state secured for them in March and November of 2007.

“What the NSW government is proposing is just bad policy. Privatisation will lead to higher prices and jobs going offshore. The proposal does not even look at meeting the shortages in electricity supply that we will face in the future in NSW,” she said.

“I urge everyone when you leave tonight to contact your member of parliament by email, fax or phone, put on the pressure and tell them to vote against this legislation. It is really important because we need to keep the power industry in our hands.”

James Shaw, an industrial officer with the Public Service Association, spoke on behalf of the ALP rank and file group Power to the People.

“In the period leading up to the recent ALP conference we contacted people from numerous branches and State Electorate Councils trying to get through anti-privatisation motions and trying to get delegates to conference to oppose privatisation” he said. “That campaign was overwhelmingly effective. The conference vote was 702 to 107 against privatisation.The union delegations voted against privatisation but so did the delegates from Electorate Councils.”

Shaw said this showed that the union movement was far more in touch with the average Labor Party member and branch member than were Michael Costa or Morris Iemma

“There is no economic sense in selling off this industry”, he said. “Any guarantees that they are attempting to make around jobs and prices by regulation cannot last because this will not be a service any more if it is privatised, it will be a business run for the purposes of profit.”

Abiding by conference decisions is one of the core principles of the Labor Party, Shaw added. It was a debate throughout the 1890s. Who would control the party: the conference or the parliamentary party? Each time it has been debated it has been resolved in favour of the conference.

“So we face a really difficult situation now”, he said. “Labor members of parliament are in a situation where the Caucus has unfortunately voted to proceed with the sale. But it’s our view in the Power to the People group that the principle of Caucus solidarity does not apply in this situation because the party conference is the supreme body.”

We need to get as many as possible to cross the floor and potentially beat the legislation that way. I’m not suggesting that is the only way we can beat this legislation, we’ve got to fight it on numerous fronts. But clearly if we can get a number of Labor MPs to cross the floor it is possible that this legislation can be beaten.

“Electricity is an essential service and it is also essential for the future that we produce electricity in a way that is environmentally sustainable. Clearly the best way to do that is for public ownership to remain and not for it to be owned by a corporation with an interest solely in profit.”

Linda Voltz, ALP Member of the Legislative Council, also sent her apologies to the meeting and said:
“I will continue to oppose the transfer of assets in the parliament and will uphold the Labor Party platform.”

Following a lively discussion a number of petitions opposing the power selloff and supporting the Unions NSW maternity leave campaign were signed.

The meeting was chaired by Charmaine O’Sheades of the NSW Teachers Federation and included a photo display in memory of the late asbestos campaigner Bernie Banton.

The 60-strong meeting in Jubilee Hall called on local MP Tanya Gadiel to follow Labor Party policy and oppose the privatisation of the electricity industry.

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