Electricity Privatisation

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I denounce the Baird Liberal Government's privatisation agenda and I oppose the Electricity Network Assets (Authorised Transactions) Bill 2015 and the Electricity Retained Interest Corporations Bill 2015. I do so not just because I am stridently and ideologically opposed to the conservatives' obsessive, compulsive privatisation of public assets, but because I am acutely aware of the lie that underpins the Liberal Party's dogma against publicly owned assets. 

Private enterprise is not uniformly more efficient, more effective or superior in delivering basic services to the people of this State. Private enterprise cannot be expected to deliver equity and fairness when its overarching motive is to turn a profit from its customers. Private enterprise will always weigh up its capacity to pay a dividend to its shareholders versus any impact its business might have on the environment. When private enterprise is driven by a profit motive it will look to reduce its labour costs—through wage cuts, winding back workplace conditions or safety standards, and redundancies.

To put these abstract arguments in context, let us consider the impact of the Baird Liberal Government's privatisation of electricity networks. Prices will increase and services will deteriorate. The precedent for this exists in Victoria, where prices increased by 60 per cent to 70 per cent after its power was privatised. While prices rose dramatically, reliability in Victoria crashed, with a 32 per cent increase in blackouts after privatisation. When power in New South Wales is privatised, what guarantees exist—especially for people in my electorate, where bushfire risk is already substantial—that the operators will do everything possible to manage the environmental impact of the poles and wires network? Again, the lesson from south of the border is that a lack of network maintenance by private owners of the electricity grid was a direct contributor to the 2009 Victorian bushfire disaster.

The Premier and the Liberals talk a big game about improving the New South Wales economy, but job losses—and there will be job losses—do not strike me as being beneficial to the economy, let alone to the households that will struggle when a private operator seeks to cut costs. In Victoria, 8,000 workers lost their jobs after privatisation. That is 8,000 jobs. Those opposite will say that these concerns are unfounded. The Liberals will deny these concerns with the same language they use when they make their mealy-mouthed denials of any politically unpopular policy—they will say, "There are no current plans". While there may be "no current plans" to allow increased prices and reduced reliability, "no current plans" to put our environment at risk, and "no current plans" to sack workers, we know that these things will happen. They will happen because private enterprise must maximise profits and must pay dividends to its shareholders.

Speaking of dividends, the electricity network already turns a handy profit. The current shareholders, the people of New South Wales, ordinarily receive a dividend of more than $1.5 billion per annum. To put that in perspective, the budget due at the end of June will rack up about $70 billion in expenditure. This means that more than 2 per cent of our State’s budget will be paid for by dividends from our electricity networks. These electricity network dividends ordinarily pay the wages of teachers, nurses and police. The dividends would ordinarily fund vital public services like hospitals, schools and emergency services but now, for no other reason than its craven attachment to blind ideology, the conservative Government will ensure that these dividends are returned to the private sector instead.

What is next? What will Mike Baird and the conservatives look to flog off to their big business mates when they have finished fattening this particular pig for market? There is our TAFE system, which the former Liberal Government in Victoria demonstrated is ripe for the picking by private operators, no matter the impact on educational outcomes. TAFE should be a world-class vocational training provider and an education provider of first choice for those who want to work in a trade or retrain later in life. Will we see NSW TAFE's legacy leveraged by Mike Baird later in this term of Parliament? Will he try to sell New South Wales' vocational training sector out from under us? You bet he will. Then there are our train networks, which are already under pressure from the Liberal Party’s cuts to maintenance crews and its go-slows on critical network upgrades such as the portal frame replacement program, which seems to have been quietly scrapped since 2011. People in my electorate are not fooled by the new logos and polyester outfits when they find themselves standing on the platform for a train that will never come.

They are not fooled by this Government either. If it wins a debate on privatising our poles and wires the Government will quickly look for what else it can sell off. We know from proceedings at the Independent Commission Against Corruption that people very close to the heart of the modern Liberal Party would completely privatise our water networks if they could. Already locals in my electorate suffer because of inadequate water and sewerage infrastructure. What hope would residents whose homes were never connected to the sewer have of getting affordable sewage management if Sydney Water and its infrastructure are completely privatised by a Liberal-Nationals Government? What assurances would a private operator give that adequate stormwater drainage systems and sewage treatment works would be maintained properly when the cost to the environment of a major failure would be catastrophic?

These are the questions we need to ask ourselves if we want to head down the path of electricity privatisation, because once we cross this line the conservatives' privatisation agenda will move on to the next public asset, the next public service, with a view to selling all our assets out from under us. The Blue Mountains electorate voted against the privatisation of poles and wires. We suffered catastrophic bushfires in 2013 in part because of downed powerlines in Springwood and Winmalee. More than 200 homes burnt to the ground. We know that our region needs more investment in our electricity networks, not less. We need an electricity network owned by a shareholder that has the interests of our community and our environment at heart. We need to be discussing clean energy as well. Not only did Blue Mountains constituents vote against the privatisation of our electricity assets, but they voted against privatisation full stop. I was very clear from the outset of my election campaign that I was categorically opposed to privatisation of any kind. I oppose the privatisation of our poles and wires, I oppose the privatisation of our education system, I oppose the privatisation of our transport system, I oppose privatisation and I oppose these bills.

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