Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Power without purpose: selling off NSW’s future

The Greens unequivocally oppose the privatisation of the state’s electricity industry. Treasurer Michael Costa is pushing ahead with his plan without a mandate, without support from his own party and without good reason.

The Greens have been actively campaigning to counter the propaganda coming from the Iemma government and warning the voters of the devastating impacts on employment, the economy, household budgets and the environment.

The Iemma government has failed to persuade the overwhelming majority of the people of NSW who remain resolutely opposed. Treasurer Costa’s only support comes from the banking sector which stands to make hundreds of millions of dollars in fees for financial services and the very large commercial and industrial consumers.

One of the reasons the business lobby is so keen on destroying public ownership is that they want to make sure it is households and not industry and commerce that bear the lion’s share of inevitable price rises. As emissions trading pushes up the costs of generation, privately owned retailers would do little to protect small consumers who are less likely to change suppliers. A privatised power industry would look after the big end of town. Household electricity bills would soar putting yet more pressure on low and middle income budgets.

It is not only domestic finances that would suffer. Selling off the retailers and the generators would deny the state an income of about $1 billion a year. Even if the sale nets $8 billion, which is wildly optimistic, and the proceeds are invested at 8% annual interest, after allowing for inflation the state’s coffers would be $600 million a year worse off. That’s a lot less money for public schools, hospitals, transport and housing. Selling off the family silver that is working hard for the state is an exceptionally poor deal for the people of NSW.

While the Iemma government makes much of its promise to protect workers in the electricity industry, their job security guarantee last for only three years. After that, employees are at the mercy of their new owners. This is not only bad news for power station employees and the retail call centre staff. It means that this state would lose a big part of its skilled workforce in energy generation and sales and would forgo hundreds of training places. The Iemma government is making the skills crisis worse.

The electricity industry is responsible for 37% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Private owners would want to sell more to make more profits. That would mean more coal burnt and more CO2 poured into the atmosphere. If NSW is serious about playing its part in the international effort to save the climate, then selling off the electricity industry would make the job much harder.

The lights will not go out in NSW if the power is kept in public ownership. The state will not go bankrupt and there will be more money for education and health, not less.

Selling off the electricity industry would be a really bad mistake. The Greens, unions, most of the environment movement and the overwhelming majority of the Labor party membership oppose it for good reasons.

This is a serious issue for the Newcastle and Hunter community.

The Green on Newcastle Council have stood up for Newcastle and the Hunter and successfully moved that the Council oppose the privatisation of our electricity industry. This Newcastle Council resolution was sent to Iemma and Costa, all the Hunter Councils and Hunter Members of Parliament.

The Newcastle Greens also decided not recommend preferences to any candidate in the next NSW state election who supports (either by public statement or parliamentary vote) the privatisation of the NSW electricity industry.

The Greens unequivocally oppose the privatisation of the state’s electricity industry.

If Morris Iemma and Michael Costa defy their party, public opinion and common sense, and privatise power, it will be all of us and our children who will pay the price.

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