News & Current Affairs
25 March 2015
by Peter Wicks
Private Mike Baird: The NSW sell-out
With the NSW election only a couple of days away, it is clear that Baird Government's plan to privatise NSW's electricity network is the hot issue.
It has heated up even further with revelations Premier Baird pressured investment bank UBS into changing a report that said the privatisation would damage the NSW bottom line. Of course, Mike Baird is a former investment banker and UBS stands to make millions in fees from the proposed sale, so few would be surprised that the bank duly buckled under Baird's influence in agreeing to sex up the proposed sale dossier.
Baird will now be sweating on both ASIC and parliamentary investigations into this sordid little affair. The whole thing stinks to high heaven and draws into question, yet again, the closeness of the NSW Liberal Party to their big business donors. A matter that has been put into the spotlight through a dozen NSW Liberal Party MPs losing their jobs after damning ICAC revelations, along with Joe Hockey's ill-conceived 'Treasurer for Sale' defamation proceedings over Fairfax's revelations regarding the North Sydney Forum, and reports of other shady Liberal Party slush funds.
Here in NSW, Mike Baird wants to sell off one asset that is used by virtually everyone living in NSW – our power network – and so put us all at the mercy of private corporations.
Privatisation was, of course, also a hot issue in the recent Queensland election, which saw the Coalition Government booted out of office after just one term, despite the huge swing towards the Coalition in the previous election.
Just as Campbell Newman did in Queensland, fooling no-one, Mike Baird refers to the sale of these assets as a lease — a lease that lasts 99 years, which is longer than most people live. That means that the network will be out of public hands for our lifetime, our children’s lifetime, and a good chunk of our grandchildren’s lifetime.
Labor leader Luke Foley has rightly said that we will never have it back — that it will be gone for good. For this, he has been accused of running a scare-campaign.
Once again, the lease is for 99 years. That is a very long time and, although the proposed lease is 99 years in length, there is nothing to stop that being further extended at a later stage.
It does not take the love child of Nostradamus and a rocket scientist to figure out that at some point in the next 99 years, there will be a government in NSW that will find another big cash injection highly tempting and so be tempted to further extend the lease. This is the rather inconvenient truth that Mike Baird is choosing to ignore.
Another inconvenient truth that Baird ignores is that, unlike governments who collect tax to provide services, private enterprises provide products and services for a profit. These private enterprises have the obligation to maximise profits for their shareholders. So, when Baird tries to tell us that there will be no long-term prices rises at all, it must be treated with all the scepticism and disdain such a ridiculous claim deserves.
Where we are fortunate in NSW is we are able to judge the impacts of the privatisation of the network by the results in other states, such as Victoria.
The impact in Victoria has understandably been ignored by “Team Baird”. The Victorian sell off saw 8,000 jobs lost, bills increase by between 60 and 70%, and as costs and corners are cut a 32% increase in blackouts.
So, will it cost Baird the election?
The jury is still out on that one although one thing is for sure, it will have an impact.
A few of weeks ago on talk back radio, Mike Baird in the studio was asked a great question by a caller, the question went along the lines of this;
“I am a Liberal voter, how can I vote Liberal and vote against the power privatisation?”
Baird was clearly dumbfounded by this question and his answer was to waffle on with “Under Labor…. blah, blah, blah”.
The simple answer to the caller would be “You can’t." A vote for Mike Baird, the Liberal Party, or the National Party is a vote to sell off the electricity network — pure and simple.
The sell-off many are referring to as madness, Mike Baird is calling a mandate, should he win that is. Indeed, he has said that even he will regard even the narrowest of Coalition victories will be a mandate to sell off the NSW public's electricity assets to his big business mates.
The effect this policy could have on the election is an interesting one, as a recent Vote Compass conducted by the ABC shows.
While the vast majority of those who support the sell-off are Coalition supporters and the vast majority of those who oppose it are Labor supporters, there are some significant findings in the results that may quite alarm Mike Baird.
Around a quarter of Liberal voters surveyed opposed the privatisation. That is a huge volume of voters polled as Liberal voters who are opposed to Mike Baird’s key policy — so even if 10% of those voters see it as an issue important enough to change their voting habits, that could mean a 2.5% drop in Coalition primary votes.
Not only that, the survey showed that it is those in regional areas that are the most opposed to the power sell off. These are the National Party voters that are sick of being sold out by their members.
Whether it’s the effects of drought or flooding being brought on by the effects of climate change that their leaders continue to dismiss, the Coalition's continual promotion of the coal seam gas and coal industry or the trashing of the NBN that was going to see their businesses compete on a level playing field and revolutionise the health industry in regional areas, National Party voters are sick of seeing their needs pushed aside over the short-term interests of business lobbyists in an expensive suits. This is what is pushing regional voters towards the Greens, Labor, or fringe parties like the Katter Australia Party and the Palmer United Party.
Something that must also keep the Liberal Party faceless men up at night is that ABC Vote Compass also found that the issue of privatisation was even more important to voters in NSW than it was to voters in Queensland.
I hope NSW voters decide to take a strong and passionate stand against the privatisation of our electricity distribution network and vote to keep the profits in the taxpayer's pocket rather than some corporation.
I’m no fortune-teller or psychic but I will make this prediction. If Mike Baird wins the election this weekend and the electricity sell off occurs, I am certain that within a few years the boardroom of whatever corporation ends up running our power network will not only be made up of profiteering executives, but it will also be loaded with greedy former Liberal MPs.
Call that a hunch…