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Privatisation - let the owners decide : an open letter to Anna Bligh

Dear Premier Anna Bligh,

Today, you told the Queensland public "(Privatisation) was not something that we had even fully contemplated because we didn't understand - nobody knew - the size and the extent of the effect of the global financial crisis on our revenue."

How is it that a political "nobody" like myself understood that privatisation would be on the political agenda even before the last state election, and yet you would have the Queensland public believe that this never occurred either to you nor to any of your full-time paid advisers?

On 17 February, even before the early elections were suddenly announced, I sent to both you and to the Treasurer an e-mail, included below (and here), in which I stated my objections to privatisation. That letter is included below. In that letter, I pointed out that your Government had privatised a large number of publicly owned assets since winning office in 1998 without ever once having consulted the public.

During the election campaign I repeatedly raised this question with both you and the Treasurer, against whom I was standing, and challenged both of you, as well as Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg to debate the issue.

Correspondence concerning privatisation was sent either sent directly to you or cc'd to you on 12 March, 13 March, 18 March and 19 March (2 sent).

On 13 March, Madonna King asked Treasurer Andrew Fraser on my behalf if he would commit himself to not privatising further Government-owned assets. Andrew Fraser failed to answer that question.

On 18 March I sent a survey to you and to every Labor Party candidate and every other candidate I could reach, a survey which included the following question:

Will you give electors a categorical assurance, if elected, that either you will oppose any further sell-off of public assets, such as Queensland Rail, water infrastructure, electricity generation and distribution infrastructure, ports, airports, schools, hospitals, etc., or you will not support any sales until such time as the Queensland public have shown support for privatisation through a referendum or public opinion polls?

You have denied the Queensland public, the rightful owners of the assets you intend to sell, their democratic right to settle this critical issue at the last election, in spite of my best efforts.

I therefore ask that you either withdraw your privatisation plans and come up with other means acceptable to the Queensland public to get our state out of its current financial difficulties, or put the whole issue to a referendum.

Yours sincerely,
Independent pro-democracy candidate for Mount Coot-tha
March 2009 State elections

Update (5 June 09): Anna Bligh's own Labor Party branch votes unanimously for her expulsion.. See story in the Courier Mail.

See also: Queensland Government has no mandate to privatise of 27 May 09,"Open letter to Anna Bligh and Andrew Fraser asking that any planned privatisations be put to the public at forthcoming elections" of 17 Feb 09, "Brisbane's local ABC radio fails to hold Anna Bligh to account over privatisation" of 28 May 09, "Brisbane ABC suppresses alternative candidates in state elections despite listener dismay with major parties" of 30 Apr 09. Courier Mail Readers comments about privatisation, 299 so far, nearly all opposed.

What you can do to prevent the theft of your property:
Sign the petition against privatisation;
Attend protests against privatisation outside the state Labor Party conference this Queen's Birthday weekend including a protest organised by the ETU for Sunday at 11am.

Appendix 1: E-mail sent to Premier Anna Bligh an Treasurer Andrew Fraser on 17 February 2009

Dear Premier Anna Bligh and Treasurer Andrew Fraser,

I will be standing as an Independent pro-democracy candidate in the state electorate of Mount Coot-tha in the forthcoming state elections.

In part, my purpose in standing is to raise critical policy issues, which I believe will otherwise not be drawn to the attention of the Queensland public.

One issue is privatisation.

The evidence clearly shows that privatisation has gravely harmed the public interest and as a consequence, has been overwhelmingly opposed by the Australian public, including the Queensland public, for years.

Yet, most Australian governments, including your own, have persisted in imposing privatisation without any popular support and without any electoral mandate.
The list of privatisations, which comes to my mind, includes Energex, Ergon, the Golden Casket, the Mackay and Cairns airports, the Dalrymple Bay Coal loader and numerous tracts of valuable publicly owned land.

Indeed, the only privatisation that was raised in an election campaign of which I am aware, is that of the then named State Government Insurance Office (SGIO), now named Suncorp. Former Premier Peter Beattie promised during the 1998 election campaign not to fully privatise the half privatised SGIO, but, upon winning office, promptly broke that promise.

Last year we witnessed, in neighbouring NSW the appalling spectacle of the NSW corporate sector including Rupert Murdoch's Australian newspaper, clamouring for the privatisation of NSW's electricity generators, even though that policy was never put to the NSW public in the previous state elections of 2007, had been explicitly rejected in the 1999 elections and was opposed by at least 79% of the NSW public.

In spite of the widespread public opposition, and in defiance of a vote 702 to 107 against privatisation at the NSW state Labor Party conference of May 2008, Morris Iemma's Government proceeded to ram through the privatisation legislation anyway. Thankfully for the people of NSW, the legislation was blocked with the votes of the Liberal/National Party Opposition, Greens and Independents.

Premier Anna Bligh, I was disturbed to read that your Government also gave its support for the privatisation of NSW's electricity generators, in spite of your own reported personal stance against the privatisation of Queensland's electricity generators in 2006.

Given this history, it seems to me that the Queensland public have good reason to fear that, upon re-election, your Government may proceed to sell off yet more of their assets, including Queensland Railways, electricity generators, more airports, the water grid, public buildings, public land, etc.

The reason I write this letter is to seek your firm assurance that if you do intend to privatise any of these assets that you state your intention to do so to the public before the forthcoming elections, or, alternatively, that you will put any planned privatisations to the public at referenda.

Yours sincerely,
James Sinnamon
Independent pro-democracy candidate for Mount Cooth-tha

Appendix 2: E-mail sent to Premier Anna Bligh an Treasurer Andrew Fraser on 12 March 2009

Dear Premier Anna Bligh and Treasurer Andrew Fraser,

In the letter I sent to both of you on 17 February, before the elections were called I asked for "your firm assurance that if you do intend to privatise any (publicly owned) assets that you state your intention to do so to the public before the forthcoming elections, or, alternatively, that you will put any planned privatisations to the public at referenda."

I have still not received that simple assurance.

I ask this because I believe that, in a democracy, the public should be consulted by their elected representatives about all questions that will affect their lives, particularly decisions the (claimed) need for which can be easily foreseen.

However, as you are both surely well aware, the Queensland public has never been consulted about any of the numerous privatisations that have occurred since your Government came to power, starting with the full privatisation of the already partially privatised State Government Insurance Office (SGIO - now called SunCorp) in 1998 against a specific election promise made by former Premier Peter Beattie.

Had the Government retained ownership, or at least partial ownership, then at least one insurance company could have been directed by your government not to have resorted to the unconscionable business practices that have been described on the Madonna King radio show over the last two days.

Other privatisations, which have been imposed on the Queensland public since then include:

  • The remaining government stake in Brisbane airport in 2009;
  • Cairns Airport in 2009;
  • Mackay Airport in 2008;

  • The Qld Government's stake in the Emu Downs wind farm in Western Australia in
    2008;
  • The Enertex (not be confused with Energex) gas business5 in 2008;
  • The Golden Casket state lottery agency in 2007;
  • Ergon in 2006;
  • Energex, the retail arm of Queensland's electricity generation utility in
    2006;
  • the Dalrymple Bay coal loader in 2001
  • TAB in 1999

I believe all have been detrimental to the public interest and some, including the privatisations of Energex, Ergon, the Dalrymple Bay coal loader and the SGIO, as discussed above, have been indisputably disastrous.

If the public had been consulted, none of these privatisations would have occurred and the Queensland public would have been spared the harm caused to them.

I therefore ask that you give, to the Queensland public, a categorical assurance that you will not privatise any more assets during the coming Parliamentary term.

If you are not prepared to give such an assurance, then privatisation is an issue at stake in these elections and should be openly discussed.

Accordingly, I would ask that, as a candidate opposed to privatisation, that you justify your stance before the Queensland public in a debate with me.

Yours sincerely,

James Sinnamon

Pro-democracy independent
candidate for Mount Coot-tha

Appendix 3: Anna Bligh's reply of 16 Jun 09

Dear Mr Sinnamon,

Thank you for your recent correspondence concerning the Government's recent announcement about asset sales.

My Government's Renewing Queensland Plan seeks to realign the State's asset base with the community's needs. I have enclosed a copy of my Ministerial Statement in this regard. It proposes the sale of a number of Government owned assets -- Forest Plantations Queensland, Queensland Motorways Limited, Port of Brisbane,Abbot Point Coal Port and the non-passenger sections of Queensland Rail.

The money raised will all be used to build new publicly owned assets -- public hospitals, schools, roads, and public transport infrastructure.

Of course, the Government would rather not have to contemplate the sale of these assets. It was not an easy decision to make and was not taken lightly.

However, falls in coal royalties, stamp duty, GST and other income in this global recession has robbed $15 billion from our budget over the next four years. That's about one-third of our entire annual State Budget.

These circumstances have brought into sharp focus the future challenges we face as a State and they are different to the challenges we've faced in the past.

In the last century, a key challenge was to provide the infrastructure to unlock our State's vast natural resources. So, for example, the Government built and owned ports and railways to haul coal at a time when private companies wouldn't do so.

But the coal industry is now well established with many of the world's largest, multi-national companies operating global businesses. Continued investment of tax payer funds into a commercial transport business for these companies simply cannot be prioritised over investment in passenger trains and public transport.

Do we continue to haul coal for private multinational coal companies? Or do we build new passenger rail networks and more buses for urban and regional Queensland?

Do we continue to own a forest plantation and buy and sell timber? Or do we finish building and rebuilding major hospitals in Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton, Mt Isa, Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, and the Gold Coast?

Do we continue to own a tollway on the Gateway Bridge? Or do we build new and safer roads in our many growth areas, like the Sunshine Coast Motorway, the Townsville Port Access Road, Forgan Smith Bridge in Mackay, Flinders Highway upgrade & the Bundaberg Ring Road?

Do we continue to own a port? Or do we build the new public housing and social infrastructure our State needs?

Or do we keep running these businesses, stop investing in them and let them run down? These are the choices. Doing nothing is not a choice.

The businesses we have chosen to sell are requesting investment of $12 billion from the Government over the next 4 years. That's $12 billion that can't be spent on schools, hospitals, roads and public transport.

It's true that some of these assets earn revenue for government. We will forgo about $280 million a year as a result of these sales. But the interest bill alone on the $12 million investment requested from Government is $750 million every year.

Some people are concerned about what this decision means for jobs. All enterprise bargaining agreements with workers will be honoured. As well employment guarantees will be in place for at least two years beyond the date of sale. Employees transferring to the new businesses will experience no interruption to their continuity of service, or accrued entitlements.

An industrial relations working party has been established to discuss the details of these arrangements with unions.

These are hard decisions. My Government went to the last election promising to maintain the State's record $18.1 billion building program. Not just for the 127,000 jobs it supports, but also because a State with a rapidly growing population can't afford to ease off building the infrastructure that supports our economy and community.

At a time when the State's income is under pressure due to the global recession, it is not possible to keep owning all we own while still borrowing to keep this building program going.
I trust this information is of assistance.

Yours sincerely

ANNA BLIGH MP PREMIER OF QUEENSLAND

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Comments

If privatisation means that the Anna Bligh's State is almost bankrupt and she has to sell its jewels to continue creating infrastructure, it is clear that the economic benefits of high population growth are overstated! Queensland's population growth, if the growthists are correct, should mean that they thriving on all the extra taxes and charges and prospering! Population growth as a way of ensuring economic growth is flawed, and the extra amounts spent on infrastructure, securing natural resources and repairing the damage does not cover the short term gains of more people.

If you look at Anna Bligh's speech in which she announced her privatisation plans in state Parliament, she uses population growth as one justification for privatisation:

"The global recession has also confronted us as a state and as a government, as the stewards of our economy and of our public finances.

...

"...Confronted with the need in these tough financial times to continue the infrastructure task to build for a growing population."

So, population growth is justified as being good for the economy, but somehow, such costs that the Queenslander are being made to pay, privatisation being only one of many, have been omitted from the studies that the Murdoch press is so practised at citing. See, for example, this quote from the Australian's editorial "Workers welcome" of 16 May 09:

More migrants will inevitably cause pressures in other areas of the economy, including the tight housing sector where a shortage of stock is leading to rapidly rising rents. But the economic case for more skilled migrants is clear. Treasury estimates the $1.4 billion cost over four years will be more than offset by $2.9 billion generated in additional taxes and charges.

More more migrants have, indeed, caused pressure on the "tight housing sector", so much so that increased rents have almost literally turned vast numbers of even professionals into slaves -- not just my words, that is what a surveyor, who lives nearby, who has been slugged with massive rental increases every six months has put to me -- and the problem of homelessness has grown massively.

But we were assured by the Murdoch newsmedia that the alleged economic prosperity caused by immigration would make all these associated costs, now also including privatisation, well worth it.