Contrary to the expectations of many people living outside of New South Wales, on 23 March 2015 the Opposition Labor Party led by Luke Foley lost the state elections to incumbent Liberal Premier Mike Baird. This was in spite of Labor Party's opposition to privatisation and a grass roots trade union and community campaign against privatisation. 1
In part, the Liberal Party's victory was due to Michael Baird being able to convince some voters that his proposed sale of 99 year leases of the state's electricity network to the private sector was somehow different to privatisation. In her speech of 2/6/15 to the NSW Legislative Council (Upper House), Greens member Dr Mehreen Faruqi, shows that for corporations intending to buy the 99 year leases, as well as the consumers and current owners of the NSW electricity network, there is little practical difference. The Youtube of Dr Faruqi's speech is embedded below and the transcript of the speech from the NSW Legislative Council Hansard is also included. 2
Dr Mehdi Frauqi's NSW Legislative Council speech opposed to privatisation (2/6/15)
Dr MEHREEN FARUQI [6.41 p.m.]: On behalf of The Greens I contribute to debate on the Electricity Network Assets (Authorised Transactions) Bill 2015 and the cognate Electricity Retained Interest Corporations Bill 2015. I thank The Greens members and activists; Dr John Kaye, who has led the fight on The Greens' side; and all the hardworking "Stop the Sell Off" campaigners and union members who have been leading a strong campaign against the sell-off of our public electricity network. It is a disgrace that the arrogance of this Government means it is not willing to listen to sense or public opinion on this issue. This legislation will enable the lease of 49 per cent of the State's electricity network. The word "lease" is misleading; it is de facto privatisation. It is telling that the lease is so long–99 years, in fact–that no-one voting on the bill today will be alive to see this asset revert to public hands, if it ever does. The decision made today robs our children and our grandchildren of public assets. It is a very bad strategy to get rid of these assets and forfeit the resulting revenue that would otherwise flow into the State budget to be used to benefit the people of New South Wales.
Not many in this Chamber will be surprised to hear me describe this move for what it is: completely backward policy. Privatisation of public assets and services fails the community and the "public good" test. Public assets must remain in public hands for the good of us all and for the good of our State. These are assets that generations of Australians have paid for. Once they are sold off, they will not be able to be brought back into public ownership. Handing over our electricity assets to private operators will effectively rule out any large-scale move towards compatibility with innovative energy systems–systems that are green, clean and renewable. Dr Kaye wrote in the Guardian this week that the Baird Government ignores the recent "sea change of technology" in the energy distribution area at its peril. The release of Tesla's battery units is a game changer for everyone. The profit model of the corporate owners of the grid leases will simply not be compatible with supporting a shift towards the local trading of electricity. There is an incentive not to make our grid more efficient and more sustainable.
Members in both Houses have described as a sham the inquiry into this issue that has taken place over the past few weeks. It was an investigation with a predetermined outcome, with narrow terms of reference and no real expectation that it would produce anything other than a positive story for the Government. Indeed, why would the Government have agreed to such a process if there was any serious risk of it jeopardising its privatisation agenda? The issue at the heart of this matter is that this is short-term thinking by a Government that sees benefit in flogging off public assets and getting some short-term cash in advance. That leads me to the issue of expenditure. Perhaps just as worthy as criticism of the lease itself is what the Government is putting on the table as potential investments in order to justify the sell-off. I am concerned that much of the proceeds of the sale will go towards projects that are ill suited to the needs of our State. Particularly close to my heart is the expenditure on roads and transport.
The Government intends to spend almost half of the $20 billion raised by the sell-off of poles and wires on transport infrastructure that will not work for Sydney and will not work for New South Wales. It will not work and it is not in the interests of the long-term future of New South Wales because it effectively locks down a future of road congestion and pollution for the State, and locks us all into a privately operated, unintegrated rail network along the way. Like the electricity sell-off itself, these plans are not in the public interest; they are in the private interest. They are in the interest of the Liberals and The Nationals and their mates. A massive $7 billion will be directed to the Sydney Rapid Transit line. This line is possibly the biggest rail con job in the history of the State. Sydney Rapid Transit involves the extension of the private North West Rail Link shuttle through North Sydney and the city and onto the Bankstown line, with entirely single-deck trains, privately operated and separated from the current Sydney Trains network.
It seems very recently that the Government had us all scratching our heads over its plans to rip up the recently opened Epping to Chatswood line for its private metro service and incorporate the line into the North West Rail Link. The Epping to Chatswood line was only opened in 2009–as many in this Chamber would remember–for $2.4 billion, under the previous Labor Government. Despite the bloated price tag and the failed ambition of extending the line all the way to Parramatta, this is a good service. It works for people, especially those in the North Ryde and Macquarie Park industrial areas and students attending Macquarie University. It is well patronised and efficient, but the Government wants to rip it up to make way for the privately operated shuttle.
With Sydney Rapid Transit on the table, thanks to the sell-off, we know that the Government's ambitions do not stop there. It also wants to rip up the Bankstown line completely and put the privately operated network through there too. This will cause unnecessary and painful disruptions for people on many parts of the network. But the "short-term pain for long-term gain" argument does not hold much weight here either. Unfortunately, there is going to be short-term pain for more long-term pain. There is no doubt that we will need a second harbour rail crossing in the future. We need to look at new services and new capacity.#fn3" id="txt3"> 3 This can be achieved in some part through technology, such as automated signalling, and in some part by expanding the current public transport system, not cannibalising it. The single-deck, low-capacity Sydney Rapid Transit is probably the worst way possible of achieving what we want. It puts in train the wholesale privatisation of the rail system in Sydney, from Rouse Hill to Epping, to St Leonards, to the central business district, to Sydenham, to Marrickville, and all the way through to Bankstown. What is worse, the single-deck service does not even make sense capacity-wise for much of that journey.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Trevor Khan): Order! I note that, while wide latitude is extended to members speaking during the second reading debate, Dr Mehreen Faruqi should ensure her comments are within the leave of the long titles of the bills. I have allowed the member to continue for some time, but I now invite her to consider the legislation that is before the House rather than rail lines.
Dr MEHREEN FARUQI: Thank you, Mr Deputy-President. Of the constituents the Government spoke to regarding the sell-off of the poles and wires, I doubt many knew about the second harbour rail crossing being a private line and cannibalising their current train line. Moving on to the wasteful expenditure of the money acquired from the privatisation of poles and wires, $1.1 billion will go to the WestConnex extensions and a new western harbour tunnel, which will spew further traffic into more of Sydney. It is not enough that billions of dollars are being totally wasted on toll roads that are not solving Sydney's transport problems but more money from the sell-off of a public asset will be thrown into producing more congestion in the city and destroying our environment.
In essence, the community loses profits from a public asset and these will be spent on private motorways for the benefit of private companies. The Transurban Group, which owns roads in all the eastern seaboard capital cities, made a profit of $282 million in the last financial year. This is a textbook example of corporate greed–the transfer of wealth from the public to benefit only a few. Fortunately, there is another way. During the 2015 election campaign The Greens outlined our own way of financing $20 billion through a range of measures, including reinstating the vendor duty, restoring marginal poker machine tax rates and maintaining stamp duties on certain business transactions. This money would be invested in schools, hospitals, energy, housing and transport of the twenty-first century. The Greens showed that through smarter spending we can divert $4.5 billion being wasted on the NorthConnex and WestConnex projects to public and active transport that expands access for the people of New South Wales. We do not have to sell the electricity network. We can get the infrastructure that New South Wales wants and needs by keeping its electricity network in public hands. The Greens strongly oppose the legislation.
#fn1" id="fn1">1.#txt1"> ↑ In part, Baird's victory was also due to the whiteanting of Luke Foley's campaign by elements within the Labor Party, including former NSW Labor Premier Bob Carr and former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating. See
Former premier Bob Carr crashes in on the debate over privatisation of electricity networks (7/3/15) Daily Telegraph, The Debate: should NSW's poles and wires be privatised? (23/3/15) | SMH, Mike Baird's caution on privatisation may affect NSW voters (8/3/15) | AFR.
Bob Carr's undermining of NSW Labor in 2015 is reminiscent of his undermining of Federal Labor Party's election campaign in 2004 as described by former Labor Leader Mark Latham in The Latham Diaries (2005). See also Ex-Labor treasurer downplays NSW privatisation boost (19/5/15) Herald Sun.
#fn3" id="fn3">3.#txt3"> ↑ Dr Faruqi's claim that a second harbour rail crossing may be necessary could be taken as a presumption that Sydney's population will continue for some years to come to increase at its current rate of growth. In fact, if Sydney does not achieve population stability in the near future, no amount of government investment in the second harbour rail crossing or other infrastructure can prevent Sydney from from becoming a miserable urban slum for most of its inhabitants.