National Party Ballina MP Don Page is being urged to publicly reject any plans to sell the electricity poles and wires, with a prominent billboard installed this week highlighting the negative impacts that privatisation would have in Ballina.
The billboard, on the Pacific Highway at Wardell, is being funded by electricity industry unions as part of a $1.5 million dollar community campaign highlighting the reduction in services, loss of jobs and increased power prices if the electricity network monopoly is sold.
The sale of the poles and wires was one of the key recommendations of the NSW Commission of Audit, carried out by the O’Farrell government, and is currently being examined in detail as the NSW government presses ahead with a secret report into how the network privatisation transaction might take place (recommendation 75 of NSW Commission of Audit).
‘Earlier this year, NSW Treasurer Mike Baird let the cat out of the bag, admitting the state government was examining the sale of the electricity network as a way to plug a budget black hole and provide cash for promised infrastructure spending,’ Unions NSW deputy assistant secretary Adam Kerslake said.
‘Meanwhile, the premier has claimed there is no plan to sell, despite his government continuing to work on a report that outlines exactly how the privatisation of the electricity poles and wires would go ahead.
‘That’s why we are campaigning in Ballina and the north coast, calling on local National Party MPs including Don Page to tell the public if they support the sale of this essential service, or whether they will stand in the party room and oppose electricity privatisation.’
‘We don’t want to hear from Mr Page that the government has “no plans” to sell because governments change their plans, we want it categorically ruled out and his personal position stated on the record.
Electrical Trades Union NSW secretary Steve Butler said the reason unions were so confident the sale would be bad for consumers was because electricity privatisation failed to deliver benefits for communities where it has already been sold off.
‘Victoria and South Australia both sold their monopoly electricity networks to foreign companies in the 1990s,’ Mr Butler said.
‘The public was told that private ownership would lead to lower prices for consumers but history has proved this theory wrong with consumers paying more for electricity while suffering poorer reliability.
‘South Australia has the highest power prices in the country, while in Victoria, the Bushfire Royal Commission found several of the deadly Black Saturday blazes were likely to have been caused by a lack of maintenance on the electricity network by the private foreign owner.’
United Services Union general secretary Graeme Kelly said the community and union campaign was about ensuring people right across NSW had their voices heard by the government.
‘There has been no discussion about the negative impacts that electricity privatisation will have on prices, maintenance, service delivery and employment, all of which will be felt most severely in regional areas,’ Mr Kelly said.
‘This community union campaign is about rectifying that.’
Public Service Association general secretary Anne Gardiner said polling earlier this year had shown the local community was overwhelmingly against a sale, but their voices weren’t being listened to by local MPs.
‘We see time and time again National Party MPs having one position in their electorate and then they get on a plane to support something totally different when they arrive in Sydney,’ Ms Gardiner said.
Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia senior industrial officer Gordon Brock said it was essential that local MPs were honest with their communities and publicly declare where they stand on the issue of electricity privatisation.
‘It’s a simple question that deserves a simple answer, the public has a right to know what their local MP’s position is on an important issue such as electricity privatisation,’ Mr Brock said.
‘Don Page voted in parliament to privatise the state’s power stations and that’s why he needs to tell the community exactly where he stands on privatisation of the poles and wires.
‘Do you support the sale of this essential service, or will you stand up and fight against it?’