Increasing opposition to the Baird government’s controversial electricity privatisation plans has prompted a preference deal between Labor and the Greens around the state including the north coast Nationals-held seats of Ballina, Lismore and Tweed.
The deal in 23 key seats and the upper house is set to give Labor’s chances in toppling coalition-held seats at the March 28 state election a major boost.
Labor hopes the issue of coal seam gas (CSG) in Ballina, Lismore and Tweed will play strongly in its favour, even though the Greens has called on Labor to return thousands of dollars in donations the party received from CSG miner Santos Ltd in the run up to the election.
On the north coast, Labor wasted no time in attacking the poles and wires sell-off, with the party’s Tweed candidate Ron Goodman this morning revealing that Nationals MP Duncan Gay had admitted in a letter sent to north coast households that the privatisation plan was fraught with risk.
Fairfax Media this morning reported on the preference-swap agreement which they say could be worth up to four percentage points to the ALP in each seat where the Greens poll strongly. Under the deal, the Greens will recommend a preference to Labor ahead of the coalition in 23 key lower-house seats.
This contrasts with the election four years ago, when the Greens preferenced Labor in only a handful of seats.
The Liberals/Nationals government under its contentious ‘NSW Gas Plan’ is set on continuing CSG exploration and mining in the northern rivers despite huge opposition by local communities in the rural/coastal seats.
In the Ballina electorate, where the Nationals are expected to lose much of the personal vote of retiring MP Don Page, the coalition is trying to make political capital from its recent exclusion of most of Ballina Shire from a petroleum exploration licence covering the area.
Opponents say that’s an area where the miner hasn’t found profitable gas reserves.
Premier Mike Baird’s promise to privatise electricity distribution businesses and use the hoped-for $20 billion proceeds for infrastructure has sparked a reaction similar to the one in Queensland where the coalition Campbell Newman government there was pushing an electricity privatisation platform were toppled at recent elections.
Greens campaign director Chris Harris told Fairfax the preference deal was ‘largely due to opposition to the state government’s privatisation proposals and federal and state government cuts to public and community services’, while Labor spokesman said the election was ‘about stopping the risky privatisation of the electricity network’.
‘The Greens have taken the same view as Labor that privatising the electricity network is a bad deal for NSW, so we’re happy to enter into a preference agreement with them,’ the Labor spokesman told Fairfax.
Meanwhile, Mr Goodman hit out at the Nationals’ claim in Mr Gay’s letter in which he argues that electricity infrastructure in the country will not be sold and that regional communities will receive all of the rewards of the ‘metropolitan sale’ but none of the ‘risks’.
Mr Goodman, who is trying to topple the Nationals’ sitting Tweed MP Geoff Provest, labelled the claim as ‘either completely misguided or deliberately misleading’.
‘Under the Nationals’ plan, 100 per cent of the TransGrid network of high voltage transmission towers across the state will be sold,’ he said.
‘While Nationals MPs spruik their so-called compromise to save Essential Energy for now, they never talk about the thousands of kilometres of regional poles and wires owned by TransGrid, which will be sold, leaving 1,083 jobs at risk across the state.’
‘Geoff Provest is trying to pretend the National Party got a good deal for regional NSW, but really all they did was bow to their Liberal Party bosses. As sure as night follows day, the same thing will happen next time if they are re-elected.
‘The Nationals have sold out regional communities and no matter how hard they try to hide it, the facts remain. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.
‘Everyone knows electricity privatisation will lead to higher prices and unreliable service delivery in the country.
‘The people of NSW do not want their electricity network sold and the only way to keep it in public hands is to vote Labor,’ Mr Goodman concluded.
Comment is being sought from Mr Provest, who holds his seat with a margin close to 20 per cent.
Meanwhile, Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham and the Greens candidate for Lismore, Adam Guise today called on the major parties to ‘demonstrate their commitment to end the corrupting influence of donations on the political system’.
Mr Buckingham said opposition leader Luke Foley and the NSW Labor Party ‘could start’ by returning the thousands of dollars in donations received from Santos Ltd.
‘Labor needs to return this donation to remove the perception that it could have influenced Labor’s refusal to rule out coal seam gas across NSW,’ he said.
‘Given the toxic and corrupting influence that corporate donations have been seen to have on our democracy in recent years, the public have every right to ask whether this donation from Santos has influenced Labor’s weak position on coal seam gas.
‘There is a strong public perception that there is a “decisions for donations” culture in NSW and that is why the Greens are calling on all parties to back our policy for a ban on donations from mining and coal seam gas companies,’ Mr Buckingham said.
Mr Guise said clean politics ‘is a key election issue and Labor’s Isaac Smith and Paul Spooner need to return this coal seam gas company donation.
‘The Greens NSW policy is not to accept any corporate donations and to publicly disclose all donations worth more than $200,’ he said.
‘For too long big corporations, mining companies and developers have bankrolled the major parties’ election campaigns, opening the way for deals and corruption.
‘We’ve seen this played out with revelations in the Independent Commission Against Corruption about members of both major parties.
‘People are tired of the old way of doing politics, where the major parties look after vested interests ahead of the interests of the people they represent.’
The Greens are committed to:
- prohibiting political donations from corporations;
- adequate, fair and transparent public funding of all elections;
- prompt and transparent disclosure of all donations on a public website maintained by the electoral office.
- Legally binding MPs’ Code of Conduct
- Five-year limit before senior MPs and bureaucrats can work for companies that cover the sector they had previously worked in.
- Greater transparency and regulation of lobbying activities.
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