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A tale of two selloffs

On Tuesday 6th May 2008 Morris Iemma, presently Premier of NSW, chaired a Cabinet meeting in which it was decided by the politicians present that the power generation and distribution system of NSW will be privatised. This despite a motion of the ALP State Conference three days before, carried 702 to 107, against selling the state's electricity retailers and leasing its power generators, and popular polling in NSW indicating that a huge majority of voters are against it. On December 19 2007, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that:

A survey of 1011 NSW voters, conducted by Essential Research for Unions NSW, found 85 per cent of people oppose privatising the electricity supply, while 96 per cent fear private operators would force up the cost of electricity.

The most spectacular clash of this kind in Labor history was in 1916, when NSW Premier Holman and Prime Minister Billy Hughes were expelled from the ALP for defying the party’s policy on conscription. In this present clash between the politicians and the ALP members whose work and support put those politicians into office, there can only be one winner. If the party membership wins, it will arguably be a step towards more democratic decision making. If Iemma wins (note: he has no electoral mandate for this move) future ALP conferences can carry whatever motions they like, but policy will be 100% at the discretion of the politicians. The NSW ALP Executive, on the other hand, could call an emergency meeting and expel Iemma and perhaps one or two other ministers from the ALP. At that point Iemma would become an independent MP and the ALP parliamentary party would be obliged to elect a new premier.

The ostensible argument for power privatisation is that NSW needs the money (an anticipated $15 billion) for schools, hospitals and other expenditure. The reality is that sale of capital is touted as the way to finance ongoing expenditure, analogous to the classic case of the farmer who sells off a bit of the farm each year to keep the family clothed and food on the table. Needless to add, it leaves the farmer with less income and closer than before to bankruptcy. What is proposed for selling off presently earns the NSW government over $1 billion per year, which is why private buyers are interested.

The arguments that are being applied to power in NSW could be run for privatisation of anything: schools, hospitals, even suburban roads. We could in addition have private security companies contracted to perform work presently done by the police, and on an increasing basis. Maintenance of secondary and suburban roads could be privatised, in return for the right of the private operators to collect tolls at numerous toll gates. But in connection with that, the observation of former NSW Auditor-General Tony Harris, made in relation to Sydney’s M2 and other toll roads, is pertinent:

There is no reason why the Government could not have borrowed and, if it found it necessary, impose a toll the same way that the private sector is doing. One of the advantages of that is the absurd profits that the private sector is making out of these tollways would have accrued to the public.

We don't have to run a deficit. All we have to do is not pay off the debt so assiduously as each of our governments is doing. New South Wales now has no debt, the Commonwealth is virtually debt-free. Victoria has no debt and this is the same for other States - Queensland has no debt. And yet the population is going without quite important infrastructure.

That argument could be applied to any revenue-generating public property a government wants to sell off. Moreover, the experience of the Iemma government’s handling of Sydney’s Cross-City Tunnel, where free alternative routes were deliberately blocked to force motorists into the privately operated tunnel, and the Lane Cove Tunnel, which likewise ran into public relations problems in that motorists declined to use it because of the high tolls demanded, does little to inspire investor confidence in privatisation, except if a monopoly is thereby created. Arguably, this will be the case in the electricity privatisation, because the whole system most of the time runs close to peak capacity. Electricity privatised in NSW would be a classic seller’s market, and a licence to print money in the coming greenhouse environment. The number of large corporate sellers would probably diminish with time through mergers and takeovers.

A similar issue on a smaller scale: in response to changing demographics in the suburbs of Canberra, the ACT Government has closed a number of schools, but so far has not gone as far as selling the sites for private redevelopment. Canberra in my view (I have spent a bit of my life there) is one of the finest examples of town planning in the world, and the original plan envisaged that every primary school child should live within easy walking distance from school; likewise, within easy cycling distance from a high school.

Now Holt, Village Creek (Kambah), Cook, Melrose and Weston primary schools will be converted into ‘community centres’, and a decision deferred on what shall be done with the valuable adjoining playgrounds and ovals until after ‘community consultation’. One does not need to be clairvoyant to see where that is heading. In addition, three government-owned preschools will be sold outright. The arguments being used today to justify the irreversible step of redeveloping school sites for private housing at the above locations will be trotted out again whenever the government is sufficiently short of money to feel tempted to repeat the process at whatever stage of the electoral cycle it feels is safe enough.

What happens when the demographic cycle brings young families with children into these suburbs once again? That will be a problem to be dealt with by a new generation of politicians, as the ones responsible for the present planning travesty will by that stage be well into their abundantly superannuated retirements. But one suspects that those children will be driven across a few suburbs, past numerous other sold off and redeveloped school sites, to some gigantic central primary school with thousands of pupils, inadequate playing fields and grounds at God knows what parental expense in petrol and time. Cycling will be out of the question for many if not most, and cardiovascular disease begins these days for some people as young as five years old.

Behind the NSW and ACT selloffs lies a problem of state financing, which the GST was supposed to address but clearly is not adequate for. Otherwise there would be no hospitals or schools crises – the very issues Iemma claims the NSW power selloff will solve, and which led to the recent rash of school closures in the ACT.

What happened to the money that could have been spent on these public facilities? It has transmogrified thanks to Costello’s tax cuts into some things wide and wonderful, like hopelessly expensive to run suburban SUVs tootling among the plasma screened McMansions. Stand by for the Rudd government to deliver more of the same. Its consulate in Guangzhou, China since 17 September 2007 (in John Howard’s last term) (has been publicising the investment opportunity available for potential Chinese investors in a NSW power selloff:

Potential technology solutions for new electricity generation capacity identified by the Owen Inquiry include combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) and ultra-supercritical coal (USC). The report does not envisage privatising high-voltage transmission or low-voltage distribution networks.

Electricity generation companies owned by the NSW Government include Macquarie Generation, Delta Electricity and Eraring Energy, and its electricity retail companies are EnergyAustralia, Integral Energy and Country Energy.

However, it is possible that Iemma’s power stations may not be such an attractive commercial proposition. They are likely to run into greenhouse problems from which carbon capture and storage, even if that can be shown to be safe and viable, cannot rescue them in the diminishing time left between now and 2020 for the CO2 reduction measures envisaged by Garnaut. (Satisfaction of Australia’s Kyoto commitment, according to one insider I know, would require the equivalent of shutting down the entire Latrobe Valley.) The interests of private power companies lie in encouraging maximum generation and use of electricity, or alternatively massive price hikes for householders per kilowatt hour used.

Iemma’s proposed selloff of the existing retailers could (I stress could) prove disastrous, because technical improvements to rooftop solar generation may shortly make it possible to decentralize generation on a large scale, with the owners of rooftop solar units being in a position to sell their excess power to the grid. (Friends of mine in Adelaide already sell to the grid with a standard photovoltaic unit.) Privatised electricity retailers will likely be disinclined to buy such power for easily conceivable reasons. For example, this high temperature photovoltaic innovation is claimed to generate power at 5c US per kilowatt hour with an energy conversion rate at a whopping 37.5%.

A useful article on this is to be found at the Greenleft site, and though readers of an extreme right persuasion will no doubt find it repugnant, they might be comforted by Thomas Friedman’s view that concentrated political power over energy supply is bad for democracy.

The ALP internal brawl can best be followed in my view by reading Bob Gould’s reportage at Ozleft.


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 Am astonished at my old mate John Pratt's comments, re "Luddites".  What an appalling, patronising and elitist dismissal of the rank and file and the whole concept of bottom up, grassroots politics as the bulwark  for democracy against plutocracy.

Richard:  Whew, talk about making an entrance..

As to the money raised by the fudged processes to be implemented, did you not read the contents of the links Ian MacDougall thoughtfully provided?

Issues such as the indemnifying and compensation of purchasers make the whole antic appear even more of a corrupt grab than appeared possible previously, if the comments from the sites involved are correct.

Ian, many, many thanks. 

The media appears to blacked out the realities involved with this crucial issue. It is the most serious issue to have surfaced since the FTA issue of a few years ago, and as with that issue, the  Mushroom  Treatment , eg "kept in the dark and fed on Bullsh-t", is a hint to as what's really at play and at stake, as to pure corruption and theft on an almost inconceivable level.

Richard:  Hello, stranger!  Good to see you again!

Old Mates?

Paul Walter, sorry, old mates we are not. I have no idea who you are or what you stand for. Are you confusing me with someone else?

How am I dismissing the rank and file,or the whole concept of bottom up grass roots politics as the bulwark of democracy?

I am part of the rank and file and at the very bottom and consider myself to be very grass rooted.

I believe in grass roots democracy. By no stretch of the imagination could I be called elitist. I have never led anyone or been part of any elitist organisation. I am very much a lone voice in the wilderness.

Are you trying to shut my voice up? Is that your idea of democracy?

I am just stating the bleeding obvious, coal is history and the sooner we move to renewable energy the better we will all be. A smart government will be trying to get rid of coal power stations as quickly as possible to make sure it is not left with industrial dinosaurs.

The Youtube war in the NSW ALP

According to this source, a Youtube war has broken out in the NSW ALP.

The pro-privatisation Right began it with Della's Downfall, to which the anti-privatisation Left responded with Iemma's Dilemma, both based on the same original Downfall (as in Berchtesgarten to Wolfsschanze to Rat's Hole - the last perhaps better known as the Fuhrerbunker), where the language used was probably far more restrained than in the present NSW ALP, though admittedly allowances have to be made for the faithful translations from the original German.


Hi Scott. I agree that shallow geothermal is a very useful souce of low heat and note that it is used a lot in Switzerland. There is also a good page about it in Tasmania. Prof Tester also has a really rivetting video [Fiona: I’ve linked to the page where the video can be accessed – the direct link that you supplied, Sheila, wasn’t working for me] but you have to read the pdf file to understand the limitations. The video has a bit of a slow start due to being in a classroom but is well worth sticking to. Make yourself comfortable and take notes; it lasts about an hour. I cannot get that long pdf link to work either. There is a short pdf file available which also gives you Tester's email address; perhaps you could contact him y'self?

There is also an address for hard copies. Otherwise let me have your email address and I will send you a copy from my computer. If you are interested in geothermal I could discuss more offline.

Fiona: Thanks for this information, Sheila, but I hope that you and Scott continue the discussion online, as it is a topic of interest to several Webdiarists.

Geothermal, hot rocks potential

This is a response to a remark that geothermal holds great potential in Australia.  Whilst it is true that there are some very good areas of radioactive heat present in granites about 5km down in this country, deep geothermal has nonetheless to get over a very big problem. The problem is that we have no success as yet in controlling the flow of water injected into fractures; we cannot predict where it will go and we cannot get it back yet.  Without solving this problem the proposed technology is a no-starter.

I agree that it is worth working on the problem, but I wouldn't base any serious expansion on a solution until we have one.  See The Final Energy Crisis, Ed.2, Pluto Press, due out September 2008 for a considered article, or have a look at the MIT's Prof Tessler's report, although you have to get in pretty deep to get to the problems.  Fascinating read though.

Geothermal power is about to power up Innamincka.

Sheila Newman, Geodynamics have solved the problem of steam extraction by using a closed loop system and are planning to supply power to the township of Innamincka by the end of the year and to the NSW/SA power grid by 2010.

Habanero 3 follows Habanero 1 and the wells, which sit less than a kilometre apart, work as a cycle with water piped out of Habanero 3 and cycled through a conventional steam generator and then recycled into the earth's surface through Habanero 1. Steam extracted at the surface from the 250 degree water generates energy and as such makes HFR energy the only known source of renewable energy capable of producing large base loads of energy 24 hours a day.

The Cooper Basin has enough geothermal energy to supply both Brisbane and Adelaide.

Hello Sheila

Couldn't get your link to work unfortunately because it is of considerable interest to me. To which MIT do you refer? While geothermal energy certainly present problems the ambient permanent temperatures to be found roughly 50 metres down can certainly be utilised for efficiency gains in air conditioning. The AQUIS building in Symondstown ACT was built using that technology. Every little helps I suppose until the problems of over population, declining and increasingly expensive energy resources and global warming (if it is real) have been overcome.

Sheila's link

Scott, you are right - Sheila's link does not work (my apologies, I should have checked it). However, after some trawling I have found the following link, which I think should solve the problem:

The future of geothermal energy: Impact of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) on the United States in the 21st century.

The entire report is seriously large(22.6 MB) so it might be prudent if you are on dialup to download only the relevant chapter - Sheila, I wonder if you can help here?

By the way, the Chair of the MIT (Massachussets Institute of Technology)-led interdisciplinary panel was Jefferson W. Tester, Chair H.P. Meissner Professor of Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Coal to gas??

Ian, I have never looked into the coal to gas conversion. However, I would surprised if conversion was all that difficult.

Looking ahead, the other issue to consider is the security of the grid if the increasing number of extreme storms, and the extreme storms eventuate, as seems probable to me.

It wouldn't be difficult to build a network in a restricted area that would be all but bulletproof. Not cheap, but your own system in your own community, self interest might just persuade people it was worth doing.

Gittins on public sector unions

Nice piece related to this thread in the SMH today by Ross Gittins.

A spark of principle

I was completely underwhelmed by Peter Debnam's performances as leader of the NSW Opposition in the run up to last year's state election. However, he has surprised me - pleasantly - by resigning as Opposition spokesman on  infrastructure and energy this morning.  According to Alex Mitchell writing in today's edition of Crikey, Mr Debnam explained his decision thus:

I have been opposed to Michael Costa’s electricity privatisation and despite lacking the numbers in Parliament to stop it, I’ve argued for the Coalition to take a strong stand against the privatisation and in favour of clean renewable energy. However, in my view, the conditional acceptance announced late last week by the Coalition effectively surrenders to Costa’s privatisation. Given my strong views, it is untenable for me to continue as the Shadow Minister for Energy and remain on the frontbench simply biting my tongue.

Never resign, Mr Debnam

Fiona, though something of an underwhelming performer, Peter Debnam has shown that he stands for something more than having greatness thrust upon him. Time will tell. He may find his principles worth trading for a Cabinet seat if the Liberals win the next NSW election.

However, if a politician really wants to make a political point, the rule is 'never resign'. Openly break cabinet solidarity, and make your opponents sack you. That can lead to public controversy over your stand, and far greater support than will come your way through wimpish resignation, which probably won't turn many heads at all.

If you choose your moment well, and the principle is important enough, your party may split, giving you a political formation devoted to the principle you stood up for. Take it from there.

Evo Morales has more backbone than all of the Labor Party

I recommend that people watch closely what is going on in Bolivia. This country is led by President Evo Morales a man who seems to have more backbone and common decency than all of the Australian Labor Party. He is re-nationalising telecommunications which had previously been privatised behind the backs of the Bolivian people. I have put together some material in the story Evo Morales re-nationalises energy and telecommunications companies, denounces biofuel-driven starvation. Unfortunately, he is facing an organised right-wing campaign of destabilisation. He has confronted it it by conducting a recall referendum.

Let's wish him well.

The lucky country is uniquely endowed.

Australia is uniquely endowed with heat-producing elements under its surface that could provide potentially unlimited amounts of geothermal power for this country, says geoscientist Dr Sandra McLaren.

Dr McLaren is winner of the Australian Academy of Science’s Dorothy Hill award for women in geoscience.

She says that west of the line between Cairns and the mouth of the Murray River lies a belt of rocks containing the enriched elements uranium, thorium, and potassium that are around 1.5 billion years old. These enriched elements are essentially a heat source located in the upper part of our continental crust.

‘Our status as one of the most prospective countries in the world for geothermal power generation is due to this extraordinary enrichment in uranium. That’s because when we bury these enriched rocks, even beneath only about two or three kilometres of sediment, they’re capable of generating extremely high temperatures which we can use to generate geothermal power.’

She says that nuclear power and geothermal power use the same source of fuel – enriched uranium.

As we prepare to leave the coal age behind, the government needs to sell off all the coal fired powered stations to enable us to raise the capital required to move into the new technologies such as geothermal power. The Luddites that refuse to recognise the future are just echoing the people who fought against the industrial revolution.

Comments on comments

James, yes, mine it for all you're worth, so long as Webdiary Management is happy.

Alan, when I was a student in Sydney years ago, my landlord was a power station operator. He wanted to get out because it was such a high stress and demanding job. It's a bit like driving a semi-trailer. It looks bloody easy till you actually get behind the wheel and try it. So I'd be a bit reluctant to call any of them 'clowns', Chinese T shirts or not.

Scott: "I can see nothing wrong, now that the need has passed with the ACT government divesting itself of very valuable real estate which is currently and foreseeably underutilised."

The need for schools and their sports ovals and playgrounds has not 'passed'. Not anywhere: Canberra, Sydney; Woop Woop. You name it. What has happened is that in some suburbs and towns the houses contain a relatively high percentage of 'empty nesters'. There are relatively few school age children. But this does not last forever, even if some politicians want to pretend that it will. As the 'empty nesters' pass on to eventide homes, Heaven or wherever, their houses are auctioned off and a new generation moves in. The suburb now has a lower average age than before, and demand for school places rises.

I have seen this happen many times, the first in the old working class suburb of Paddington in Sydney where I used to live. In the 1960s Paddo was gentrified by young middle class couples buying up the trendy terrace houses from the old working class occupants. Paddington Primary School went from very low enrolment to absolutely chockers inside a few years.

When you think about it, it is obvious that this must happen to the suburbs where the ACT Government wants to flog off the schools for housing. So where will the occupants of those houses send their kids to school? Or will there be no kids born to future generations? Once sold off for housing, the land can never be got back for sports ovals and playgrounds.

Peter, my concern is that electricity distribution companies are likely to have sweetheart deals with generation companies, and will refuse to buy power from rooftop solar suppliers, even if the latter can produce it more cheaply (and 5c a unit will be cheap) than conventional steam turbine generation, whether gas or coal fired. My understanding is that coal fired stations can't be converted to the more greenhouse friendly gas, and that carbon constraints will force their closure and demolition. Electrical strife ahead, quite likely.

Still clowns

Ian MacDougall, I will still call them clowns. As for stress in the job why would any person work under stress when there are so many jobs out there that would suit them better?

Times have changed

Ian, those facilities you mention were all provided and maintained by the largesse of the Australian taxpayer via the old National Capital Development Commission. Canberra was over-endowed. Now that ACT ratepayers must fund the maintenace of those facilities it is painfully obvious that they cannot all be afforded let alone the water needed.

Any comments on my other comment?

Unions, planning etc

Scott: "To my mind the solution is simple. What's left of the union movement needs to reinvent itself; form an alliance with the Greens (who desperately need to improve intellectually), the remnants of the Democrats and even the Social Democrats to form the third force in Oz politics that has been called for in this forum. The threat should be enough to call the likes of Rudd and Iemma into some form of compromise but be prepared not to be bluffing."

Yes, I'd go along with that. The ALP, given the numbers stacking up against power privatisation, is likely to split in NSW as it did in federally 1954, when the DLP hived off it. The difficulty always is that the ALP Right generally takes the attitude that anything to the left of it is its electoral prisoner, and has nowhere else to go, so it can steer a course just a whisker to the left of the Liberals and maximise thus its centre vote while retaining the Left, who on principle will never vote Liberal.

In my view, a combo like Iemma and Costa, whose contempt for their own party's inner democracy is blatant, is worse than say O'Farrell and Debnam. Since Keating became leader of the ALP, I have been a swinging voter, both in NSW and federally.

To the extent that Australian society remains an economic jungle, you can rely on unionists to continue to regard a fair income as being whatever they can get. As will CEOs and the rest of the corporate executive class, as will shareholders and owners of small and middle ranking business. I have yet to meet anyone in the above categories who is not prepared to argue a case as to why they should get more than they do.

Re Canberra: "...those facilities you mention were all provided and maintained by the largesse of the Australian taxpayer via the old National Capital Development Commission. Canberra was over-endowed. Now that ACT ratepayers must fund the maintenace of those facilities it is painfully obvious that they cannot all be afforded let alone the water needed. "

The last financial statements showing the cost of Canberra to the federal taxpayer that I saw were published in 1989 at the time the ACT became self-governing. They separated out the cost of maintaining the Federal Capital aspects of Canberra from those of maintaining the rest of the city as the home of for citizens. The cost of the latter per head was about the same as Sydney, Melbourne and other cities. Good planning actually saves the taxpayers money, but of course, all members of the Federal Parliament save four have a vested populist interest in Canberra-bashing.

So I would like to see the figures that show that Canberra is presently 'over-endowed'. The existing public parks and playing fields (which have to be perpetually defended against philistine local politicians ever seeking to infill them with housing developments) are now only watered by the rain, whenever that chooses to fall. Not even water from Lake Burley-Griffin is used any more, save on the Parliamentary Triangle.

On open space

Ian old son, (now you’re not going to get precious about the form of address are you? No of course not, it’s same sex stuff so it should be alright;) we’re more likely to agree than disagree. You know me well enough to accept that I believe in as much public open space as possible should be preserved. You have given me food for thought.

I was going to cite an open space on the corner of Outtrim Ave and Duggan St Calwell as an example of what I meant. Then I started thinking about it. A playing field in its original concept. Concrete pitch, Goal posts and practice nets. It was let go; under utilised and expensive to maintain. Tussock grass took over so that it wasn’t even much good for training. God knows how many sprinkler systems, (some of which I was responsible for installing,) are now redundant. But I used to walk my dog there, down the street from my house, along the footpath (bloody cyclists without bells), and around the playing field. Throw the dog a ball. The big black bastard never gave it back, I had to chase him for it and then he’d run off, get bored with it or find something else more interesting and drop it to be recovered days later when I stumbled across it by chance. So yes Ian, I know where you’re coming from. (Sometimes incorrect grammar is more elegant.)

I’m suggesting balance, that’s all.

Alan, cat got your tongue or something? Mood swing and I’m feeling thuggish.

What is in the water?

Ian, a thoughtful piece.

While I agree that if the Labor MPs had had any guts they would have dumped Iemma and his bully boy side kick — before the cave in was announced I was thinking that if Iemma was told, ‘resign as premier or face a no confidence motion', would do the job ... if he can sell it, it might in the long run prove to be a brilliant move.

Have you ever wondered what it is they put in the water in the parliament houses? Whatever else it may do, it certainly dissolves backbones!

You touched upon the reasons that the proposed sale could well be fortuitous. The cost of setting up solar power is continually dropping, becoming more efficient and far less troublesome than it was some years ago.

While at present the feed into the grid option is the way to go, it might be a less attractive option in the (privatised) future. However, depending upon the neighbourhood you live in, the prospect of setting up for the whole block might be worth exploring.

(I remember recently reading about a doctor who started upon some environmentally positive project, and eventually managed to get the whole village involved.)

The Californian solar power project being headed up by Professor David Hills is going to be able to provide power 24 hours a day. While the process of storing sun generated power has yet to be disclosed, there must be some prospect of the process being adapted to a small scale, or at least point people in the right direction to develop such a facility. At that point small towns, villages and even some city blocks will eventually have to look at the prospect of setting up their own system.

The legal set up for this would be fairly straightforward. Take out a loan for the project secured by each individual property in the community. Tie it up so that the loan related to the property, not the person owning it, so that the liability for the loan remained with the property if it was sold, or bequeathed. Allow those who could afford it/wanted to, to pay up front. Who paid what, how the shares were defined, etc are simply politics and could be worked out without too much difficulty.

Seaside towns and villages will, I believe, soon have a cheaper, simpler option.

[I have long had an interest in renewable energy, in more recent years with money invested — wasted!? — in several projects.]

I was amused by your ‘We could in addition have private security companies contracted to perform work presently done by the police.’ Currently police work restricted hours because of the ‘stress’ the job imposes. In their off-duty hours they are permitted to work for private security firms, particularly in the vicinity of major events. The line is already very, very blurred!

Tonight on Four Corners there was a piece on defaulting loans. I was struck by the imagery: Giant houses, giant vehicles, giant people and giant greed.

Combined with being in the midst of a rebuttal for one of the most ignorant, bigoted pieces on alternate energy that I have seen in a long time, [elsewhere] it dawned upon me that in fact we do not want/need the alternates coming on stream to be taken up too quickly. We need people to suffer real pain, for governments to be compelled to introduce really hard-hitting, high impact laws upon the greed and ego-driven ethos of ‘bigger is better’. Otherwise people will just continue on consuming.

Labour? party

You seem to have two threads going here, Ian, and I'm not referring to the title; one being the merits or otherwise of privatisation and the other of the political processes of not only NSW Labour but of Labour nationally.

I'll address the latter first. It has long been a source of frustration for me that the union movement has been politically impotent for a long time. I've stated similar sentiments before but consider they bear repeating.

The "Labour" party was formed to be the political arm of the party but the tail has been wagging the dog for decades now. Not only that but the union movement itself became corrupted; some of them by criminal elements, others by academic opportunists. Hawke got rid of the criminal element but the academics remain, fellows who've never done a tap on a building site, shearing shed, or any other real work face represent those that do. Still some element of the union ethic remains which explains the opposition to privatisation but these people have lost the plot. This is typified by an old Scot with whom I used to share a snooker table and beer back in the eighties in Royals Rugby Union Club in Weston. This man had spent almost his entire working life dedicated to the union movement. When I railed against the Hawke/Keating regime for their essentially anti-union stance, (most especially the secondary boycott provisions which gutted the unions), his only response was that "they've got to be better than the other mob." No they weren't. In fact they were worse; no coalition government would have risked the industrial disruption. Hawke's accord, facilitated by the threat of a return of the coalition, fixed that. Socialism died with the Whitlam administration.

To my mind the solution is simple. What's left of the union movement needs to reinvent itself; form an alliance with the Greens (who desperately need to improve intellectually), the remnants of the Democrats and even the Social Democrats to form the third force in Oz politics that has been called for in this forum. The threat should be enough to call the likes of Rudd and Iemma into some form of compromise but be prepared not to be bluffing.

As to the merits of privatisation, my views are well known.

"What happens when the demographic cycle brings young families with children into these suburbs once again?

Ian, it's not going to happen. Canberra is a special case growing in size by a multiple of 5 since I first lived there. Every new suburb complete with its proportion of "Govies" (housing commission homes) was dubbed "nappy valley". The city has matured to the point where every suburb has an even mix of age demographics. I provided the storm water pipe rejects for Holder infants school playground and my late thirties children were schooled there. Those days are gone and I wonder if children still crawl through those pipes. I can see nothing wrong, now that the need has passed, with the ACT government divesting itself of very valuable real estate which is currently and foreseeably underutilised.


James Sinnamon, I also find it hard to find words to express the disgust I feel at the actions of union hacks dressed in chinese made tee-shirts. These clowns are not representative of the people of NSW, but are just trying to protect their own backsides because some of them will lose their jobs. If NSW electricity is privatised, it will not take the new owners long to weed out the deadwood amongst the workers. So what are are the unions worried about, with the so called "skills shortage" (Sharan Burrows' words) they should be able to get new jobs in no time.

As for "Iemma had given the unions a clear undertaking not to privatise NSW's electricity prior to the 2007 elections", well, welcome to the club. He also promised the people well run transport and health systems and look what we have. Time for the unions to to get out into the real world, it is not 1917.


 Where've you been, Alan?

"These clowns are not representative of the people of NSW."

No, just 85% of them.

Caucus's capitulation an unparalleled display of spinelessness

Thanks, Ian McDougall, for a thoughtful, informative and timely article. I intend to mine it for useful information for my own website at candobetter.org/NswElectricity if that is OK with you. (Comments that site, either by anonymous or registered users are welcome.)

It's hard to find words to express the disgust I feel at the actions of Iemma-Costa junta and at the capitulation before them by the whole NSW parliamentary Labor caucus on 6 May which would have to be a display of political spinelessness with few parallels in Australian history.

They capitulated almost without a word of protest in spite of the fact that, as Ian has pointed out, the vote against privatisation was 702 to 107 at the state conference, that opinion polls show overwhelming opposition by the NSW public, the rightful owners of the assets, that privatisation was roundly rejected by the electors the last time it was put to them in an election in 1999, and that Iemma had given the unions a clear undertaking not to privatise NSW's electricity prior to the 2007 elections.

If Labor Parliamentary ostensible opponents of privatisation could not, on that day, find it in within themselves to muster the courage to take a stand for what was clearly right, then they never will.

The Labor Party, or at least those within it who remain loyal to the original principles of the Labor Party, would be better off if the entire current NSW Parliamentary Labor Caucus were disendorsed and replaced with candidates with a commitment to honour decisions arrived at democratically at conference.

If the Labor Party were to do this with resolve and determination, I believe there is every reason to hope that they could win government at the next scheduled elections if not sooner. We should not allow ourselves to be paralysed by the fear that by the Labor Party taking a principled stand as it did in 1917, it must necessarily condemn itself to opposition for years to come (and even if such an outcome were to prove to be unavoidable, it would have to be preferable to the Labor Party continuing to be complicit in the outrages now being committed in its name by the NSW Government).

Even if this is all judged as unlikely to occur, this still needs to be said loudly and clearly.

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