Power struggle builds in NSW
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by Louisa L.
Community groups led by unions are gearing up to stop the NSW power sell-off.
State budget papers prove electricity poles and wires are the biggest income generating assets in NSW Government hands, bringing in up to $2.5 billion per year.
With an Ernst and Young study showing 60% of NSW residents are failing to pay electricity bills on time, and support for the sale in four National-held areas at just 14%, people are ready to say no.
In mid-October, a community meeting in suburban Mortdale saw over 70 locals determined to fight back.
United Services Union General Secretary, Graeme Kelly told the meeting that job losses amongst the 13,000 NSW electricity workers would be enormous. ‘‘Why on earth would a government wish to sell an asset which brought in $1.7 billion last year and paid for thousands of teachers, nurses and cops?’’ he said. “This massive revenue stream is likely to end up in the hands of foreign corporations and governments.”
99 year lease is a con
Steve Butler, General Secretary of the Electrical Trades Union, described himself as “an old power line worker”, like his father and grandfather.
He said, “The infrastructure is an essential service, a strategic asset. It's not important; it's critical!”
He reckoned the $20 billion for a 99 year 'lease' would see a foreign multinational corporation taking profit offshore.
“In 99 years everyone in this room will be dead,” he said, calling it privatisation pure and simple. He debunked the government figures, saying it was relying on a delusional $5 billion in interest on a price of $13-15 billion, to be spent on non-profit-generating infrastructure.
“NSW has just spent $16 billion updating the electricity network,” he said. It's more than the expected price!
Job losses would be 'collateral damage', according to Mr Butler, with 80 per cent of jobs (8,000 in total) disappearing in the ten years after Victorian privatisation.
“NSW has the largest, most remote electricity network in the country, yet it's the cheapest,” Mr Kelly stated.
In Victoria prices rose 79% in ten years. A Consumer Action Law Centre report reveals that power companies are accused of advising some desperate customers to borrow from family and friends to pay off their bills and 77-year-old woman with a sick husband struggling to pay $1500 who was told to switch off the gas heater and rug up. (See http://stoptheselloff.org.au/chilling-reality-privatised-electricity-made-clear-victorian-experience/)
Mr Butler said not one apprentice has been trained in Victoria since privatisation. Additionally, safety has been compromised. The Inquiry into the Black Friday fires at Kinglake was scathing of the private electricity contractors. “$20 parts could have stopped some of the fires,” he said.
Corporate power behind the throne
Questions from the floor pointed to the culpability of previous ALP governments, derided for handing over assets to foreign corporations, despite bitter struggle. These corporations run the joint, the power behind shaky thrones, and are key.
The campaign to defeat the NSW Coalition in the March election will alert the public and derail the corporate agenda, but only temporarily. Keeping it off the tracks completely will be harder still, and require much more than manoeuvres at ALP conferences.
But for now, the fight will build on forces created through initial meetings.
“They don't want us to campaign,” Mr Butler said, pointing to new laws limiting how much union or related organisations could spend on political campaigning.
Mr Butler concluded, “We can't match the coin . The only way we can fight back are the arms and legs we can put on the ground.”
Power to the people
by Louisa L.
Oatley, a tiny Sydney suburb, more like a country town tucked in a bend of the Georges River, has an electricity depot with 30 engineers employed, of 500 statewide. Many of the local engineers backed a meeting in the neighbouring suburb of Mortdale to stop electricity privatisation.
Nick Gotsis, of Professionals Australia which represents engineers and other technical professionals, is convinced most of these jobs would go if poles and wires are privatised, saying the reduction in numbers would lead to greater stress and increased intensity workload.
He said outsourcing was already increasing, imposing cost savings “off the backs of the workers.”
Contractors, he stated, make mistakes, because they don't have expertise or local knowledge. Meanwhile boards lack engineers, and only focus on profits.
He expressed concern that while engineers currently plan for long term safety and reliability, “decreasing maintenance is a great way to reduce costs.”
“It's a rock solid network and it would be a tragedy to see it run down ... Our members are proud to have designed our (electricity) network ... They are community focussed and oppose privatisation.”
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