Usual suspects still not getting the message on privatisation

Tuesday 29 May 2018

The McGowan Government handed down its second budget this month and the biggest takeaway from the media was it was ‘boring’.

It was almost like they were disappointed in a lack of controversy or backflipping.

In fact, if you read some of the headlines, there was something in particular the journalists were pining for. The Australian Financial Review ran one headline worthy of a double take.

Treasurer Ben Wyatt stalls on assets sales as deficit slashed

Hang on. Say that again?

Treasurer Ben Wyatt has halved the budget deficit to $1.3 billion, less than five months after the Mid-Year Economic Review, but the Government is somehow stalling on a real solution?

Here’s a key except from Brad Thompson’s article:

“Premier Mark McGowan said forecast return to a $1.3 billion surplus in three years showed his government could stop debt growth without selling Western Power despite ongoing pressure from the Liberal Party and economic commentators, who estimate a partial sale could raise $10 billion.”

And there is the crux of the issue. The McGowan Government is getting on with budget repair without selling public assets.

They went to the 2017 State Election with a clear promise to not sell Western Power. And the people of WA emphatically rejected the privatisation of essential services as a real solution to WA’s record debt levels.

But “ongoing pressure from the Liberal Party and economic commentators” means you can’t go long without someone asking why they aren’t selling Western Power.

It’s almost impressive how much they want to ignore the message.

Western Australians have seen some other headlines lately that highlight the reality they’ve avoided by rejecting privatisation.

Energy companies investigated after allegedly overcharging by $400m to pay tax bills

Frydenberg asks energy regulator to probe electricity price-gouging claims

ACCC Chairman Rod Sims targets ‘enormous’ energy profits

Who would look at the mess that electricity is for the eastern states and say ‘sign me up’?

Last week saw things go from bad to bizarre. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been in the media arguing that the Federal Government should forcibly seize the Liddell power plant from AGL, a private corporation who wants to shut the plant down for not being profitable enough.

The plant supplies 10 per cent of NSW’s power. Clearly it’s an vital asset to the security of the NSW grid.

Perhaps Mr Abbott has come around to the reality of privatisation’s true cost?

Not a chance. He wants to then turn around and sell the plant to another private corporation.

His solution to the failures of privatisation is to use the power of the government to seize an asset, only to privatise it again.    

If at first you don’t succeed…

Western Australians know that the best way to avoid all of this nonsense and uncertainty is to keep a vital public asset in the hands of the public. They’re not easily fooled by a few talking heads in the media parroting for the ‘need’ to sell off assets.

If ‘boring’ means keeping a stable, secure electricity market working for WA, so be it.