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21/2/2003 - sale of NSW electricity assets by NSW ALP after 2003 election?

Carr & Egan electricity industry sell off, $450million green fund in 2003? - deja vu October 1997?

By Tom McLoughlin, ecology action sydney, member Australian Services Union, 21st February 2003

 If the Carr ALP government is re-elected in late March 2003 it seems likely they will re-consider the sell off of public electricity assets, especially given the pressure on the NSW budget in health, education and industrial relations.

 The sell off was promoted by the Carr Govt, and specifically then Treasurer Egan at the annual conference of the NSW Nature Conservation Council in 1997. Brought in and introduced to the conference by Jeff Angel a prominent environmentalist, Michael Egan Treasurer of NSW was an unusual figure at a fairly low brow environmental meeting. That is to say it was important to grassroots green groups but Egan's presence foretold a greater political significance.

 Some context. In the second half of 1997 Carr's Cabinet wrestled with and split over a sell off. It went to the state ALP annual conference and the issue was finely balanced. Several billion dollars in revenue was at stake. Every point of leverage would be useful to sway the argument and the environment movement was not immune as part of the political community of NSW.

Green groups broke for and against, both publicly and behind the scenes. Friends of the Earth Sydney consistent with its opposition to the Telstra sell off were opposed.  The NSW Green Party were opposed. Jeff Angel reported to this writer that as he and other leading environmentalists were in the reception waiting room of the Premier's office for another matter senior policy advisers stopped for a chat. They mentioned a $450 million NSW green heritage fund would be part of a sell off package, similar to politically successful Natural Heritage Fund at federal level.

This writer cannot recall this proposed huge new NSW green fund ever being made public. If the fund was established the administrative and grant opportunities for those closest to the Carr govt would catapult the particular individuals and green groups to new heights of resourcing and status.

Around October 1997 this writer undertook 3 important activities in co-operation with others which helped effectively shut down any support by the environment movement in NSW for sell off of public electricity assets.  (This was apart from the maelstrom of debate in the labour movement and the mainstream media.)

These actions were,

1. Distribution of two substantial analytical academic articles considering the experience in the UK, and comparing the experience in Victoria of privatisation of public electricity assets. These articles reported in clear language adverse social, environmental (including greenhouse) and financial consequences. These key articles were,

'Lights out on mean street' by Chris Barrie The Guardian Weekly Jan 5th 1997, reprinted in Third Opinion alternative energy journal 1997.

'Victoria v New South Wales/The power to choose' part two by Claire Gerson in Third Opinion Autumn 1996 at page 3

The distribution of these articles were to highly sensitive destinations,

A. Under the door of every member of the NSW Parliament in the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council many of whom were wavering in their position. (This unofficial practice has now been banned by the government.)

B. To the 1997 annual conference of the NSW Nature Conservation Council where Treasurer Egan spoke to present the Carr government's alleged green credentials.

2. There was also distribution of leaflets summarising the above academic criticisms on the steps of Sydney Town Hall in 1997 to those attending the NSW ALP annual conference, many of whom were wavering in their position.

There were other notable contributions to stiffen opposition of the community sector including a report by climate change campaigner Deitrich Willing entitled 'Privatise the Electricity Industry?' which was praised by the relevant project officer of Public Interest Advocacy Centre at the time.

Will the Carr govt re-elected with a similar majority position in NSW Parliament seek to sell off NSW electricity assets again? It was Paul Keating a contemporary and fellow traveller of Premier Bob Carr who said in his inimitable style, 'never stand between a Premier and a bucket of money'. On this advice sell off of NSW public electricity assets would have to be high on the list of a re-elected Treasurer Michael Egan and Premier Bob Carr.

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