Electrical union leaders across the country have rejected outright calls by Australian Workers Union secretary Paul Howes for unions to embrace asset sales, saying past experience proves the move would be bad for consumers, workers and governments.
In an expansive essay, published today, Mr Howes claimed those opposed to the privatisation of assets were “reactionary”, “ideological” and stubbornly clinging to “sacred cows”, instead arguing that the union movement and the Labor Party should embrace asset sales and social privatisation.
Electrical Trades Union representatives from around the country have challenged those claims, saying the experiences of millions of Australians who have endured the sale of community assets over the past two decades have been negative, with higher prices, poorer services, and fewer jobs.
ETU national secretary Allen Hicks said the majority view of union members, as well as the Australian community, has consistently been that essential services are best owned by government.
“Our union has a long, consistent, principled position against the privatisation of essential services, and it is a position that has been reaffirmed time and again by our members across Australia,” Mr Hicks said.
“In our industry, we have experienced first hand the impact of electricity network sales in Victoria and South Australia.
“The results have been bad for consumers, with price increases and service reductions. Workers have been hit with cost-cutting and job losses. Governments have also lost long-term, sustainable income streams that previously funded things like schools and hospitals.
“South Australia now has the highest electricity prices in the country as a direct result of privatisation, while in Victoria 173 people lost their lives due to lack of maintenance on the privately owned electricity network causing the horrific Victorian Bushfires.
“Perhaps worst of all, the community no longer has a recourse at the ballot box when these sorts of problems occur, because private owners only have to answer to their shareholders.
“While some may have a vision about the benefits of ‘social privatisation’, experience around Australia tells us that selling off essential government-owned services always adversely impacts the community.”
ETU branches in NSW, Queensland and Victoria have also rejected the push.
ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said governments should be investing in income generating assets to build national wealth, not privatising them.
“It is unbelievable that foreign governments in China and Singapore see the value in investing in infrastructure such as electricity, ports and water to build wealth for their nations, but our own governments prefer to privatise them,” he said.
“When you sell an income generating asset, whether it’s to a super fund, foreign owner or a rich individual, what you are doing is making Australia and the Australian people poorer.
“Many public assets return stable and reliable financial dividends to government that help fund schools, hospitals and transport, as well as providing an asset base against which to borrow to fund other infrastructure.”
ETU Queensland and Northern Territory secretary Peter Simpson said current assets sales being undertaken by Coalition Governments across the country were short sighted and unsustainable.
“Right now we have a raft of Liberal National Governments undertaking a privatisation agenda across NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory,” he said.
“The problem is that once these assets are sold, the government loses a valuable long term income stream, creating a future funding crisis.
“The fact is, selling off public assets is short sighted and unsustainable.”
Mr Hicks said ETU members in Victoria experienced expensive privatisation during the Kennett era and saw first-hand the destruction of an industry.
“They saw the decimation of many regional communities as a direct result of the Victorian privatisation experiment,” Mr Hicks said.
“When Jeff Kennett privatised the electricity industry in Victoria, towns like Morwell and Gippsland were destroyed. Unemployment, marriage break-ups and suicides all sky-rocketed, while local economies in regional towns were decimated, not to mention the loss of valuable trainee and apprenticeships.
“On top of this, the private owners of the Victorian electricity networks were too busy chasing profits and less interested in doing necessary maintenance, ultimately resulting in the Victorian Bushfire disaster where thousands of people lost their homes and 173 people died.
“According to our Victorian members privatisation has been a disaster, and their advice to people in other states is that you must do everything in your power to stop this from happening in your own backyard.”