Privatisation is a game the whole political and media elite can play

With the New South Wales election less than a month away and news that Serco is offering “advice” on the best way to privatise everything, Murdoch’s Australian today explains what may happen post 26 March. And note how conservatives use the word “reform” when they really mean sack public workers for “efficiency”:

NSW Liberals leader Barry O’Farrell, the man most likely to be the state’s next premier, insists privatisation is not in his party’s genes.

Asked on radio last week about the propensity for Liberal governments to sell electricity assets — it was the measure undertaken by Jeff Kennett in Victoria and John Olsen in South Australia — O’Farrell wasn’t budging. “I don’t believe that privatisation is Liberal Party DNA,” he insisted.

Wanting to stick to his “small-target” strategy in the lead-up to the March 26 elections, O’Farrell is treating the topic of a new wave of privatisation as a no-go zone.

Voters are sceptical of selling state-owned assets after the scandals that surrounded the state’s half-baked power privatisation.

And it was, after all, O’Farrell who scuttled Morris Iemma’s 2008 plans for long-term leases on NSW electricity generators by voting down the plan in parliament, even though he alienated the state’s business community, which felt that he had abandoned his party’s core commitment to free enterprise.

But investment bankers — anticipating a review after the election — are already running the ruler over a slew of state-owned assets.

These include the Sydney metropolitan container port, other port authorities, the state’s plantation forests, remaining electricity assets and other government businesses such as the buses and train lines.

“The ports are being speculated on, forests are being speculated on,” says a senior banker, who declined to be named.

So far, O’Farrell and shadow treasurer Mike Baird have been ultra-cautious in terms of privatisation or other reforms.

“I get the impression Barry O’Farrell is incredibly conservative compared to the rest of his team. There are people there who could see this as an opportunity for fundamental reform but whether that is going to happen or not is a big question,” one banker says.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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