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Newcastle: campaign against electricity network privatisation targets Liberal MP’s Craig Baumann and Tim Owen with major billboard

Jun 4, 2013

Local Liberal Party MP’s Craig Baumann and Tim Owen are being urged to publicly reject any plans to sell the electricity poles and wires, with a prominent billboard installed this week highlighting the negative impacts that privatisation would have on the Newcastle region.

The billboard — near the corner of the Pacific Highway and Industrial Drive, Warrabrook — is being funded by electricity industry unions as part of a $1.5 million dollar community campaign highlighting the reduction in services, loss of jobs and increased power prices if the electricity network monopoly is sold.

The sale of the poles and wires was one of the key recommendations of the NSW Commission of Audit, carried out by the O’Farrell Government, and is currently being examined in detail as the NSW Government presses ahead with a secret report into how the network privatisation transaction might take place (recommendation 75 of NSW Commission of Audit).

“Earlier this year, NSW Treasurer Mike Baird let the cat out of the bag, admitting the State Government was examining the sale of the electricity network as a way to plug a budget black hole and provide cash for promised infrastructure spending,” Unions NSW deputy assistant secretary Adam Kerslake said

“Meanwhile, the Premier has claimed there is “no plan” to sell, despite his government continuing to working on a report that outlines exactly how the privatisation of the electricity poles and wires would go ahead.

“That’s why we are campaigning in Newcastle and calling on Craig Baumann and Tim Owen to tell the public if they support the sale of this essential service, or whether they will stand in the party room and oppose electricity privatisation.”

“We don’t want to hear that the Government has “No Plans” to sell the poles and wires because governments change their plans, we want it categorically ruled out and their personal position stated on the record.” Mr Kerslake said.

Electrical Trades Union NSW secretary Steve Butler said the reason unions were so confident the sale would be bad for consumers was because electricity privatisation failed to deliver benefits for communities where it has already been sold off.

“Victoria and South Australia both sold their monopoly electricity networks to foreign companies in the 1990s,” Mr Butler said.

“The public was told that private ownership would lead to lower prices for consumers but history has proved this theory wrong with consumers paying more for electricity while suffering poorer reliability.

“South Australia has the highest power prices in the country, while in Victoria, the Bushfire Royal Commission found several of the deadly Black Saturday blazes were likely to have been caused by a lack of maintenance on the electricity network by the private foreign owner.”

United Services Union general secretary Graeme Kelly said the community and union campaign was about ensuring people right across NSW had their voices heard by the Government.

“There has been no discussion about the negative impacts that electricity privatisation will have on prices, maintenance, service delivery and employment — all of which will be felt most severely in places like Newcastle and the Hunter Valley,” Mr Kelly said.

“This community union campaign is about rectifying that.”

Public Service Association general secretary Anne Gardiner said polling earlier this year had shown the local community was overwhelmingly against a sale, but their voices weren’t being listened to by MP’s.

“We see time and time again Liberal and National Party MPs having one position in their electorate and then travelling to Sydney to supporting something totally different,” Ms Gardiner said.

Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia senior industrial officer Gordon Brock said it was essential that local MPs were honest with their communities and publicly outlined where they stood on the issue of power privatisation.

“It’s a simple question that deserves a simple answer, the public has a right to know what their local MP’s position is on an important issue such electricity privatisation, after all these two men voted to sell off power stations in the Hunter Valley,” Mr Brock said.

“Craig Baumann and Tim Owen must come clean and tell the people of Port Stephens and Newcastle exactly where they stand on this issue.

“It’s time to tell the community if they will support the sale of the electricity network, or will they stand up and fight against it?”