Thursday, March 13, 2008


ALP councils reject sale, but the power is still with Costa

Andrew West,smh

March 13, 2008

IN THE surest sign yet that Morris Iemma's bid to sell the state's electricity industry will be rejected at the ALP's conference in May, only one of the party's electorate councils has supported the privatisation, and it is controlled by staff of a Government minister.

Of the 140 branches and electorate councils that have submitted resolutions on privatisation, only the Kiama state electorate council on the South Coast has endorsed it.

However, despite the overwhelming rank-and-file distaste for the privatisation, the Premier and the Treasurer, Michael Costa, have made it clear they will press ahead.

The Minister for Housing and Tourism, Matt Brown, who holds the seat of Kiama, has confirmed that two of his personal staff serve on the electorate council.

A confidential report obtained by the Herald of the ALP's finance and economic committee, which is compiling submissions from party branches before the conference, said the Kiama council was outnumbered by 139 party organisations demanding that power generators and retailers stay in public ownership. ALP branch leaders say overwhelming opposition to the sale among members signals that the Government's attempt to push privatisation through the conference is doomed.

Representatives of branches and electorate councils make up half the delegates at the state conference. The other delegates come from unions and the state and federal parliamentary Labor caucuses.

Key right-wing unions, such as the Electrical Trades Union and the United Services Union, along with left-wing unions, have pledged to use their conference delegates to vote down the privatisation proposal.

Robyn Fortescue, a vice-president of the ALP's Darlington branch and the organiser of a recent 300-strong protest meeting against privatisation, predicted the Premier and the Treasurer would be humiliated by the conference showdown.

"This will be very damaging to Iemma if he stays on this course," she told the Herald. "If they don't get the message from Labor Party members, who put them in their jobs in the first place, I don't know what will."

The Unions NSW assistant secretary, Matt Thistlethwaite, said the finance and economic committee report, reflecting hostile branch sentiment, had sealed the fate of the privatisation attempt.

"If both halves of the conference - unions and rank-and-filers - are against this, it's almost certain to go down in May," he said. "The Premier and Treasurer should just back off."

Last night Mr Iemma was standing firm against his own party.

His spokeswoman, Alison Hill, said: "The Premier remains committed to the Government's plan to secure NSW electricity supplies. To suggest only one party branch or SEC has voted in favour of the plan is just plain wrong.

"The Premier has attended a number of branch meetings, as have ministers and MPs, where party members support the plan." But she did not indicate how many branches and councils supported the plan.

A Kiama branch member, who asked not to be named, said only two of the five branches affiliated to the state electorate council had supported the privatisation proposal, but that Mr Brown's staffers "had rammed the motion through".