Power play claims Debnam
May 13, 2008
THE former leader of the Opposition Peter Debnam has promised to vote against power privatisation if it comes to a vote in State Parliament, after quitting the Opposition front bench over the issue yesterday.
His move to the back bench follows the Opposition decision last week to give in-principle support to the State Government's plan to privatise the state-owned power industry.
The Opposition came under pressure from the Government to clarify its stand on the issue in question time last week. "If it is put to a vote I will vote against it," Mr Debnam said yesterday.
"There are people in Government and Opposition for privatisation; there are people opposing it."
Senior party figures, such as the former premier Nick Greiner, wanted the Liberal Party to take the issue of power industry privatisation to the last state election, but Mr Debnam, the then opposition leader, refused, pointing to the drubbing the party took on the issue in the 1999 election.
Labor would "take a hammering on the issue of privatisation" at the next state election, Mr Debnam said yesterday.
He returned from overseas last Wednesday, and was part of Opposition talks on power privatisation later that day and on Thursday, although Opposition sources said he kept his own counsel during those discussions.
"Peter Debnam is entitled to his view," said the Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell.
"When you are part of a team, you abide by the team decision."
After Mr Debnam quit the shadow cabinet, Michael Baird was appointed Opposition spokesman on energy, in addition to his role as finance spokesman. Brad Hazzard will add infrastructure to his role as planning spokesman.
Anthony Roberts is to join the shadow cabinet as spokesman for emergency services and juvenile justice, which maintains the factional balance.
Mr Debnam and Mr Roberts are both from the right. Mr Roberts, since his election to Parliament in 2003, has been a parliamentary secretary. Rob Stokes has been appointed parliamentary secretary for planning and infrastructure.
Mr Debnam led the Opposition to a disastrous defeat at the last election, suffering from a voter backlash against the federal government's Work Choices legislation. With Work Choices no longer an issue following a change of government, power privatisation is now dominating the political landscape.
The Treasurer, Michael Costa, had "introduced an enormous weight into the saddles of the ALP on the issue of [power] privatisation", Mr Debnam said.
"Both Morris Iemma and I reassured the community power wouldn't be privatised [at the last election]. Everything changed once the ballot box changed."
Mr Debnam is still believed to harbour leadership ambitions.