Thursday, May 31, 2012


The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE [9.03 p.m.]: I make a contribution to debate on the Electricity Generator Assets (Authorised Transactions) Bill 2012. My comments will reflect some of the views already stated and will clarify some of the points that need to be reiterated. I opposed the privatisation of electricity assets when the former Labor Government proposed it and I do the same now that the O'Farrell Government has proposed it. On 28 January last year Premier Barry O'Farrell promised to keep the State's electricity generators in public hands. Today we are set to see the ultimate betrayal by the Premier. Premier O'Farrell's plan to sell off the State's electricity assets will send electricity bills soaring for families that are already struggling with the rising cost of living.

Families across New South Wales are already having difficulty meeting the rising cost of heating their homes and Premier O'Farrell's broken promise on electricity privatisation will only make things worse. For example, in South Australia electricity prices increased by more than 30 per cent following privatisation. The O'Farrell Government has already passed on an 18 per cent increase in household electricity bills and New South Wales families cannot take another huge price rise. Premier O'Farrell promised to do everything in his power to reduce the cost of living for families, but there is nothing in this bill to protect families from huge electricity price hikes. If Premier O'Farrell had any idea about the cost of living pressures that New South Wales families are already under, he would keep his election promise and dump this bill.

Contrary to some of the other views that have been expressed, I do not blame the Shooters and Fishers Party for this bill. I do not blame the Christian Democratic Party either. I disagree with many of their policies, but this bill is not theirs. It belongs to the Liberal Party and The Nationals in New South Wales. They own it and they should, and will, continue to own its ramifications for many years into the future. This bill is about trust, honesty and integrity—more accurately, it is about the Government's lack of any of these qualities.

Premier Barry O'Farrell went to the last election promising to raise the bar on ministerial standards and accountability. He promised that he had, "Absolutely no plans to privatise the State's electricity generators". And yet today the O'Farrell Government has this bill to sell off the State's publicly owned electricity generators. Just weeks before the election the then Opposition leader, Barry O'Farrell, made a solemn commitment not to privatise electricity. This has been quoted on a number of occasions this evening, and I will quote it again:

We have absolutely no plans to privatise either the generators or the poles and wires.

That was a statement by Barry O'Farrell in the Lithgow Mercury on 28 January 2011. In Government the Premier has turned his back on his promise and is selling off our publicly owned electricity generators. He is breaking the five conditions on electricity privatisation set down by the Coalition in 2008. The Coalition described these conditions as being fundamental to protecting the public interest. Without going through them at length, I will reiterate what those five conditions are. The first condition states:

All sale and/or lease arrangements be subject to the Auditor-General reporting to Parliament before finalisation of the sale or lease. These arrangements would include, but would not be limited to:

Timing and price; conditions for workers, pensioners and low income earners; and price guarantees for consumers.

But Premier O'Farrell has made no commitment for the sale of the State's generators to be subject to an Auditor-General's review or to parliamentary debate before the transaction is finalised. The second condition states:

Completion, release and adoption of a rural communities impact statement focusing on, among other issues, jobs, prices and service levels.

However, no rural community impact statement has been released for debate on how this privatisation of electricity generators will affect jobs, prices and service levels in rural New South Wales.

The third condition states:

Establishment of an independent oversight body comprising the Auditor-General, a community representative and a financial expert to monitor the use of funds realised from the sale.

What happens in reality? Of course, the funds are proposed to go into the Restart NSW Fund, with amounts being released on a discretionary basis by the Treasurer with no community representation. The fourth condition states in part:

... establishment of a parliamentary oversight committee to guarantee delivery of improvements in clean, green and renewable energy investment resulting from the sale.

What is the reality? No oversight committee has been proposed or established to ensure any proceeds from an asset sale are used to promote green and renewable energy. The fifth condition states:

Retention of the so-called poles and wires businesses in public ownership, and appropriate safety nets for pensioners, low-income families and employees as determined by the Auditor-General.

Once again, what is the reality? This sale has no protection or safety net, no guarantee about the retention of poles and wires in public ownership, no safeguards against price rises for pensioners, no safety net for household and family electricity bills, and no protection for low-income families.


Given the interjections from members opposite it is obvious that this is stinging. I apologise for that. However, as I said, this is the Government's bill and members opposite will have to wear it for years to come. It is very distressing to me that this is causing concern opposite. As the Hon. Mick Veitch said, many members of The Nationals are obviously concerned about this legislation, and it is obvious from what we are hearing from the Hon. Dr Peter Phelps that even he is concerned about what will happen. The Opposition's major concern is that this will not end here. Premier Barry O'Farrell is reportedly planning to go even further with his electricity asset sales plans. The Daily Telegraph of 30 November 2011 stated:

Mr O'Farrell's office was quietly briefing an angry business community that the Government would go with a plan to sell the poles and wires at the next election—2015.

Premier Barry O'Farrell has broken his promise not to sell off the State's electricity generators. He has thrown away his own guidelines for the sale of any public electricity assets. He said that those guidelines would promote trust in government and that they were fundamental to protecting the public interest. He intends to go further with plans for full privatisation. I oppose this bill.