Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Thirst for Power

The sale of New South Wales' power assets by the Labor government is, to say the least puzzling. The way in which it has been handled is even stranger, especially in light of present circumstances.

I think it is safe to assume that Labor as a whole has given up on any sort of meaningful victory on 26 March and is firmly focussed on preventing an absolute annihilation. If they manage to avoid an awful result then there is a chance of winning government back in 4 years time.

Given that, it seems incredibly odd that the government is rushing through the sale of these power assets at this time. It's more than a little hard to work out what they are trying to achieve.

The sale was always going to be unpopular. We all remember the chaos in 2008 when Costa and Iemma tried to force the sale through.

So, what are Labor doing? We know they expected trouble - that's why Keneally prorogued parliament on 22 December 2010.

Now the Upper House's report into the sale has come down more than a month before the election, and suffice to say it delivers a massive slap to the Labor government.

According to Rev Fred Nile, who chaired the committee, NSW could expect to receive, instead of the $5.3 billion figure that has been bandied about, only $600 to $700 million. The value for money is so bad that the report recommends that parts of the contract be rescinded to "allow the incoming government to reassess the future of the electricity industry in NSW."

The deal is due to be finalised on 1 March, exactly 3 days before the caretaker provisions kick in.

There can be little doubt that this deal will be raked over incessantly by the Coalition, and the media will quite rightly continue to write story after story about it - hammering home the perception that Labor are too stupid or too corrupt to run a state properly.

So, I come back to my original point - what are Labor playing at?

One theory is that perhaps there is some vested interest they are seeking to fulfil - a donor to satisfy. I've heard no such suggestion, and i presume that if some of the major players were donors we would have heard all about it.

Another theory is that Roozendaal is seeking to improve his chances of a cushy private sector job after the election. He qualifies for the parliamentary pension on 24 June 2011 and many expect him to quit not long after. Perhaps he sees completing this sale as a audition of sorts for the private sector.

On the other hand, maybe it's legacy. Someone near the top of NSW Labor sees this sale as being good for NSW and wants to make this sale the good thing that this government is remembered for.

Finally, maybe the idea is to give Labor the opportunity to attack O'Farrell on his prevarication about further privatisation - making the sale starts the conversation, and any time O'Farrell attacks on this point it reminds people that a Coalition government will probably sell of further assets. That said, it is difficult to see why it why it was necessary to make this sale to start that conversation.

When it's looked at holistically, it is very difficult to see how pushing this sale through has in any way improved Labor's position with the electorate. The unions are upset because they foresee job losses. The public have seen Labor mess up yet another major project. And O'Farrell has yet another bat to whack Labor around the head with (as if he needed another).

And all for what gain exactly? When the sale could simply have been delayed and left to O'Farrell to sort out?

It's all awfully odd.

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