As the Queensland state election mercifully approaches at a fast pace, one of the most significant clarifications that has come from the assets “sell-off” has been from both parties admitting, that the assets are a revenue stream for government approaching two billion dollars a year.
This is not payment for service or anything other than dividends from state owned corporations. Now, if one is to believe the political argument, utilities should not be provided by government and is best left to private enterprise due to their “proven efficiencies”.
The problem with this is that the task of distributing electricity throughout the state can only be efficiently carried out by a monopoly, no one would want or expect to see three or four sets of cables running down a street only to supply specific customers. No-one in our cities expected or wanted duplicate sets of Cable TV wires running down their street, but they got them regardless – these are now about to become redundant to all but a few people as the government spends billions adding another cable to achieve a near equivalent outcome.
The privatization of Telstra and the opening up of telecommunications to competition worked for only one reason, wireless technology. Without the roll out of cheap mobile telephony, costs would have soared for phone services post competition, even now one of the greatest consumer cons still remains under exposed, that is the conversion of quarterly bills to monthly bills, for all customers it is the sneaky way to add 20% increases overnight without being noticed.
In order for Australia, with it’s massive geographical diversity to efficiently provide utilities and services under an egalitarian model, the ownership and stewardship must remain with the government, history makes this abundantly clear. What the Newman government is proposing, is to cash-in the projected dividends from these state owned businesses in order to reduce the state’s debt and to build for the future.
How can it be possible that the revenue stream that is earned by was is essentially overcharging for a government supplied utility, can be sold off to a private entity. Is it not clear that this “overcharging” is not straight out taxation? Governments, state and federal have colluded over many years to corporatize essential services, essentially removing them from direct public ownership. Then they have devised overarching legislation that legitimizes the over-charging by these utilities through “National Market Legislation” and a host of other “arms-length” regulators that are in place specifically to tax by stealth an unwary population.
John Howard took great pride in squirrelling away fourty-billion dollars in the last years of his government’s dream run, at the same time, starved state governments got into a borrowing frenzy based on the promise of ever increasing income from the incredible growth tax, the GST. With no growth and no inflation, GST has not only failed to provide for today’s costs, but is well short of what is required to meet the debts that it was supposed to quickly pay off.
If Campbell Newman can off-load the coal generators for anything, let them go. Energex, Ergon and Powerlink must remain in public hands and must transform from distributors to facilitators. Private ownership of a true monopoly network may not translate instantly to higher prices, but will certainly disable any public interest from what should be a complete transformation of the network as we know it. Not to mention that it is not right for private companies to have “Taxation rights”.
Rob Campbell is CEO of Vulcan Energy