"The Commission’s claim that it is too costly to preference the development of domestic industry over imports is completely at odds with contemporary reality and recent experience. These are no ordinary economic times, Australia and the world are going through an industrial revolution as we fundamentally restructure how our societies are powered. Yet the Commission seem to think that it’s just business as usual."
The Electrical Trades Union is calling for an independent review of the entire National Electricity Market (NEM) following the Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO) unprecedented decision to take over national energy supplies. AEMO has announced it will set administered prices for wholesale power in all regions of the market and take control of all generation plants to ensure the lights don’t go out for businesses and households.
The Electrical Trades Union has slammed a recent report by the Grattan Institute as little more than an opportunistic call to sell-off Australia’s essential electricity assets to its corporate mates. ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks described the report as lacking integrity and avoiding the real cost drivers in Australia’s energy system. He also drew attention to the numerous fires started by electrical infrastructure faults. This is a matter that preoccupies us at candobetter.net as we see more and more bush cleared, wildlife lose habitat, and all the while most fires are started by humans and electrical faults. The Victorian Bushfire Commission has institutionalised this cruel absurdity.
“When it comes to issues with price and reliability, Australia’s broken energy laws coupled with decades of privatisation are the real culprits,” Mr Hicks said. “This cherry-picked report fails to critically assess the role these two issues have played in driving up Australians’ power bills.”
The Grattan Institute’s assessment that states should dramatically write-down the value of their electrical networks or privatise the remaining state-owned assets is riddled with inaccuracies, Mr Hicks added.
“The Grattan Institute is living in an academic dystopia, claiming our poles and wires are rolled in solid gold while consumers live through the reality of maintenance cuts, meaning more frequent and longer power outages,” he said.
“A lack of federal leadership has meant we are constantly seeing our broader energy network fail under immense strain. Victorians watch nervously, hoping there won’t be repeat of Black Saturday. In NSW farmers see rotten poles collapsing and sparking blazes. And the people of Darwin suffer as staffing cuts see their restoration times grow ever longer.
“Barely 12 months ago, the Grattan Institute released a report condemning the privatised energy retailers’ role in driving prices up. Now they can’t decide if privatisation is the failure or the saviour.”
In the wake of another devastating bushfire on the NSW South Coast town of Tathra last week – that appears to have been sparked by an electrical fault – suggesting that networks are overvalued is complete nonsense.
“The Grattan report suggests Victoria set the standard for network privatisation but the dangerous degradation of poles and wires in that state proves otherwise,” Mr Hicks said.
“We’re now nine years on from Victoria’s devastating Black Saturday bushfire that claimed 173 lives, left more than 400 people injured and destroyed 2029 homes. That fire came 13 years after privatisation. But nearly a decade on from Black Saturday, a recent report from Energy Safe Victoria shows many of the royal commission’s recommendations to prevent a repeat of the blaze are yet to be addressed.
“The poles and wires across the state of Victoria are plagued with dangerous problems. In a period from October 2015 to July 2017 faults in poles and wires were found to be the cause of 252 fires. That’s about 11 blazes sparked each month by ailing infrastructure that is supposed to be maintained by private operators.
“The Electrical Trades Union firmly believes power can and should be cheaper. History has proven it won’t come through privatisation and it cannot come from cutting costs on network investment and maintenance.”
Research: Electrically caused wildfires in Victoria, Australia are over-represented when fire danger is elevated
In Claire Miller et al, "Electrically caused wildfires in Victoria, Australia are over-represented when fire danger is elevated, Landscape and Urban Planning, Volume 167, November 2017, Pages 267-274, " the research:
• Compares occurrence of fires in elevated fire danger conditions from different causes across the state of Victoria, Australia.
• Fires caused by faults in electricity distribution infrastructure are more prevalent at elevated fire dangers.
• Fires caused by electricity infrastructure burn larger areas, on average, than those from all other causes, except lightning.
Electricity distribution infrastructure causes fewer wildfires than most other sources of ignition. However, these fires have been associated with more severe consequences than those from other causes. This paper examines whether fires caused by faults in electricity distribution infrastructure occur more often during periods of elevated fire danger, thereby increasing their consequence. The occurrence of wildfires caused by electricity distribution infrastructure were compared to those attributed to other causes during periods of elevated fire danger across the State of Victoria, Australia, where historically such fires have had significant impact on lives and assets of value. The results provided strong evidence that fires caused by electrical faults are more prevalent during elevated fire danger conditions and that they burn larger areas than fires ignited by most other causes. As a result the consequences of fires caused by electricity infrastructure are worse than fires from other causes. This knowledge highlights the importance of mitigating ignition-causing faults in the electricity network, particularly on days of elevated fire danger.
Updates, 2 May 10: Branch secretary claims ETU misrepresented by article and my #appendix2">response and a further response by Tony Reeves; #appendix4">Motion carried unanimously by meeting of AMWU members in Redbank Railway workshops in June 2009 calling for industrial action to defeat privatisation.
On Saturday 10 April, I attended a talk hosted by the Search Foundation about privatisation and, in particular the Bligh Government's $15 billion fire sale of assets. The speakers included Professor John Quiggin who owns the forum discussion site johnqiggin.com, Mark Bahnisch, who owns the forum discussion site, larvatusprodeo.net and Peter Simpson, Queensland Secretary of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), which was an avowedly hard-line anti-privatisation union.
ETU State Branch secretary gives disappointing prognosis, but discussion inadequate
During his talk, to my dismay, Peter Simpson revealed that the Electrical Trades Union now considered the prospects of defeating the Bligh Government's privatisation program to be very remote. In this he confirmed my worst expectations that the union movement's opposition to privatisation was not strongly held.
I hotly disputed Peter Simpson's assertion that the fight had been lost, several times, from the floor.
I conveyed my opinion that the overwhelming public opposition to the fire sale, the expressed willingness of many rank and file unionists in the affected industries to fight the fire sale with industrial action and the expressed willingness of the public to support such industrial action, gave every reason to hope that even if the ETU and the other purportedly anti-privatisation unions were to call membership meetings to launch industrial action against privatisation, such a campaign could succeed with relative ease, even at this late stage.
these ever intended by our union officials to be more than
The familiar justification for the unions' refusal to take industrial action was put by the ETU State Secretary as well as others in agreement with him at that forum. That justification was that industrial action was likely to be in contravention of laws and would result in union leaders and members incurring fines in the order of tens of thousands of dollars. Peter Simpson also claimed that, whilst some pockets of the ETU membership wanted to take industrial action against privatisation, most did not.
To the latter point I tried to ask if the ETU had ever called meetings of its membership so that the privatisation matter could be discussed and decided upon democratically, but the afternoon tea break intervened. By the time the discussion resumed, Peter Simpson had left.
In explaining his rationale for pronouncing defeat, Simpson raised the question of the Beattie Government's privatisation of Energex and Ergon in 2006. These were the retail arms of Queensland's publicly-owned electricity utilities. Simpson said that something should have been done back then, but it was too late now.
It is my own recollection of the time that no Queensland trade union, including the ETU, uttered a word in protest. Nor did they lift a finger to prevent any of the other Beattie Government privatisations: The SGIO (1998), TAB (1999), the Dalrymple Bay coal loader (2001), The Golden Casket lottery agency (2007), Mackay and Cairns and Brisbane airports (2008-2009) (See #appendix1">Appendix 1).
For a brief few months after Fraser and Bligh announced the $15 billion fire sale in May 2009, it seemed that some union leaders had finally seen the light and were seriously resolved to defeat privatisation, but Peter Simpson's words at that forum made that hope seem misplaced.
A perspective which needs wider dissemination
The next week I attempted to make this post to two political forums: John Quiggin's site and Mark Bahnisch's, where each had written an article about the Privatisation talk hosted by the Search Foundation, described above. It was published on John Quiggin's site but not on Mark Bahnisch's. Although Mark Bahnisch personally assured me when I approached him at the forum on 10 April that he had no objections to me contributing my comments to Larvatus Prodeo and although, in addition, I have since received an encouraging e-mail from Mark Bahnisch, my post has still not appeared on his site.
The reason I am publishing my comment here also is that I believe that the perspective it reveals should be widely disseminated. Here is what I #comment-259830">posted to johnquiggin.com:
What you can do: If you are a member of a union affected by privatisation, particularly a member of the ETU, contact your union and demand that meetings be called so that this question be decided democratically by the membership.
See also: "If the unions get off their knees, privatisation can be stopped!" of 4 May 10, Queensland Not For Sale - the Qld Council of Union's anti-privatisation web site, #comment-259830">"Time for the B team" of 11 Apr 10 on johnquiggin.com and "Explaining Bligh’s privatisation push: Search Foundation forum" also of 11 Apr 10 on larvatusprodeo.net
#appendix1" id="appendix1">Appendix: Published Letter of 25 April 2006 opposed to Beattie Government's planned sale of Ergon and Energex
My comment: None of the Trade Union Movement including the avowedly hard-line anti-privatisation Electrical Trades Union raised their voices in opposition to the sale.
The predictable outcome, completely contrary to Premier Peter Beattie's assurances was massive hikes in electricity charges, partly to pay for price gouging by private corporations and partly to pay for the duplication entailed in setting up the supposedly competitive framework.
In spite of this disastrous outcome, the entire Queensland Trade Union movement looked the other way as Beattie and his successor Anna Bligh, proceeded, in subsequent years, to sell off the Golden Casket lottery agency and Mackay, Cairns and Brisbane airports and to make obvious preparations to sell off Queensland Rail even prior to the 2009 elections.
#appendix2" id="appendix2">Appendix 2: ETU Branch Secretary Peter Simpson's response and my further response
Re: Your feedback sought on my blog article concerning union movement's apparent surrender over privatisation Date: Friday 04:12:46 pm From: Peter Simpson To: James Sinnamon As usual james you have misrepresented our position. I sometimes wonder whose side you are on Cheers Peter
Re: Your feedback sought on my blog article concerning union movement's apparent surrender over privatisation Date: 1 May 2008 02:55:36 am From: James Sinnamon To: Peter Simpson Dear Peter Simpson, Firstly, thanks for your response. Even though it is very brief I would still like to append it to my article with your permission. I would also be happen to append to my article any more detailed comments you would care to make in response to my article. And I would also be happy to provide links to any ETU material which could demonstrate where my assessment is wrong. Please see below for my responses: On Fri, 30 Apr 2010, Peter Simpson wrote: > Re: Your feedback sought on my blog article concerning union movement's > apparent surrender over privatisation Date: Yesterday 04:12:46 pm > From: Peter Simpson > To: James Sinnamon > > As usual james you have misrepresented our position. ... Could I ask: what do you mean, "as usual"? I don't recall where you have even once before, acknowledged or responded to my views on the campaign's tactics, (that is other than when you expressed your disagreement with my online petition calling for new state elections in which I made no direct reference to the ETU). If I had been misrepresenting the position of the ETU for the last 10 months I would have appreciated being told before now that I had. > ... I sometimes wonder whose side you are on. I can assure you, that from the bottom of my heart I am disgusted with the thieves and their glove puppets in State Parliament, who are preparing to plunder the assets that rightly belong to to the people of Queensland against their explicitly stated opposition and would do anything I could to stop them. I can also assure you that when and if the ETU and the other avowedly hard-line anti-privatisation unions ever stand up to this Quisling state Government to prevent privatisation, then I will be right behind you as will the overwhelming majority of the Queensland public. > Cheers > > Peter Yours sincerely, James Sinnamon
Re: Your feedback sought on my blog article concerning union movement's apparent surrender over privatisation Date: Today 04:30:35 pm From: Tony Reeves To: Peter Simpson CC: James Sinnamon, ... Comrades, In all the many years I have been proud to call myself a socialist, I have been dismayed so many times that some people who claim they are on the Left find it easier (more fun?) to attack comrades of the Left I don't know where James got the material for his blog (as Peter said, maybe we are in a parallel universe to him) but despite the inaccuracy of his allegations, why does he attack one of the few people in the ALP and union movement who has done more than any others to fight against the privatisation. Is it the old story, that people masquerade on the Left merely to try to cause damage to the effective campaigners? Shame, James S. What have YOU done to stop the asset sales, other than wrongly criticise a person who has worked (and continues to do so) against this anti-ALP program? I continue to support Simmo as I believe he is one of the most effective voices in this campaign. We have no guarantee of victory, and seriously, if the ETU stopped all its members from working (for how long, James?) it would not make a whit of difference to the arrogant drivers of this shameful policy. I am happy to share with anyone reports on some of my own activities in the campaign. All my efforts have been targeted against the perpetrators of the privatisation, none against those who are fighting against it. Best regards Tony Reeves
#appendix3" id="appendix3">Appendix 3: Leaflet handed out on at Labor Party State conference on 14 June 2009
Don't get angry, get even:
How privatisation can be stopped
In what sort of 'democracy' can the clear wishes of the public be repeatedly ignored as they have by the Queensland 'Labor' Government since 1998?
Since Labor won office the following assets have been sold:
- The SGIO (1998);
- The Totalisator Agency Board (TAB) (1999);
- The Dalrymple Bay coal loader (2001);
- The retail arms of the Energex and Ergon electricity companies (2006);
- The Golden Casket state lottery agency (2007);
- Cairns, Mackay and Brisbane airports(2008);
Except where Peter Beattie broke his election promise to retain half ownership of the the SGIO (State Government Insurance Office, now known as SunCorp) the public were never consulted. In the 2009 state elections, Queenslanders were once again denied their democratic right to decide the issue of privatisation by Anna Bligh's silence.
Public outcry against privatisation ignored
In recent weeks, the Queensland public has resoundingly rejected privatisation in letters to the editor, on talkback radio and online forums. 91% of respondents to a poll run by the Courier Mail answered 'no' the question "Should public assets be sold to balance the budget?'. Workers, threatened by privatisation, have protested, some even going on strike. Anna Bligh has disregarded this outcry and, instead, obstinately pushed ahead, stating her intention to ignore the State Labor Party Conference should the vote go against privatisation.
Why privatisation can be stopped
Anna Bligh is not (yet) the ruler of a police state and can be stopped. However, for this to happen, we must be every bit as determined as she is. Many unionists and ordinary members of that public have shown that they have that determination:
"It is clear that successive Labor governments since Goss have grossly mismanaged this State's finances. It has no mandate to sell State Assets, The Government holds these as trustees for the people of Qld. It is time for The People; nearly 50% of whom did NOT vote for Labor to take to the streets and, dare I say it, support the Unions in their fight against this corrupt Labor Government."
"I hope you can sleep at night Ms Bligh and Co. as people that will be effected by this won't. And if the unions don't oppose this they will be doomed as well."
"... these assets belong to the QLD public and she has no right to sell any of them. Money hungry private sector companies will snap up our assets and then make us pay dearly. The unions need to try everything in their powers to stop these sales and as a GOC worker I will be more then happy to strike over this." (from comments posted to a Courier Mail online reader's comments page.)
"I'm not a union man, but if they are seriously planning to stop privatisation, they
have my support."
A prolonged campaign ...
Clearly many are looking to the unions to act decisively against the privatisation threat, yet, instead, some union officials are talking of a drawn out industrial campaign that could last up to two years.
This is insane!
If the union movement cannot win public support now, then when can we ever hope to win? If decisive action is not taken early and, instead, the industrial campaign is drawn out, this will surely only make our fight harder.
If the privatisation legislation is carried by Parliament and the the Government has entered contracts with private companies, financial advisers, investment brokers, banks, etc, are we more or less likely to change the Government's mind with industrial action?
And how are we expected to maintain our drive and enthusiasm for two years?
... or decisive action now?
In fact, it should be possible to win the fight against privatisation without a single union member needing to down a tool for even an hour.
The Queensland Union movement could deliver to the Government a simple ultimatum:
Either (A) withdraw completely the privatisation legislation or (B) agree to put the privatisation legislation to the people of Queensland through a referendum, or else face an immediate sustained campaign of industrial action and public protest until the legislation is withdrawn.
The union movement should also demand that Fraser and Bligh justify privatisation in a
televised debate before the Queensland public.
Could any Government other than, possibly, the Burmese military junta dare proceed in the
face of such an ultimatum?
What you can do
- Protest at the opening of Parliament on 16 June;
- Contact every member of state Parliament, Labor, LNP or independent and ask him/her to vote on the floor of Parliament for a bill requiring that the privatisation be put to a referendum;
- If you are a member of the Labor Party, demand the disendorsement of each and every MP who votes against the Labor Party's anti-privatisation policy;
- At election time vote for candidates opposed to privatisation;
- Attend union meetings and support any industrial action against privatisation;
- Write letters to the newspapers, phone talkback radio and state your support for this campaign on online forums;
- Stay in touch with others opposed to privatisation, including the author of this leaflet.
About James Sinnamon, the author of this leaflet
I am a community activist, concerned about democracy, workers' rights, economic justice and, above all, the parlous state of the world's environment.
I stood as an independent candidate in the state elections in order to give voters an opportunity to oppose privatisation at the ballot box, but was ignored by Queensland's pro-privatisation newsmedia, including even the ABC.
I administer web sites and write articles for those web sites about my concerns. These include http://candobetter.org and http://citizensagainstsellingtelstra.net (currently off-line). I encourage others, who share my concerns, to also contribute to those web sites.
I can be reached by e-mailing james[AT]candobetter.org of by phoning 0412 319669.
#appendix4" id="appendix3">Appendix 4: Motions including motion calling for industrial action carried by meeting of AMWU members at Redbank railway workshops
These motions would have been carried some time in June 2009. In an e-mail I received from a member of the AMWU on 20 Aug 09, I was told that these motions were carried over two months ago. The first calling for industrial action was carried unanimously after vigorous debate, whilst the second, calling for the AMWU to dis-affiliate from the Labor Party was narrowly defeated.
"1. This meeting of AMWU members condemns the asset sales devised by the ALP state labor government. We recognise that without a sustained campaign of industrial action, nothing will stop the sales from proceeding. Anna Bligh herself has said that she won't negotiate on the sell-off. We need to force her hand and the only way we can do that is industrially. We need an ongoing campaign of industrial action through rolling strikes in conjunction with community protests. We demand that our state secretary approves of any industrial action worked out collectively by the membership and seeks the support of the other railway unions." (carried unanimously)
"2. This 2nd motion concerns our affiliation to the ALP. The objectives of the AMWU are clearly stated in its constitution. The AMWU's primary objective is 'the control of industry in the interests of the community'. The affiliation of our union to the ALP hinders that objective. The ALP is thoroughly commited to defending the interests of capital at the expense of working people whom it treats with contempt. 91% of respondents in a pole conducted by the Courier Mail opposed the privatisations, yet the ALP shows no sign of backing down. It's actions in government reflect its pro-capitalist character. It is not a workers party. Disaffiliation is a necessary step in curbing its corruptive influence on the workers movement.
"This meeting demands that the state council of the AMWU respect the wishes of the membership and dis-affiliate the Qld branch of the AMWU from the ALP." (narrowly defeated)
In the e-mail containing those motions, I was also advised:
branch Secretary of
the AMWU and Qld
branch ALP President
"However the AMWU convener of the site who wasn't present at the mass mtg due to personal circumstances put forward a similar motion at a delegates mtg, which not only called for dis-affiliation from the ALP, but also called on Andrew Dettmar to resign from the position of ALP state President. It stated that holding such a position was counter to the needs of the union and hindered the effectiveness of any campaign against the privatisation. The motion was endorsed unanimously without anyone speaking against."
Andrew Dettmer, the Secratary of the Queensland branch of the AMWU was the principle mover of the resolution carried by the State Labor Party conference held on the Queen's Birthday which allowed the State Government to proceed with the fire sale. Although nominally opposed to privatisation, delegates from the AMWU and other 'left' unions were encouraged at the conference to be absent when the vote was put.
In spite of his pivotal role in giving the Bligh Government the green light to proceed with privatisation, he was still allowed to address the anti-privatisation rallies held since then.
In recent months the Queensland branch of Electrical Trades Union (ETU) has rightly conducted publicity campaigns against policies of the Queensland Labor Government's which have been harmful to its members' interests. These include the corporatisation and privatisation of its power generation assets and the consequent neglect of vital infrastructure. The ETU has also conducted an industrial campaign for wage justice for its members and has been critical of the Federal Rudd Labor Government's delays in the repeal of the Howard Government's anti-worker “Work Choices” legislation.
In the Brisbane Times article Electricity, rail workers to picket Labor conference, ETU spokesman Peter Simpson complained of “over 12 months of frustrated negotiations” in which “the excesses of Work Choices" were used against state government employees.”
(ETU assistant secretary Peter Simpson) said the unions had received a slap in the face after supporting Labor through the November federal election.
“How have we been repaid? We have been screwed over and it is a dead-set disgrace,” Mr Simpson said.
However, whilst Simpson is correct to point this out, it would have been clearly suicidal for the Union movement not to have backed Rudd against the viciously anti-democratic, anti-trade-union John Howard government. Whatever can be critically said of the record of the Rudd Labor Government, it was absolutely necessary for the ETU to have campaigned with the rest of the trade union movement to remove the Liberal Party from office.
Peter Simpson continued:
“This may be the last ALP conference that we attend, because I don't think we'll be affiliated with them for much longer.”
Whilst their treatment at he hands of Labor governments is indefensible and the ETU's outrage is entirely justified, their threat to disaffiliate from the Labor Party begs the question of exactly how the ETU can expect better treatment at the hands of any alternative government. Clearly, it would be ludicrous for ETU to hold out hope for better treatment at the hands of a Coalition government whether at the Queensland state or Federal level.
This conflict calls into question the whole purpose of the Labor Party.
The Labor Party was originally formed in the 1890's to be the political representative of the trade union movement. Its purpose was to form Government in order to enact legislation in favour of workers upon whose vote it would have depended upon to obtain a majority in Parliament.
The conduct of the Bligh Government, including in its dispute with the ETU, is only the latest of almost countless illustrations of how far the Labor Party has drifted from this original propose. Far from representing workers or, indeed, any other ordinary members of the community, the Bligh Government, instead, serves a small minority of corporations, land speculators and developers and acts, above all else, to transfer the wealth of the rest of the community, including electrical workers, into their pockets.
What unions such as the ETU need to consider is how to attempt to rectify this unsatisfactory situation.
One way or another, unions such as the ETU should assert their right to have representatives, who are prepared to act in the interests of its members, elected to Parliament. If the ETU sees no prospect of this being achieved by using its voice within the Labor Party, then it should seek to initiate the formation of such a party outside the Labor.
However to simply disaffiliate, but do nothing else, is likely to do little to dissuade the Bligh Government from pursuing its current course.
As much as Labor politicians enjoy the fruits of office, many act as if they consider losing office a lesser evil to actually representing the Labor Party's constituency and standing up to corporate interests. They seem to act as if confident that other at least equally lucrative careers will be offered to them by a grateful corporate sector should they lose government. So even the threat of damaging Labor's electoral prospects may do little to change the mind of Rudd and Bligh and, in fact, could backfire on the ETU if it were to result in the election of Coalition governments in the mould of the former Howard Government.
The ETU and other unions, such as the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU), who are disaffected by the Bligh Government's policies should use what voices they have at the Labor Conference to loudly demand that the Bligh begin to act to serve its electoral constituency. If they did, it is hard to conceive how their voices would not resonate with the rank and file of the Labor Party and other trade unions, if not with other conference delegates. Whether or not they are able to persuade a majority of the conference, it could only help make more likely the re-establishment of an effective political voice for the trade union movement, whether it is to come from within or without the current Labor Party.