The Liberals under Mike Baird were still favourites to win the NSW election as Solidarity went to press. But a big swing to Labor looks likely. A month ago Baird, touted as one of the most popular politicians across the country (not high praise given the competition) looked comfortable. But the factors that produced one-term Liberal governments in Victoria and Queensland—Tony Abbott and privatisation—are eroding Baird’s lead.
Compared to Tony Abbott and Campbell Newman, who are experts at alienating voters, Baird is seen as reasonable and appealing. This image has been particularly easy to cultivate with Labor so weakened in NSW after 16 years of corrupt, pro-business government.
But Baird is facing real challenge because he has staked his re-election on the privatisation of the metropolitan “poles and wires” electricity network. Tellingly the network in regional NSW is not up for sale because the Nationals know this would cost them support. While the Liberals are polling at 53 per cent, only 25 per cent of voters support the sell-off.
Baird’s plan is to “lease” for 99 years three of the electricity distribution companies. He hopes to make $20 billion to build private toll roads including the monstrous WestConnex. But $2 billion of this comes from the federal government’s “asset recycling” program which is blocked in the Senate. The asset-recycling plan proposes to use $5 billion from the sale of Medibank Private to encourage state governments to privatise assets and use the proceeds to fund infrastructure through public private partnerships (PPPs).
Twenty-five years of privatisation have brought declining services, less safety, rising costs, and massive job losses. There is also a perverse logic in selling electricity networks that generate $1.7 billion for the state budget each year. Once sold this money goes to private profits instead of hospitals and schools.
The Greens won their first lower house seat in 2011 and are hoping to add Jenny Leong as the MP for the new seat of Newtown. This election The Greens and Labor are swapping preferences, citing common opposition to privatisation. This needs to spill into action after the election if Baird wins.
Unions NSW has been mobilising members against privatisation, modelled on the “We are Union” door-knocking and station leafleting organised for the Victorian state election. These efforts will need to be translated into mobilisation and industrial struggle after the election, especially if Baird wins. After all stopping the power sell-off, defending TAFE and public hospitals are “worth fighting for” just as they are worth voting for.
By Jean Parker