Legislative Council: Wednesday, May 18, 2022



State Assets (Privatisation Restrictions) Bill

Second Reading

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:49): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I rise to speak in relation to the State Assets (Privatisation Restrictions) Bill. This bill seeks to prevent the sale, disposal or lease of certain state-owned assets unless reviewed and recommended by a parliamentary committee and approved by both houses of parliament. Privatisation has had a disastrous impact on South Australia and it has been a bipartisan sport here in SA, a joint project of the Labor and Liberal parties. Both have an appalling record when it comes to selling off our state assets.

We have seen the negative outcomes of privatisation on South Australia's rail network, on our housing and our energy providers. Privatisation has resulted in degradation of infrastructure and a reduction in services. These things are well known and they are well documented. Past governments have seen privatisation as a measure to boost proceeds and to reduce spending, while the public have suffered the consequences.

In 2001, SA Unions argued that publicly owned assets and public services are funded by South Australians to meet the needs of the community, not to generate profits for corporations. We in the Greens agree. Last year, the ACCC chair, Rod Sims (spelt S-i-m-s, not a relation) said that privatising assets without allowing for competition or regulation creates private monopolies that raise prices, that reduce efficiency and harm the economy.

The privatisation of ETSA is one of the worst examples we have seen in South Australia. We all know the devastating impacts that privatisation project had on our state. It has delivered higher electricity prices and the public know it. Research from the Australian Institute back in 2019 found that 40 per cent of South Australians blame privatisation of our state-owned electricity provider as the single biggest reason for power price increases, while three out of five people (60 per cent) consider it to be one of the main sources of upward pressure on prices. That makes sense because we know that once you sell off a key asset you lose government control and you allow private corporations that are focused on making money to hike up prices.

In the 1990s, the Public Service Association warned that increased privatisation would result in profits being put before services, higher costs for taxpayers, less efficient services and a diminished revenue base for the state. These outcomes have been seen in the years that have followed. It is our most vulnerable people who bear the burden of increased costs and diminished services.

As the cost of living continues to skyrocket as a result of inflation, we have a responsibility to consider in this place the impact of privatisation on public utilities that are relied on by all members of our community. This bill would act as an important safeguard for our public assets. It would ensure that governments cannot conduct future sell-offs without appropriate parliamentary oversight. We want to see community services being put before private profits.

Last year, the Select Committee on the Privatisation of Public Services in South Australia, which I had the honour to chair, heard from witnesses that there was a need for improved transparency measures in relation to current and future privatisations. Under this bill, any future attempts of privatisation of state assets would require the government of the day, whether it be Labor or whether it be Liberal, to convince both houses of parliament on the merits of the case and that would increase transparency and accountability.

I must acknowledge that this is not a new concept. A very similar bill was introduced in New South Wales by the Labor MP Daniel Mookhey and it passed the upper house in late 2021. As a result of that reform, New South Wales has seen greater parliamentary oversight over privatisation and that is considered a really important safeguard in that state.

I hope that we in this place will follow their lead. It is certainly my hope—hope springs eternal—that the Labor government will see merit in this proposal, given it has been advocated for by the Labor opposition in New South Wales, but that the Liberal opposition will see the merits of this proposal as well, because it is a safeguard that would operate irrespective of who is in government.

I do want to put the old parties on notice that we will be bringing this to a vote, not today obviously, but in the fullness of time I will bring it to a vote to test support for this very important proposition so that the people of South Australia can see who is in favour of stopping privatisation, who is in favour of more safeguards and who is supportive of the fire sale that we have seen over the last several decades.

Under previous governments, trams, trains, medical administration, the Remand Centre and service centres have all been privatised. We need to protect our state-owned assets from future cost-saving cash grabs. This bill enables future privatisations not to proceed without parliamentary approval. It ensures that there is more transparency, and that can only be good for the people of our state. I commend the bill to the Legislative Council.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.