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WA’s Liberal government plans a 51 per cent share market float of poles and wires utility Western Power, while the rest will remain in the state’s hands.

The issue is shaping as one of the most important of the election campaign, but there is significant concern over energy security and price hikes.

Under the proposal announced on Wednesday, the aim is to sell 20 per cent of shares to mum and dad retail investors, including Western Power employees, while 30 per cent will go to Australian superannuation funds.

“This model will address any national security concerns about foreign ownership,” Treasurer Mike Nahan said.

He said independent regulators would continue to oversee various parts of the monopoly, including safety, reliability, prices and performance, so there would be no price hikes or reduction in the quality of the service.

As for workers, it would be business-as-usual, Dr Nahan said, with strict employee protections to be outlined as part of the float process.

Premier Colin Barnett said $8 billion of the sale proceeds would be used to reduce state debt, while $3 billion would go into a new account to fund investment in schools and TAFE facilities, and transport infrastructure.

Funds from the account will also be used to improve the reliability of electricity supplies at the edge of the grid in country areas.

“These projects will create thousands of jobs for builders, tradies, construction workers, engineers, technology providers, and their support staff,” Mr Barnett said.

The Electrical Trades Union has already campaigned hard against the privatisation and is set to step it up ahead of the March state election, while the opposition has vowed to axe the plan if it seizes power.

Last month, a poll of 657 people in the safe Liberal electorate of Wanneroo found more than 70 per cent of respondents were against the planned sale.

An earlier poll of about 1000 voters in Riverton, another safe Liberal seat held by Dr Nahan, concluded more than 62 per cent were against the proposal.
* “They have wrecked the state’s finances, they have delivered us the highest unemployment in the nation and now they plan to flog off the family silver.” – WA Labor leader Mark McGowan

* “Selling public utilities to make up for past poor performance is a shocking management plan. Investors would expect to make a profit, which would increase power prices and cost jobs.” – WA Greens

* The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of WA welcomed the plan, saying it would create thousands of jobs and drive economic growth. They said it would boost business confidence and enable the state government to create jobs by investing in new infrastructure.

* “It also means less funding for police, nurses and teachers, because the state government will lose half of the profits Western Power generates each year.” – Australian Services Union WA branch secretary Wayne Wood

* “The government doesn’t need to tie up billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money in owning and maintaining all of Western Power.” – Australian Energy Council, which welcomed long-term benefits of freeing up money to spend on infrastructure, and improving power in country areas.

* “By investing this revenue into public infrastructure like rail and road projects to reduce congestion, the government will not only create much-needed jobs, but also boost growth and enable more local investment.” – The Property Council

* “Selling off Western Power will only provide a short-term injection of funds to the state. The decision ignores the need for a long-term plan for development of technical capacity in the state.” – The Association of Professional Engineers Australia said it would cost local jobs and lead to higher electricity prices.

 
  • I guess this really goes to the question regarding whether or not the government really needs to be in the electricity business or whether the market can deliver reliable service as well or better with more private captial. I don't have a strong view one way or the other.

    I wonder whether or not the selldown process will be part of a lager process which will eventually see the whole thing privatised.

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