The WA government is close to making a decision on whether to sell all or just part of Western Power and expects to announce its position in coming weeks, Premier Colin Barnett says.
A day after Mr Barnett was booed and heckled by union protesters outside parliament while explaining why the electricity poles and wires utility should be sold, Mr Barnett told reporters he could understand and respect their job security fears.
“I think I got a fair reception. Most people listened,” he said on Wednesday.
“You don’t expect deathly silence at a union rally outside Parliament House.
“They’re not going to cheer a Liberal leader, are they?”
Mr Barnett also said he understood householders were concerned about higher prices, but insisted any increases would be “exactly the same” under government or private ownership because the utility was bound by national regulation.
The proposed privatisation was the government’s biggest decision before the March state election, he said, but promised voters Australian ownership would be ensured, probably through investment by superannuation funds.
If it were sold in part, taxpayers would retain some dividends, but if it were to remain wholly government owned, they would have to fund future infrastructure builds, Mr Barnett said.
“There’s a political risk but it is in my view the right thing for Western Australia,” he said.
A full sale could reap between $12 billion and $16 billion, according to a recent Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA report.
The premier said about $8 billion would be used to retire state debt, with the remainder going towards new capital works.
The vast majority of respondents to recent ReachTel polls in the safe Liberal-held seats of Riverton and Wanneroo were against the planned sale.
The premier’s comments came before another large union rally outside parliament, this time against the privatisation of hospital services.