Who will be the political losers from the
Snowy sale? Anne Davies has a go at answering the question in The SMH today:

Privatising Snowy Hydro is one of those slow-burn
issues. It began when local MPs like the Victorian independent Craig Ingram and
NSW Labor MP Steve Whan spoke out. Both of their seats are directly affected.
Then the Greens got cranked up. Then the federal Liberal MP Bill Heffernan, the
Prime Minister’s mate, added his voice. The NSW Nats have called for a
parliamentary inquiry, but whether they oppose the sale is unclear.

Then last week Alan Jones got in on the act,
conducting a poll and predicting dire political consequences for those who did
not see the logic of his position opposing the sale. Whatever you think of him,
when Jones gets in on the act, the state politicians start worrying.

But the Premier, Morris Iemma, can’t afford to get
wobbly on Snowy Hydro. The sale will give him a $1 billion-plus war chest
before the state election for spending on infrastructure that the state
desperately needs. It won’t be put that bluntly, but being able to reduce
the state’s debt by more than $1 billion means he has borrowing capacity for
other projects…

Bingo!

Three Governments are involved – the
Commonwealth, New South Wales and Victoria.

NSW is short of a quid and the majority owner
– hence the sale. With 58% of the shares on the block, Victoria and the
Commonwealth have really had no choice but to follow.

Steve Bracks has been smart. Right from the
word go he explained how the windfall would be ploughed into specific school
building projects and irrigation and environmental programs. And privatisation isn’t problematic for
the Commonwealth. They’ll appreciate the top up to next year’s pre-election
Budget war chest.

Farmers, sporting clubs, tour operators and
conservation groups are expected to join a $2 billion High Court challenge to
the legality of the sale of Snowy Hydro, The Australian reports today. And where’s the federal opposition on all
of this? Well, the full sale of Telstra is more of a concern than the
privatisation of the Snowy Hydro scheme, Kim Beazley told Macquarie Radio last
Friday.

It is – but not for the reasons Kimbo was
on about. Labor government will be going to the polls in NSW and Victoria this
year. A federal election can’t be held until the second half of 2007.

Labor doesn’t want any upsets in either of
these. The Victorian poll will come first. That shouldn’t be too hard to win.
NSW is a different matter. Infrastructure is going to be a vital issue come
March next year. The Snowy sale could give the government money it needs to
commit to new projects – or it could end up as a symbol of infrastructure
policy gone wrong.

“The next few weeks are shaping as a race
between those who support the Snowy privatisation and those who are trying to
convince the public that it is cultural and environmental vandalism”, Davies
writes. Well, most of these are either agrarian socialists or Trots of one type
or another who still haven’t realised that their fondness for big government
and big projects is a hangover from the first half of the twentieth century,
that nations and economies work differently these days.

Still, voters can find this sort of thing
reassuring. Could this be the issue that unites the country and the city
against the Iemma Government? A Labor loss next March in the most populous
state would be a terrible start to the year – a terrible omen for the federal
election.

Peter Fray

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