Labor’s divisions are canvassed day in, day
out – the tension between the latte set and blue collar types – but the rowing
over the Snowy sale is showing the similar splits on the conservative side of
politics.

“Where does Beazley stand on the
Snowy-Hydro sell-off on 28th of June?” a fevered post on Andrew West’s blog The
Contrarian
reads. “Where does the Labor-Party stand on the Snowy-Hydro sell-off?” Well, federal Labor is very pleased to largely
duck this one. The sale’s been sparked by its New South Wales
colleagues’ desperation for cash – but the federal government seems to be wearing
the heat.


It couldn’t come at a worse time, with the
tensions between the Liberals and the Nationals already exacerbated by
the Queensland capers. The Snowy sale is showing up the divide
between the Coalition’s economic liberals and – largely – rural
populists and
interventionists.

Finance Minister Nick Minchin has been
forced to introduce legislation to implement foreign ownership caps and affirm
the authority of the Commonwealth to sell its share of Snowy Hydro Limited. There have been predictions the foreign
ownership limits could reduce the company’s sale price.

Some Coalition MPs are still unhappy with
the package. Nationals MP Kay Hull has reserved her right to introduce a private
member’s bill ensuring no company could own more than 10% of Snowy,
while Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan wants matching caps on foreign and
domestic ownership.

You couldn’t get much further from the High
Country than Cape York, but even Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch raised concerns in
his electorate about the privatisation in the Government Party Room yesterday.
Angry supporters of the sale said they probably came from the dotty right, big
government and big project obsessed Citizens Electoral Council.

It’s certainly an odd coalition opposing to
the sale – country independents like Peter Andren and Tony Windsor joining with
the Greens, the hard right and Coalition populists.

Anti-privatisation campaigner Acacia Rose
has shown the feebleness of her case. “It’s an Australian asset and icon, it
really shouldn’t be sold off”, she said yesterday.
“Everybody in Australia owns Snowy Hydro and even before they consider its future it should
go to a referendum or be tested at the next election.” So? The first part is
meaningless – and the second is just the same line that’s trotted out against
any privatisation.

Big government funded infrastructure
projects still seem reassuring, even though they represent a model for
delivering services that hasn’t evolved for a century. And the xenophobia hiding behind economic
nationalism and a green veil is going unremarked.

Peter Fray

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