The blowtorch to the belly of the Iemma Government over its plans to privatise the NSW power industry has become a whole lot more menacing. A largely unreported weekend conference of Labor Party members held in Sydney voted unanimously to oppose the sale and called on Labor MPs to end their deafening silence and vote against the legislation when it is tabled, possibly next week.

The seminar was notable for the fact that it was chaired by ALP state president Bernie Riordan, who also happens to be the secretary of the Electrical Trades Union and the son of Whitlam minister Joe Riordan.

For the record, the two motions passed were:

This meeting of NSW rank and file ALP members:

  • Supports the continued, full public ownership of the NSW electricity industry.
  • Opposes the scheme to lease Government owned generators and to sell retail licenses. Or any proposition which would seek to separate ownership and control of either generation or retailing.

This meeting of NSW rank and file ALP members calls for ALP parliamentary representatives not to shelter behind the notion of “Cabinet solidarity” or the more recent invention of “Caucus solidarity”. We therefore call on our ALP parliamentary representatives to stand up and be counted in Caucus, State Conference and other party forums against the privatization of electricity.

When State Parliament resumes next Tuesday, refortified MPs returning from their 11-week break will be met by a protest in Macquarie Street opposing the sale, but it will be ignored by the premier and his Treasurer Michael Costa.

They seem oblivious to the growing chorus of opposition to the sale which is predicted to net $15 billion to be allocated to various overdue infrastructure projects.

The ALP’s all-powerful administrative committee meets in early March to decide whether to approve the sell-off or to oppose it when the state conference is held at Sydney Town Hall on May 3 and 4.

The stakes are incredibly high. Iemma and Costa, a former secretary of the NSW Labor Council, have already indicated they will ignore any decision by the ALP to oppose the sale. That would place them on a direct collision course with the labor and trade union movement and make the looming conflict over wages and jobs even more acrimonious.

Sensing Iemma’s difficulties, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has bought into the debate backing the premier. This has been the signal for the right-wing machine led by Senator-elect Mark Arbib, Roads Minister Eric Roozendaal and Education Minister John Della Bosca, all former party general secretaries, to be set loose to twist arms and win the conference vote.

Three former premiers, Neville Wran, Barrie Unsworth and Bob Carr, are also doing their bit to engineer the sale … and save the political neck of Morris Iemma.

Peter Fray

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