The first victim of the Iemma Government’s push for power privatisation appears to be Jeff Angel, director of the Total Environment Centre.

He has earned the full fury of NSW’s environment movement, sections of the Labor Party and the unions by backing the plan by former premier Barrie Unsworth to sell the state’s electricity retailers and lease the power generators.

Angel, veteran official spokesman for the NSW environment movement, was a member of the Unsworth committee which presented a majority and a minority report to Premier Morris Iemma on Monday. Angel landed in the ranks of the pro-privatisation majority, a club of government hand-raisers which included Robyn Kruk, the director-general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, David Richmond, the Co-ordinator General of NSW, and two Labor MPs, Steve Whan and Michael Daley.

“While it’s not surprising that the Premier’s hand-selected supporters signed off on the privatisation, it quite shocking that Jeff Angel ignored the arguments of the overwhelming majority of the environment movement,” Greens upper house MP John Kaye told Crikey today.

“The only opposition came from the three union representatives. Their dissenting report captured the key environmental, economic and social arguments against the sell-off.”

Kaye said that if the sell-off went ahead, 37% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions would pass into the hands of the private sector “and that’s bad news for the climate”.

He said it was “outrageous” that Angel could give the green light to the privatisation of the largely coal-fired power industry in NSW when the Rudd Government was in the throes of planning a national carbon trading scheme.

“Mr Angel has fallen for the beads and blankets trick. He has been prepared to trade off the environmental and social benefits of public ownership for the flimsy chance that some of his suggestions might be adopted.”

The ALP’s ruling administrative committee has decided to flick pass the Unsworth report to the state conference on May 3 and 4 when the ultimate and final decision will be taken.

This is a genuflection to process: it was the 1998 conference, the supreme policy-making body, which threw out power privatisation when it was attempted by former premier Bob Carr who now works for Macquarie Bank, and the conference is the proper body to decide on the born-again plan by Iemma and Treasurer Michael Costa.

In a farcical flight into logic-chopping, Iemma claimed yesterday that his sell-off plan conforms to current ALP policy because Unsworth chaired his handpicked consultative committee!

“The report that’s come down (is) on the side of that the policy adheres to the platform of the party,” he bumbled. “Barrie Unsworth was a former Labor Council official, a leader of the trade union movement, an electrician … he’s got all the qualifications to have undertaken this work.

“Somebody of the standing of Barrie Unsworth has assessed this policy, assessed the impact and said it complies with the party platform.”

Oh, so that’s alright then. Unsworth, the lamentable man in a cardigan, has just morphed into the NSW Labor Party and what he decides goes. The long-suffering ALP rank and file may decide to disagree which will place the party on a collision course with Iemma and Costa.

Peter Fray

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