Like two turkeys going to a Thanksgiving dinner, NSW Premier Morris Iemma and Treasurer Michael Costa are pressing ahead with their plan to privatise the state’s power industry.

Cheering them on are Treasury secretary John Pierce, the big end of town which will make tens of millions of dollars in fees (whether the sell-off gets up or not), the upper echelons of the Liberal Party (but not the Nats) and the editorial writers of News Ltd and Fairfax.

When state parliament resumes next month, Iemma and Costa will attempt to ram through their enabling legislation so that it is all done and dusted before the NSW ALP conference at Sydney Town Hall on the weekend of 3-4 May.

Iemma is waving around the fatuous Unsworth report which contains the extraordinary claim that the sell-off conforms to ALP policy. This is being used to persuade gullible and spineless labor backbenchers – of which there is any number – that they can vote for the legislation and not face retribution from angry branch members and supporting trade unions.

In reality, Iemma and Costa are mounting a pre-emptive strike against the state conference, the party’s rank and file and party democracy. It has the makings of a showdown that could split the Labor Party in NSW.

In mounting bad news for Iemma and Costa, the state executive of the Finance Sector Union, the union representing the banking, insurance and financial houses, has now voted to oppose the sell-off plan.

The FSU’s decision carries considerable weight. It has the experience of the Greiner Government’s privatisation of the State Bank and the GIO, and both were calamitous for workers’ jobs and consumers.

The State Bank was sold at a way too low price in the midst of an economic downturn while the GIO sale led to a massive rise in premiums and the company’s eventual absorption into Suncorp.

FSU secretary Geoff Derrick said the Labor Government was in danger of repeating the same mistakes, pointing to today’s uncertainties in world equity markets and the credit crisis.

One final thing, how much taxpayers’ money was spent on preparing the so-called Unsworth report on the sell-off?

It appears to have been little more than a device to green-light the sale and weave a formula to get around the constitutional processes of the NSW ALP.

What on earth were senior public servants such as Robyn Kruk, the director-general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and the NSW co-ordinator general David Richmond, doing on a committee which was involved in a hamfisted attempt to settle inner-party disputes in the ALP?

Surely there’s something terribly wrong here.

Peter Fray

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