Opposition and cross-bench MPs are scrambling to convince the former NSW energy bosses who quit in protest over the $5.3 billion sale of the state’s electricity assets to give evidence at next week’s inquiry into the controversial sell-off.

Crikey has obtained a copy of draft legislation, written by The Greens, that would guarantee witnesses legal immunity from defamation or breach of confidence even though Premier Kristina Keneally has already shut down parliament. The final copy of the proposed bill will be released this afternoon.

NSW_bill_tearout

At least two former energy bosses — Ross Bunyon, of Eraring Energy, and Delta Electricity’s Michael Knight — were willing to appear at the inquiry, but declined to do so because of fears they would not be protected by parliamentary privilege.

Greens upper house MP David Shoebridge told Crikey: “This bill is being put forward to give witnesses a level of comfort given the scare campaign the Premier has been running to scare witnesses off.

“The co-operation of the past directors is necessary to get the full story out,” he said.

Keneally has repeatedly claimed that the upper house inquiry is “illegal” and warned that witnesses may not be protected by parliamentary privilege.

Keneally has denied accusations that she prorogued (shut down) parliament early to avoid scrutiny before the March 26 state election.

Shoebridge said he will invite comment on his draft bill and hopes it will gain the endorsement of other political parties, including the Liberals. Opposition leader Barry O’Farrell has previously voiced support for retrospective legislation to protect witnesses at the inquiry.

Christian Democrat Fred Nile, chairman of the Upper House committee, is trying to woo former directors with an offer of closed door sessions to present controversial or confidential information.

If these tactics fail, the MPs have threatened to have the ex-directors subpoenaed by the Supreme Court.

Despite initially deriding the inquiry as illegal, Keneally backed down last week and agreed to give evidence. So has the Treasurer Eric Roozendaal.

Crikey understands that Treasury Secretary Michael Schur will appear, as well as Kim Yeadon, Col Gellatly and John Dermody, who were hastily appointed to the boards of Delta Electricity and Eraring Energy by  Roozendaal after eight directors dramatically quit on December 14.

Yeadon, Gellatly and Dermody voted for the sale at Roozendaal’s instruction. They have been accused of a conflict of interest by corporate law experts because they are members of the Treasurer’s electricity sales advisory team.

Dr Gellatly is also a former director-general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Yeadon is a former Labor government minister and Dermody a former senior public servant in the Premier’s Department.

Employer groups that have long advocated power privatisation have slammed the sale of the state’s electricity assets as a botched job.

“The reality is that the Tripodi/Roozendaal Gentrader model has simply sold NSW out to the lowest bidder,” NSW Business Chamber chief executive Stephen Cartwright said after the sell-off. “They took the silverware and put it up at a garage sale.”

Crikey will provide full coverage of the upper house inquiry, which will begin on Monday and is due to report at the end of the month.

Peter Fray

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