AGAINST the odds, the NSW Nationals have emerged from a government meeting on the sell-off of the state’s electricity poles and wires with a victory for regional NSW.
Though the Baird government will take the privatisation of poles and wires to the next election for community endorsement, regional distributor Essential Energy will not be part of the sale package.
The decision should mean that its employees’ jobs will be safe under a privatised electricity system. In the Orange electorate that must come as an enormous relief for about 170 workers.
Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Transgrid workers based in Orange.
Exactly how The Nationals managed to win over their senior partners in the joint party room is unclear. Perhaps having had their turn on the receiving end of an ICAC drubbing, the Liberals are not as confident of carrying their huge majority beyond the next election.
Or, still smarting over the federal Liberals’ alleged duping of the Nationals with a Claytons plan to drop the diesel fuel rebate, Andrew Stoner and his NSW colleagues really did stand up and punch above their weight.
One thing is clear, the NSW Nationals have done enough to keep their dignity intact.
But the headache over what to do about soaring electricity prices isn’t going to go away.
If the partial sale of the electricity network goes ahead in this form either the champions of public ownership or full privatisation will lose out.
Premier Baird has released price comparisons which indicate the privatised model has delivered substantially cheaper power in other states. And the metropolitan media is full tales of waste, rorts, and overly generous payments in the industry.
Regional voters, who have always valued public ownership of utilities like electricity, will not be grateful if the privatised model delivers substantially cheaper electricity elsewhere.