Fiscal Responsibility Amendment (Privatisation Restrictions) Bill 2021

23 June 2022

Mr ANOULACK CHANTHIVONG (Macquarie Fields) (11:08):  On behalf of Mr Chris Minns: I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Fiscal Responsibility Amendment (Privatisation Restrictions) Bill 2021 is all about ending the New South Wales Coalition's obsession with selling things that do not belong to it.

It is about stopping this Government from pursuing its extreme right‑wing ideological agenda without consideration or thought for the longer-term economic and financial impact and the pain it will cause to consumers, households and our economy.

When the Liberals run out of ideas, they just go to their ideology without thinking of the adverse consequences. That is low‑brow decision‑making based on a lack of analysis or understanding.

This bill is about curtailing an economic agenda that makes Liberal Party donors and supporters rich while making the rest of us very much poorer.

The bill holds the Government to the broken election promise made by the former Premier that there would be no more privatisations under a re‑elected Coalition government.

This bill is about accountability—a word this Government, with all its pork‑barrelling, rorts, rackets and excessive privatisation agenda, hates with a passion.

As everyone now knows, this Liberal Government is exceptional at political spin and media management. As always, it is all spin, no substance and consequently no solutions.

The Coalition has tried lots of different ways to market and manage the message of its privatisation agenda to make a somewhat bitter pill more palatable for an incredulous public.

Let me give some examples. The former Member for Bega, Andrew Constance, tried to call it a "silver bullet" for the economy.

"Asset recycling" was the popular term used by former Premier Berejiklian. But nothing tops the current Premier's rhetorical overreach than his calling privatising public assets a "golden key" to opportunity for New South Wales.

When he talked about a golden key, he must have been assisting corporate boardrooms to prepare their profit statements rather than delivering the truth to the public.

Acquiring a revenue‑generating business—usually in a monopolistic trading environment—is definitely an opportunity for some. Imagine this: It can be a golden‑key moment for corporate monopolies to make ongoing super‑normal profits at the community's expense.

But it is certainly not a golden‑key opportunity for the hardworking and long‑suffering taxpayers of New South Wales, who inevitably pay so much more and always get so much less.

Let us end all the fancy branding attempts and weasel words that try to soften what is an increasingly unpopular, discredited and inequitable economic policy agenda.

For more than a decade the Coalition has relied on asset sales to solve its cashflow problems. That is a bandaid solution to a large open wound that will never heal because it is the wrong solution.

Nothing better sums up this stale and unimaginative administration than its continued reliance on privatisation to get it out of financial trouble and plug more than $20 billion of blowouts in its infrastructure projects.

But after $93 billion in asset sales, it has left the public's cupboard bare—empty, nothing, zilch.

A public asset can only be privatised once. Assets that generate revenue have been sold off, and the proceeds of sale have been spent on assets that do not generate revenue.

In doing so, the Government has kicked the debt further and further down the road. It is now $100 billion‑plus and counting; it is going up and up.

The New South Wales Government's privatisation gamble has created a debt balloon that will inevitably burst, with the cost falling on future generations. Our children will end up paying more for fewer and lower-quality services.

Life under the Liberal Government means paying more for less, full stop.

Former chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission [ACCC], Mr Rod Sims—formerly an enthusiastic proponent of privatisation—publicly warned the New South Wales Government about selling public assets. He said that it can create unregulated monopolies that hurt productivity and damage the economy.

Ill‑considered privatisation without competition creates monopolies or monopoly‑like businesses that will use their market power to gouge the wages of hardworking consumers.

Funny that—a privatised, profit‑maximising monopoly uses its unfettered market power to increase its profits. Who would have thought of that? The answer, said Mr Sims, is for governments to conduct public reviews of any proposed privatisations before selling off the assets, as is proposed in this bill. It is about better decision‑making for the public good, not for excessive monopoly profits.

The most appalling example of this Government's privatisation policy is the sale of WestConnex. The ACCC said clearly that we should privatise for efficiency—which involves ensuring competition—or not do it at all.

Competition must exist. Privatisation should not be undertaken for a short‑term financial price, which inevitably the public will pay for in higher prices for no increase in value or benefit.

The ACCC says not to privatise and create monopolies because it will hurt the economy and cause endless financial pain for households. So what does this Liberal Government do? It creates one.

Transurban now owns all or part of the M2, the M4, the M5 South‑West, the M5 East, the M7, the M8, the Lane Cove Tunnel, the Cross City Tunnel, the Eastern Distributor and NorthConnex.

Right now drivers in Sydney pay more than $2.3 billion a year in tolls. Some families in my electorate and surrounding electorates are paying more than $6,000 a year in tolls—a crippling amount for most families, particularly in a high-inflation environment when the cost of living is going through the roof.

For example, in my electorate Salah advised me that during the past quarter he spent approximately $700 in tolls just to drive to work. That is a tax on the commute to work.

The Liberals always tax people more. They make people pay more, but they pay people less. Sydney is now the most tolled city on the face of the earth, with a toll network owned by a private monopoly that this Government created.

I turn to the substance of the bill. The Fiscal Responsibility Amendment (Privatisation Restrictions) Bill 2021 amends the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2012 to introduce minimum requirements where a public asset is nominated for privatisation.

New section 8A requires that before all or any part of a State‑owned asset is sold or leased, several steps must first occur.

First, both Houses of Parliament need to vote in support of the proposed privatisation. Secondly, a review of the sale needs to be conducted by a parliamentary committee. The committee will make recommendations to ensure a suitable regulatory framework and consumer protections can be achieved. If not, the committee can recommend the sale not proceed.

The bill applies to State‑owned corporations, as outlined in subsection (6), including Sydney Water Corporation, Hunter Water Corporation, WaterNSW, Endeavour Energy, Ausgrid, Essential Energy, icare, the Transport Asset Holding Entity of New South Wales and the Forestry Corporation, Landcom, and the Port Authority of New South Wales.

I also make the point, which is consistent with former ACCC chair Rod Sims' public statement, that the bill does not preclude the Government from seeking to sell an asset. But for the sake of good corporate governance and public benefit, it does force the New South Wales Government to submit its proposals to public scrutiny.

The bill forces the Government to listen to the views of workers, unions, industry experts, small business people and civil society leaders during a public inquiry. In other words, it forces the Government to be accountable to the public and the Parliament to ensure that public interest and public value are the only beneficiaries of privatisation. I commend the bill to the House.