ETU Media Releases

The Electrical Trades Union has welcomed a decision by Essential Energy to commence a rollout of 186 portable defibrillators at work depots and offices across New South Wales.

The union said the devices, which will be taken on the road by crews as they carry out maintenance and repair work on the electricity poles and wires, had the potential to save lives in a dangerous industry.

ETU NSW Secretary Steve Butler said the union had been campaigning for defibrillators to  become a core safety item on all electricity network trucks following the tragic death of Essential Energy worker Trevor Tooze on the mid-North Coast in September last year.

“Trevor was working on an upgrade of high-voltage power lines when an electric shock stopped his heart,” Mr Butler said.

“His colleagues performed CPR, but because of the remoteness of the work site it took more than half an hour for an ambulance to arrive.

“The first thing paramedics did was place a defibrillator on him, but unfortunately it had already been too long, and they were unable to resuscitate him.

“A portable defibrillator on his work truck would have allowed treatment within minutes, which research shows would have greatly increased his chances of survival.”

Mr Butler said the union had commissioned independent research showing that portable defibrillators could make the difference between life and death, as well as meeting with former Energy Minister Chris Hartcher and lobbying power companies to act.

“Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy were quick to act, procuring and deploying an additional 135 defibrillator units for their field staff last year,” he said.

“Despite having the largest network area — totaling more than 200,000 kilometres of power lines across the state — Essential Energy instead chose to conduct a small trial in one part of the state, delaying their rollout for more than six months.

“Regional power workers are at a greater risk of preventable death caused by electric shocks because many of their work sites are in remote areas, far from medical assistance.”

Mr Butler said the union was continuing its campaign on the issue, saying that to deliver the highest level of protection there should be a portable defibrillator on every electricity truck.

Premier Mike Baird has been accused of commissioning a publicly-funded report based on fudged numbers and deceptive claims in a last-ditch effort to force his unpopular plan for privatising the electricity poles and wires through meetings of government MPs today.

The report, authored by EY, not only fails to examine the real power prices paid by consumers, instead examining the cost of “network charges”, but it relies on assumptions instead of actual electricity contract pricing, is loaded with exceptions and qualifications, and deliberately omits the most recent publicly available price data.

The document also exposes as a lie statements from Mr Baird and former Premier Barry O’Farrell in recent months that there were “no plans” for electricity network privatisation, with EY confirming they were formally engaged by NSW Treasury to carry out the research on February 21, almost four months ago.

Stop the Sell Off campaign director Adam Kerslake said the report, which compresses two decades of power policy in four states into just 16 pages, contains little credible power price analysis and is little more than a brochure to promote the plan to sell 49 per cent of the publicly owned companies Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy, Essential Energy and TransGrid.

“The reason this report examined network costs rather than the real prices electricity consumers pay is because the Premier knew that the privatised power networks in Victoria and South Australia would have come up short,” Mr Kerslake said.

“This report shows that those states have massively under-invested in their electricity network, yet the fact remains that the most recent report from the Australian Energy Regulator said power prices in South Australia were the highest in Australia, while Victorian prices are the same as those in NSW.

“Our warning that private owners of electricity assets will cut network investment in their quest for increased profits is also confirmed, with the figures showing chronic under-investment in the privatised states.

“This lack of investment was highlighted by the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission, which found poor maintenance on power lines caused five of the deadly Black Saturday bushfires that claimed 173 lives.

“It is also the reason that during periods of high demand, such as extreme weather, the Victorian and South Australian networks often fail, while our publicly-owned network remains safe and operational.”

Mr Kerslake said the major reason behind increases to network charges in NSW in recent years were changes to the network reliability standard, which had delivered more reliable services.

"NSW electricity consumers have just paid for a comprehensive network upgrade, costing $15.2 billion between 2009 and 2014, to make sure they have access to a safe, reliable power supply,” he said.

“While this investment cycle has just come to an end in our state, it is about to commence in Victoria and South Australia, meaning network costs in those states will need to increase.

“Extraordinarily, now that taxpayers have funded the vital upgrades we needed to take our electricity network into the future, Premier Mike Baird wants to hand over these assets to his private sector mates.”

The EY report has also come under fire for its questionable methodology, reliance on assumptions rather than actual electricity prices, selective timeframes, and use of out-dated reports from the Australian Energy Regulator.

“We’re happy to have a debate built on facts, but what the Premier has delivered is a highly questionable report with holes so big you could drive a truck through them,” Mr Kerslake said.

“It has clearly been commissioned with the aim of delivering a predetermined outcome, which is why it focused on network charges rather than the actual prices paid by consumers.

“The only way to provide a truthful comparison to the people of NSW is by using the actual price consumers pay for their electricity — rather than the network charges which make up just one component of power pricing.”

Mr Kerslake said that the core issue of how privatisation would impact on electricity consumers, power workers, and the broader community had still not been addressed by the Premier.

“A seemingly endless procession of government MPs have come out in the last week to warn that privatisation will cause higher prices, reduced services, and the loss of jobs,” he said.

“The only way to avoid these outcomes is to keep these profitable power companies in public hands.

“Job guarantees are temporary, power price regulations are difficult, and the enforcement of service standards is challenging — as we saw with the Black Saturday bushfires — meaning whatever the Premier’s promises are, there’s no way he can deliver on them.

“Mike Baird seems hell bent on this ideologically-driven privatisation, leaving it up to his Liberal and National Party MPs to stand up to him, defend the best interests of their local communities, and vote down this plan.

“At the very least they must ensure the people of NSW get a say on the future of their most valuable public asset through a referendum on the future of our electricity network.”

Read the highly conditional EY report: Electricity Network Services: Long-term trends in price and cost

 

Incoming NSW Premier Mike Baird needs to learn from the Australian Water Holdings inquiry by pushing back against the lobbyists, vested interest groups and Liberal Party insiders advocating for the sale of the publicly owned electricity poles and wires.

The Electrical Trades Union is warning that the power privatisation debate has similarities to the AWH scandal, with those hoping to gain financially from a sale using their influence to push the NSW Government towards a policy opposed by the overwhelming majority of voters.

The union said one of the most ardent advocates for a sell off, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, has strong links to the Liberal Party and Mr Baird personally, with IPA CEO Brendan Lyon being a former Liberal Party member and former employee of the incoming Premier’s father, Bruce Baird.

In addition, former Liberal Premier Nick Griener and former Victorian Liberal Minister Mark Birrell are “patrons” of IPA, with their connections presumably used to open doors at a state and federal level.

ETU secretary Steve Butler said that if Mr Baird wanted to clear the stench of corruption from NSW politics, his first actions should be to stand up against the influence of big money on government policy.

“The push to privatise our publicly owned power assets isn’t being driven by the public — independent polling has consistently shown they are  overwhelmingly opposed — instead it is being advocated by vested interests and political lobbyists to deliver a financial windfall for their privatesector backers,” Mr Butler said.

“At its core, the AWH scandal was about private individuals seeking to enrich themselves on public assets, and trying to manipulate our political system to deliver that outcome.

“We are seeing the exact same approach to power privatisation, with Liberal Party insiders, well-paid lobbyists, and vested interest groups using their influence to try and see the electricity poles and wires handed to the private sector for their financial benefit.”

Mr Butler said that while Mr Baird had been an advocate for a sell off as Treasurer, the job of Premier requires him to set aside his personal views and represent the interests of the NSW community.

“The facts are that not only do the vast majority of people in NSW oppose the sale of Essential Energy, Endeavour Energy, Ausgrid, Transgrid and Snowy Hydro, even Mr Baird’s National Party colleagues are opposed to it, with a unanimous motion against privatisation passed at their state conference last year,” he said.

“The Opposition and minor parties in the Upper House are also opposed to any sale, in line with the position of the vast majority of voters.

“Selling these publicly owned monopolies will spell disaster for NSW, with the likely result being higher electricity prices, reduced services, poor reliability, and the loss of jobs.

“Mr Baird has an obligation to come clean with the people of NSW and confirm once and for all if he plans to push ahead with a sale, benefitting an exclusive few, or will he learn from AWH and fight back against the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups on the NSW Government.”

Vulnerable consumers will face higher power prices following the NSW Government’s decision to deregulate the electricity market, removing the safety net provided by the Independent Regulatory and Pricing Tribunal.

Claims by NSW Energy Minister Anthony Roberts that household power bills could drop by $300 to $400 a year from deregulated electricity prices — in a decision that replicates the current system in South Australia and Victoria — are not backed up by the experiences of those states.

Electrical Trades Union secretary Steve Butler said the latest Australian Energy Regulator report, released last month, showed South Australia now had the highest average household power bills in Australia — despite having a fully privatised and deregulated electricity market.

“When the electricity retailers were privatised in NSW, a regulated electricity market was put in place to provide a safety net for all electricity consumers by putting a lid on price rises,” Mr Butler said.

“That system, recognising that electricity contracts are complicated and hard to understand, was designed to protect the most vulnerable people in our society from being taken advantage of with bad power deals.”

Mr Butler said there was nothing in the current system that prevented suppliers from charging less than the regulated price for electricity, however from July 1 there would no longer be an upper limit.

“The NSW Government’s claim that by following the lead of Victoria and South Australia electricity consumers will save hundreds of dollars from their bills is simply not true,” he said.

“The Federal Government’s own Australian Energy Regulator has found that the deregulated energy market in South Australia has resulted in the highest electricity prices in Australia, with average household power bills now reaching $2335 a year, and the number of complaints soaring to 50,655.

“The situation has become so bad there that two in every five South Australian electricity customers are now on hardship programs.

“In Victoria, average annual electricity bills are the same as in NSW, however the price gap between cheapest and most expensive contracts is the largest in the country, showing vulnerable consumers are suffering the most from unfair power prices.

“You only have to look at those people championing privatisation and deregulation of essential services to see exactly who will benefit from these policies.

“Today’s announcement was not pushed for by electricity customers, rather it is the big electricity providers that have been lobbying the NSW Governments to remove this safety net so they can start charging what  they like.”

Essential Energy has been urged to immediately roll out lifesaving defibrillators across the state, bringing safety standards for their predominantly rural and regional workforce in line with metropolitan power companies.

The Electrical Trades Union last year commissioned independent research that has found portable defibrillators provided an effective, affordable, reliable opportunity to prevent accidental deaths among the thousands of workers who carry out dangerous maintenance and repair work on the State’s electricity poles and wires.

While Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy both responded with an immediate move towards rolling out of the devices across their entire service area, Essential Energy — which operates the electricity network across 95 per cent of NSW — only agreed to trial 20 defibrillators in the Tamworth area.

ETU NSW assistant secretary Neville Betts said staff were furious that, despite regional power workers being at greater risk of preventable deaths caused by electric shocks, Essential Energy was continuing to drag its heals.

“This is a company that has thousands of employees maintaining more than 200,000 kilometres of powerlines across the state — often in places far from emergency services — yet they are being denied a lifesaving device that has already been provided to their city counterparts,” Mr Betts said.

“It’s time Essential Energy ended this farcical trial and committed to an immediate and full  rollout of this proven safety equipment across their network.”

Mr Betts said that of all the electricity distribution companies in NSW, Essential Energy had the worst fatality rate.

“The union raised the importance of defibrillators with former NSW Energy Minister Chris Hartcher and all the electricity network companies in meetings last year,” he said.

“While the former Minister, Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy were very supportive, and responded with an immediate rollout, Essential Energy instead opted to simply conduct a trial.

“Why Essential Energy would need to conduct a trial is beyond me, particular given that portable defibrillators are proven technology that the entire sector accepts.”

The union said Essential Energy’s refusal to act on the issue was made even worse by the fact that one of their employees died last year after an electric shock stopped his heart.

“Trevor Tooze, an experienced Essential Energy employee, was working on an upgrade of high-voltage power lines on the mid-North Coast when he suffered an electric shock,” Mr Betts said.

“While quick-thinking colleagues performed CPR on him, it took more than half an hour for an ambulance to arrive due to the remoteness of the work site.

“The first thing the paramedics did when they arrived was place a defibrillator on him, but unfortunately it was too late.

“A portable defibrillator on his work truck would have allowed him to receive treatment within minutes, which would have greatly increased his chances of survival.”

Mr Betts said defibrillators were affordable and should be placed on work trucks along-side other common safety equipment.

“Portable defibrillators only cost around $3,000 per unit, which is not expensive when compared to other essential safety equipment carried by Essential Energy,” he said.

“For example, the insulated ladders that can be found on every Essential Energy truck cost around $2,000 each. The fact is you can’t put a price on safety.

“Given their affordability and their proven record in saving lives, I don’t know why Essential Energy is continuing to sit on their hands and avoid a network-wide roll out of this lifesaving equipment.”

The O’Farrell Government has been caught attempting to sell out the people of NSW for the sake of a quick buck, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission today ruling against the acquisition of publicly-owned Macquarie Generation by AGL Energy.

The Electrical Trades Union is urging Treasurer Mike Baird to stand by his statement last month that, should the ACCC reject AGL’s offer, the NSW Government would retain ownership of Macquarie Generation so that it could continue as an independent competitor in the electricity marketplace.

ETU spokesman Adam Kerslake said the ACCC’s decision confirmed the union’s view that the privatisation would have reduced competition, restricted the entry of new retailers, and led to higher power prices for the people of NSW.

“The ACCC has confirmed that the sale of Macquarie Generation to AGL is not in the best interest of NSW consumers,” Mr Kerslake said.

“It’s time for Mike Baird to stop trying to sell out the people of NSW for a quick buck and instead commit to retaining Macquarie Generation in public hands so that it can continue to provide effective competition in the sector and keep down power prices.

“If the ACCC could see this sale was bad for competition, and most of the market feedback to their enquiry opposed the deal on those same grounds, how is it possible that the Treasurer of NSW was being honest when he claimed this sale would drive down power prices.”

ACCC chairman Rod Sims mirrored the concerns of the ETU’s submission in his announcement this morning, saying that to allow the sale would have meant the three largest electricity retailers in NSW would also own up to 80 per cent of electricity generation capacity, raising barriers to the entry of other retailers are reducing competition.

Mr Kerslake said the NSW Government had completely mismanaged the sale of Macquarie Generation, owner of the Liddell and Bayswater power stations that collectively provide more than a quarter of the state’s power generation capacity.

“The community has been let down by the NSW Government, and in particular the Treasurer who oversaw this botched sale,” Mr Kerslake said.

“It’s been left to the ACCC to save the people of NSW from anti-competitive arrangement that would have reduced competition and forced up power prices.

“If the O’Farrell Government was fair dinkum about delivering the best outcome for the people of NSW they should never have tried to sell Macquarie Generation in the first place.

“Now that the ACCC has called out the NSW Treasurer on his claims that the privatisation of these publicly owned electricity generators would result in greater competition and lower prices, it’s time for Mike Baird to stand up in parliament and apologise to the people of NSW as well as aborting the planned sale of Delta Coastal.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has been urged to reject AGL Energy’s acquisition of publicly-owned Macquarie Generation over concerns the sale will remove competition, provide a barrier to new retail companies, and increase power prices for NSW consumers.

A review by the Electrical Trades Union of court-enforceable undertakings drafted by AGL — an attempt to quell the ACCC’s concerns around competition — found that the commitments will do nothing to address the loss of an existing standalone market competitor, which will be eliminated if AGL is given the green light.

The union warned the ACCC that if the sale was allowed to proceed it would result in:

  • AGL controlling 35 per cent of NSW electricity generation making it the largest electricity generation company in NSW and Australia;
  • 75 per cent of NSW generation being controlled by just three companies: AGL (35%), Origin Energy (25%) and Energy Australia (15%);
  • A barrier to entry for new market entrants in electricity generation and retailing;
  • No ongoing protections for retailers or consumers beyond 4 years under the proposed undertaking;
  • AGL being permitted to select their own “independent auditor” to police the undertaking; and
  • AGL independently being able to choose not to trade with competing retailers based on credit concerns.

“The ACCC can’t deny that if they approve AGL’s purchase of Macquarie Generation, competition will be reduced,” ETU spokesman Adam Kerslake said.

“Approving AGL’s takeover of Macquarie Generation will see a standalone competitor removed from the electricity market, which can’t be good for electricity consumers across NSW.

“It’s the ACCC’s job to ensure maximum competition exists in order to deliver the most competitive consumer pricing possible. Approving this deal would fly in the face of what the ACCC was designed to do.

“Only two weeks ago, NSW Treasurer Mike Baird said publicly that should the ACCC reject AGL’s offer then the NSW Government would retain ownership and in doing so would guarantee that Macquarie Generation would continue as an independent competitor to AGL and others.

“Given that there is a clear alternative that would ensure the highest level of competition possible, the ETU is of the opinion that the ACCC has no other option but to reject outright AGL’s acquisition of Macquarie Generation.

“The NSW Treasurer said that the privatisation of the publicly owned electricity generators would result in greater competition and lower prices, but it is now obvious from this planned sale that neither of those statements are true.

“The people of NSW have been lied to by Mike Baird and they deserve an apology.

“The general public last hope is that the ACCC make the best decision that will guarantee the highest level of competition. That decision is to reject the AGL deal.”

Prominent Australian economist Professor John Quiggin has launched a scathing attack on energy sector privatisation, concluding that it has failed to deliver promised benefits for consumers.

Professor Quiggin examined 20 years of pro-privatisation reform in his report, “Electricity Privatisation in Australia: A Record of Failure”, which included a detailed economic examination of the outcomes of power sales in Victoria and South Australia.

His research has revealed that many of the claimed benefits of privatisation have not been supported, with key findings including:

  • price rises have been highest in States with privatised electricity networks;
  • customer dissatisfaction jumped, with complaints to the energy ombudsman in privatised States leaping from 500 to over 50,000 per annum;
  • resources have been diverted away from operational functions to management and marketing, resulting in higher costs and poorer service;
  • reliability has declined across a wide range of measures in Victoria;
  • promised increases to investment efficiency have not occurred;
  • real labour productivity has reduced as employment and training of tradespeople was gutted and numbers of managerial and sales staff exploded;
  • private owners are receiving unjustifiably high rates of return based on the low investment risk; and
  • consumers in privatised states bear the cost of approximately 10 per cent per annum interest on private owners’ debt, compared to substantially lower government borrowing costs of three per cent.

“Privatisation, corporatisation and the creation of competitive electricity markets were supposed to give consumers lower prices and more choice, promote efficiency and reliability, and drive better investment decisions,” Professor Quiggan said.

“But after twenty years the evidence is that none of these promised improvements have been delivered.

“After a marked fall in real electricity prices across Australia from the 1950s until the mid-1990s under public ownership, privatisation and the introduction of the National Electricity Market led to a reversal of that trend.

“Prices have risen dramatically. A secure low-cost supply has been replaced with a bewildering array of offers, all at costs inflated by a huge expansion in marketing.

“My research comprehensively finds that the free market based reform process in energy has been a failure.

“Reforms have failed to deliver a competitive market that benefits consumers. The evidence is there that public ownership of critical energy infrastructure is the only sensible response.”

ETU national secretary Allen Hicks said that despite this clear and irrefutable record of failure,State and Federal politicians continue to claim that the only option for improvements was yet more privatisation.

“This research has destroyed those arguments,” he said.

“Privatisation has produced no benefits to consumers, but has resulted in large financial losses to the public.

“This independent academic research has confirmed our long-held concerns that the sale of publicly-owned power assets is an absolute disaster.”

Stop the Sell Off campaign spokesman Adam Kerslake said Professor Quiggin’s research had confirmed anecdotal experiences that a free market push for the electricity sector had not only failed to improve power affordability, it had actually lead to higher prices.

“In NSW, the future of our publicly owned electricity assets is under threat from a governments with a strong privatisation agenda,” Mr Kerslake said.

“This rigorous independent academic research finally provides a factual basis to drive decision making, rather than the blind reliance on free market ideology which is spouted by many proponents of privatisation.

“In Victoria we have seen workers and the broader community enduring the detrimental impacts of electricity privatisation for two decades, which is why we are campaigning so hard to save our own power network.

“It is no surprise to us that a detailed examination of the economics of privatisation has concluded that these electricity reforms have been a ‘spectacular failure’ and that there is no justification for further sales.”

Click for a full copy of Professor Quiggin’s report.

Watch the documentary trailer or the full version documentary (18 min.)

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) has today made a submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) urging the market regulator to reject AGL Energy’s acquisition of publicly owned Macquarie Generation.

The ETU is running a campaign against electricity privatisation called Stop the Sell Off where the union is backing community calls to stop further privatisation of publicly owned electricity assets.

Campaign spokesperson, Adam Kerslake said today that the ACCC has a legal and moral obligation to act in the best interest of electricity consumers and the public generally.

“People expect the competition regulator to do its job and stand up for consumers, which in the case of AGL’s bid for Macquarie Generation would be to reject the proposal outright,” said Mr Kerslake.

“The public were told in no uncertain terms that the privatisation of publicly owned electricity generators, including Macquarie Generation, would result in greater competition and reduced electricity prices.

“The truth of the matter is that any sale of Macquarie Generation to AGL will have the reverse affect that is, less competition, greater market concentration and higher electricity prices.

“If the ACCC gives the green light and permits AGL to buy Macquarie Generation, what we will see is a reduction in competition and the creation of a company that will have significant market dominance.

“The question I have is how can this be in the interest of electricity consumers and the people of NSW?

“What makes things worse is that NSW Treasurer Mike Baird has today disclosed that AGL’s bid for Macquarie Generation falls significantly short of what the company is actually worth.

“Macquarie Generation has a book value in excess of $2 billion, however AGL’s offer is $1.72 billion meaning the people of NSW will not only be left with higher electricity prices but the Treasurer will be selling a public asset for less than what it is worth.

“If the ACCC lives up to community expectations and rejects AGL’s offer, then Mike Baird must live up to his commitment that the NSW Government will maintain public ownership of Macquarie Generation.

“The Upper Hunter community has been put through the wringer too many times when it comes to the privatisation of Macquarie Generation; its time to put a stop to this privatisation madness.” Mr Kerslake said.

With increasingly reliable political leaks suggesting Tony Abbott’s Commission of Audit will recommend privatising a raft of public assets — including the highly-profitable Australian icon Snowy Hydro — local MPs Peter Hendy and John Barilaro have been called upon to publicly rule out any planned sale by their respective governments.

The Electrical Trades Union’s privatisation concerns — which were labelled a ‘scare campaign’ by Mr Hendy and others when first raised in late 2012 — rapidly appear to be turning into a very real nightmare for the local community and the almost one thousand employees who rely on Snowy Hydro for their livelihoods.

Prior to the 2013 Federal Election, Mr Hendy told the community that they had nothing to worry about when it came to Snowy Hydro, but the ETU said it is looking increasingly likely that Mr Hendy may have deceived local residents with those statements.

Stop the Sell Off campaign director Adam Kerslake today called on both local politicians to categorically rule out any privatisation of Snowy Hydro.

“Power industry unions first raised fears that Snowy Hydro would be privatised more than a year ago, with certain local identities dismissing it as a union scare campaign,” Mr Kerslake said.

“But since the election, privatisation rumours and speculation has reached a fever pitch, with power industry unions concerned that they are about to turn into a very real nightmare for local businesses and the community.

“The big threat for a town like Cooma is that any buyer, most likely a foreign company or government, will already have an established head office elsewhere, meaning up to 200 high quality head office jobs in Cooma would be lost overnight.

“This doesn’t take into account other operational areas, which could take total job losses for the region to in excess of 500, with negative flow-on effects for the entire community, in particular local businesses.

“For every 13 jobs taken out of Cooma, $1 million is lost from the local economy, so local businesses and other sectors such as real estate will undoubtedly be impacted.

“We have had zero guarantees from local MPs Peter Hendy and John Barilaro, who seem content to sit on their hands and simply allow a Snowy Hydro sale to happen.”

Mr Kerslake said it was time for local members of parliament to respond to the wishes of the local community by pledging to take a public stand against the potential privatisation within their respective governments.

“Peter Hendy and John Barilaro must categorically rule out any privatisation of Snowy Hydro,” Mr Kerslake said.

“If they can’t do that, they must explain to the community why they are not willing to stand up and represent the people that elected them.

“We also want to know exactly what representations Peter Hendy has made to the Prime Minister, Treasurer or the Commission of Audit on behalf of the local community opposing the privatisation of Snowy Hydro, and if there have been no representations, then why not?

“Given Snowy Hydro is publicly owned by the Commonwealth, NSW and Victorian Governments, we are today calling on all three to clearly outline their future plans for this important piece of national infrastructure.”