ETU Media Releases

The Snowy Hydro looks set to be sold off, with hundreds of jobs lost from the region, if the Coalition wins this year’s federal election, the Electrical Trades Union has warned.

ETU Secretary Steve Butler said Tony Abbott’s budget reply speech would have sent a shiver down spines across the region.

“We have grave concerns for the future of the Snowy Hydro after Mr Abbott’s budget reply speech,” Mr Butler said.

“The Opposition Leader has committed to a federal commission of audit. Experience from both NSW and Queensland state commissions of audit shows what will happen: it will recommend to sell commonwealth assets including the federal government’s 13 per cent stake in Snowy Hydro.

“It is highly likely that the audit will recommend the wholesale privatisation of the iconic Snowy Hydro, which would be a devastating blow for the region.

“Snowy Hydro is one of the largest employers in the region. Its sale would put hundreds of jobs at risk, because the buyer will already have an established head office either overseas, or in Sydney or Melbourne. 

“But an equally painful blow to the region would come from lost revenue. The public would lose millions of dollars in dividends that currently help fund vital services like schools, hospitals and roads.”

Mr Butler said the federal election in September would be a pivotal moment in the Snowy Hydro’s proud history.

“Ben Chifley would be turning in his grave at the prospect of privatising Snowy Hydro, a project of vision and foresight that his government supported back in 1949 for the benefit of future generations.

“The federal election will now be a referendum in Eden-Monaro on whether or not to privatise the Snowy Hydro,” he said.

“Labor has categorically ruled out any sale of the Commonwealth Government’s 13 per cent stake in Snowy Hydro, which effectively secures public ownership of the asset should Labor win the election. 

“The choice for Eden-Monaro voters is clear: a Coalition government that will sell Snowy Hydro or a Labor government that will keep it in public hands.”

Electricity unions will today unveil a prominent billboard on a major road artery in Parramatta as part of a $1.5 million dollar community campaign highlighting the dangers of privatising the electricity poles and wires monopoly.

The billboard — on James Ruse Drive opposite Rosehill Racecourse — is one of several that have been installed this week, coinciding with a print and radio advertising campaign.

The campaign comes ahead of the release of a NSW Government report into how an electricity network privatisation transaction may take place — one of the key recommendations arising from the NSW Commission of Audit.

The ad blitz also comes as new polling reveals the Western Sydney community is overwhelmingly opposed to any plan to privatise the State’s electricity poles and wires, with strong concerns that a sale would lead to increased power prices.

The poll of 200 people across West and South West Sydney — commissioned by the Electrical Trades Union, United Services Union, Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia and the Public Service Association — found 87 per cent believe the electricity network is an essential service that should remain in government hands.

Just 17 per cent agreed that the poles and wires should be sold to fund other infrastructure projects, while 85 per cent said they believed a sale would lead to power prices going up and 91 per cent said a foreign company should not be allowed to buy the network.

“It is time for the O’Farrell Government to come clean with the people of NSW about their plans,” ETU Western Sydney Organiser Mark Buttigieg said.

“Publicly they keep trying to deny that a sale is on, but at the same time they are currently producing a report on how the privatisation of the electricity poles and wires might work, following the recommendations of the NSW Commission of Audit.

“And they can’t even get their stories straight, with the NSW Treasurer saying the privatisation was being considered to plug a budget black hole earlier this year while the Premier said the exact opposite just a couple weeks later.

“We want local Liberal MPs Geoff Lee, Tony Issa and David Elliott to be up front with the local community and reveal, once and for all, whether they support the sale of this essential service, or whether they will fight against it in the party room.

“When asked, the Western Sydney community overwhelmingly opposed any proposed sale.

“Now it is time for our local MPs to publicly reject any plans to privatise the state’s electricity network to private interests and commit to keeping the poles and wires in public hands.”

United Services Union general secretary Graeme Kelly said the community clearly recognised the negative consequences of privatisation in other states.

“The experiences of network privatisation in Victoria — where Black Saturday bushfire victims are currently suing the foreign multi-national whose faulty maintenance of the electricity network sparked several of the deadly blazes — seemed to weigh heavily on many of the people who were polled,” Mr Kelly said.

“A staggering 91 per cent said foreign companies should not be allowed to own important infrastructure such as our electricity network.

“Following the privatisation of the poles and wires in South Australia, that state now has the highest electricity prices in Australia.

“Here in NSW, the community gets the benefits of the dividends paid by these state-owned corporations, which deliver more than $2.5 billion every year to the state’s coffers to fund hospitals, schools and community services.

“The transmission network and the poles and wires running down every single street across NSW are a natural monopoly, there is no possibility of competition.

“A privatised electricity network makes it impossible for consumers get a good deal when it comes to price, maintenance and service delivery, as they have no other choice.”

Electricity unions will unveil a prominent billboard on a major road and rail artery in Penrith tomorrow as part of a $1.5 million dollar community campaign highlighting the dangers of privatising the electricity poles and wires monopoly.

The billboard — on the Great Western Highway opposite Nepean Hospital — is one of several that will be installed this week, coinciding with a print and radio advertising campaign.

The campaign comes ahead of the release of a NSW Government report into how an electricity network privatisation transaction may take place — one of the key recommendations arising from the NSW Commission of Audit.

The ad blitz also comes as new polling reveals the Western Sydney community is overwhelmingly opposed to any plan to privatise the State’s electricity poles and wires, with strong concerns that a sale would lead to increased power prices.

The poll of 200 people across West and South West Sydney — commissioned by the Electrical Trades Union, United Services Union, Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia and the Public Service Association — found 87 per cent believe the electricity network is an essential service that should remain in government hands.

Just 17 per cent agreed that the poles and wires should be sold to fund other infrastructure projects, while 85 per cent said they believed a sale would lead to power prices going up and 91 per cent said a foreign company should not be allowed to buy the network.

“It is time for the O’Farrell Government to come clean with the people of NSW about their plans,” ETU assistant secretary Paul Sinclair said.

“Publicly they keep trying to deny that a sale is on, but at the same time they are currently producing a report on how the privatisation of the electricity poles and wires might work, following the recommendations of the NSW Commission of Audit.

“And they can’t even get their stories straight, with the NSW Treasurer saying the privatisation was being considered to plug a budget black hole earlier this year while the Premier said the exact opposite just a couple weeks later.

“We want local Liberal MPs Stuart Ayres, Tanya Davies and Bart Bassett to be up front with the local community and reveal, once and for all, whether they support the sale of this essential service, or whether they will fight against it in the party room.

“When asked, the Western Sydney community overwhelmingly opposed any proposed sale.

“Now it is time for our local MPs to publicly reject any plans to privatise the state’s electricity network to private interests and commit to keeping the poles and wires in public hands.”

United Services Union general secretary Graeme Kelly said the community clearly recognised the negative consequences of privatisation in other states.

“The experiences of network privatisation in Victoria — where Black Saturday bushfire victims are currently suing the foreign multi-national whose faulty maintenance of the electricity network sparked several of the deadly blazes — seemed to weigh heavily on many of the people who were polled,” Mr Kelly said.

“A staggering 91 per cent said foreign companies should not be allowed to own important infrastructure such as our electricity network.

“Following the privatisation of the poles and wires in South Australia, that state now has the highest electricity prices in Australia.

“Here in NSW, the community gets the benefits of the dividends paid by these state-owned corporations, which deliver more than $2.5 billion every year to the state’s coffers to fund hospitals, schools and community services.

“The transmission network and the poles and wires running down every single street across NSW are a natural monopoly, there is no possibility of competition.

“A privatised electricity network makes it impossible for consumers get a good deal when it comes to price, maintenance and service delivery, as they have no other choice.”

Electricity unions will unveil a prominent billboard on the M5 at Revesby tomorrow as part of a $1.5 million dollar community campaign highlighting the dangers of privatising the electricity poles and wires monopoly.

The billboard — near Horsley Road — is one of several that will be installed this week, coinciding with a print and radio advertising campaign.

The campaign comes ahead of the release of a NSW Government report into how an electricity network privatisation transaction may take place — one of the key recommendations arising from the NSW Commission of Audit.

The ad blitz also comes as new polling reveals the Western Sydney community is overwhelmingly opposed to any plan to privatise the State’s electricity poles and wires, with strong concerns that a sale would lead to increased power prices.

The poll of 200 people across West and South West Sydney — commissioned by the Electrical Trades Union, United Services Union, Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia and the Public Service Association — found 87 per cent believe the electricity network is an essential service that should remain in government hands.

Just 17 per cent agreed that the poles and wires should be sold to fund other infrastructure projects, while 85 per cent said they believed a sale would lead to power prices going up and 91 per cent said a foreign company should not be allowed to buy the network.

“It is time for the O’Farrell Government to come clean with the people of NSW about their plans,” ETU assistant secretary Paul Sinclair said.

“Publicly they keep trying to deny that a sale is on, but at the same time they are currently producing a report on how the privatisation of the electricity poles and wires might work, following the recommendations of the NSW Commission of Audit.

“And they can’t even get their stories straight, with the NSW Treasurer saying the privatisation was being considered to plug a budget black hole earlier this year while the Premier said the exact opposite just a couple weeks later.

“Local Liberal MPs like Glenn Brookes, Melanie Gibbons, Bryan Doyle and Chris Patterson need to be up front with the local community and reveal, once and for all, whether they support the sale of this essential service, or whether they will fight against it in the party room.

“When asked, the Western Sydney community overwhelmingly opposed any proposed sale.

“Now it is time for our local MPs to publicly reject any plans to privatise the state’s electricity network to private interests and commit to keeping the poles and wires in public hands.”

United Services Union general secretary Graeme Kelly said the community clearly recognised the negative consequences of privatisation in other states.

“The experiences of network privatisation in Victoria — where Black Saturday bushfire victims are currently suing the foreign multi-national whose faulty maintenance of the electricity network sparked several of the deadly blazes — seemed to weigh heavily on many of the people who were polled,” Mr Kelly said.

“A staggering 91 per cent said foreign companies should not be allowed to own important infrastructure such as our electricity network.

“Following the privatisation of the poles and wires in South Australia, that state now has the highest electricity prices in Australia.

“Here in NSW, the community gets the benefits of the dividends paid by these state-owned corporations, which deliver more than $2.5 billion every year to the state’s coffers to fund hospitals, schools and community services.

“The transmission network and the poles and wires running down every single street across NSW are a natural monopoly, there is no possibility of competition.

“A privatised electricity network makes it impossible for consumers get a good deal when it comes to price, maintenance and service delivery, as they have no other choice.”

Internal Essential Energy documents have confirmed that management at the government-owned energy company have been directed to encourage 600 staff to consider taking redundancies through a “mix and match” process, according to the Electrical Trades Union.

The process allows staff to voluntarily swap their current position for a redundancy.

Given Essential Energy’s service area covers more than 90 per cent of the state and the company employs more than 5000 people in regional areas the plan is likely to impact on countless local communities.

The ETU said that while NSW Energy Minister Chris Hartcher yesterday told Port Macquarie media that “nobody is losing their job” at Essential Energy, the documents tell another story.

“We have seen documentation briefing managers to ask their staff to mix and match,” ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said.

“It is our understanding that Essential Energy has written to 600 employees asking them if they are interested in taking up the mix and match proposal.

“This is part of a planned approach by Essential Energy to reduce staff numbers, starting with a freeze on recruitment, voluntary redundancies for management and redundancies for award workers.

“Our concern is that the final part of this will be to force people out if they can’t shed enough jobs voluntarily, which means the positions of all employees are potentially at risk.”

Essential Energy’s secretive job cuts are a far cry from Energy Minister Chris Hartcher’s statements yesterday that anybody who has left the company had “done so as a result of their own free choice”.

“The Energy Minister needs to make some urgent inquiries into these job cuts, because what he said yesterday does not line up with what staff at Essential are being told,” Mr Butler said.

“The O’Farrell Government made a commitment before the last election that there would be no jobs lost at Essential Energy’s office in Port Macquarie, and we hope Mr Hartcher will take the appropriate actions to keep that promise to the community.

“Just as importantly, the Minister and Essential Energy have an obligation to tell the community what impact on vital electricity services staffing reductions are likely to have elsewhere in their service area.

“Experience tells us that when you cut front line jobs, it’s the customers who always suffer.”

Electricity unions will today launch a multi-million dollar community campaign against a proposal by the O’Farrell Government to sell the state’s electricity poles and wires monopoly to pay for unfunded election commitments.

A state-wide poll of 1801 people — commissioned by the campaign partners — has revealed the community is overwhelming opposed to the plan, with 80 per cent of people saying the electricity network should be owned by the public and operated to benefit the community, while 86 per cent said they believed power prices would rise if the poles and wires were privatised.

The campaign — spearheaded by the Electrical Trades Union, United Services Union, Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia and Public Service Association — includes an initial commitment of $1.5 million to fund advertising, community events and campaigning in key electorates.

“Our polling confirms that the people of NSW are overwhelmingly against this proposal — as revealed last month by Treasurer Mike Baird — because they believe it is bad economics, bad politics, and bad for their communities,” ETU secretary Steve Butler said.

“Of the almost two-thousand people polled, 87 per cent said the issue would have some impact on how they vote at the next election, 80 per cent said the electricity network should remain in public ownership and 71 per cent said they believed government does a better job of running the poles and wires than a private company would.

“These sentiments were even stronger in many regional areas, where the impact of potential service reductions or cost increases would be most acutely felt.

“The experiences of network privatisation in Victoria — where Black Saturday bushfire victims are currently suing the foreign multi-national whose faulty maintenance of the electricity network sparked several of the deadly blazes — also seemed to weigh heavily on many in the community. Ninety-two per cent of those polled said foreign companies should not be allowed to own important infrastructure such as our electricity network.

“If a bad government reduces services, the community can vote them out, but when large multinationals get their hands on essential services like the electricity network, the community has no recourse except expensive, time-consuming battles through the courts.”

United Services Union general secretary Graeme Kelly said the campaign would seek to debunk the myth that privatisation would be good for consumers.

“South Australia has the highest electricity prices in Australia following the privatisation of their poles and wires, while power prices in NSW remain cheaper than Victoria where privatisation has been hailed a success,” Mr Kelly said.

“Here in NSW, the community also gets the benefits of the dividends paid by these state owned corporations, which deliver more than $2.5 billion every year to the state’s coffers to fund hospitals, schools and community services.

“Our polling shows that most people in NSW already understand this, with 86 per cent saying they believe electricity prices will go up if the government privatises our network.

“The transmission lines which bring power from the generators, down to the poles and wires running down your street, are a natural monopoly, where there is no possibility of competition. That makes it impossible for consumers get a good deal when it comes to price, maintenance and service delivery, as they have no other choice.

“This campaign is about bringing together working people and the broader community to demand the O’Farrell Government move away from this proposal to ensure essential services like electricity are kept in public hands.”

Launch of anti-privatisation campaign:
When: 11.30am, Tuesday, 2 April 2013
Where: Hospital Road, Sydney (Behind Parliament)

The plight of Black Saturday bushfire victims — who are this week being forced to relive the 2009 tragedy in court to ensure foreign owned power company SP AusNet pays compensation over fires allegedly caused by faulty wires — highlights the potential ramifications of the O’Farrell Government’s electricity privatisation push.

The Electrical Trades Union said that despite the Bushfire Royal Commission finding that several of the fires which killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2000 homes were caused through lack of maintenance on the Singapore-owned electricity network, victims were being forced to jump through legal hoops in order to get compensation.

“If the Victorian electricity network was still publicly owned, there is no question that victims would not have been forced to relive this tragedy yet again simply to get compensation,” ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said.

“That is especially true as the Royal Commission has already found several of these fires were caused by maintenance failings on the privately owned network.

“Unfortunately, the NSW Government seems to have learnt nothing from the experience of Black Saturday victims, who have had their tragic experience compounded by having to fight a multinational power company tooth and nail through the courts to be compensated for the horrific loss of lives, homes and livelihoods caused by these fires.

“Despite this, the O’Farrell Government are planning to do the same thing here in NSW and sell off the electricity network to the private sector who will cut back on maintenance, increase prices and slash services.

“Retaining this essential service in government ownership isn’t just about maintaining service standards, it is about ensuring it remains publicly accountable.

“Private companies, particularly those with foreign-ownership, have very little accountability to the community and will attempt to use every trick in the book to avoid paying compensation to victims of events like the Victorian Bushfires.

“If the Victorian Government still owned the electricity network it is highly unlikely that victims would now be reliving this nightmare through the courts, as the government would almost certainly have acted and compensated those affected.

“Electricity is not only an essential service required for everyday life, but it is also a highly dangerous commodity that can kill if the network is not maintained to the highest standard or network investment is cut.

“Experience shows us that this is exactly what private owners do in order to return maximum profits to shareholders.

“In Victoria we have clearly seen that under private ownership profits have come first and the public have come a distant second, which is now being played out in the courts.

“The O’Farrell Government needs to halt their own ideological privatisation push and guarantee that the people of NSW will never have to endure a similar experience.”

The Electrical Trades Union has uncovered secret plans by the O’Farrell Government to cut more than half of the 13,500 jobs from the electricity sector through redundancies and forced sackings. 

The document compiled by Networks NSW show that the O’Farrell Government is planning to slash staff numbers by almost 60% through a systematic program including a staff freeze, redundancies and forced sackings.

The union is warning local communities that these deep and savage cuts will have a disastrous impact on frontline services particularly in periods of natural disaster such as bushfires, storms and floods.

“The information that we have uncovered shows a calculated plan by the O’Farrell Government to slash staff numbers at the publicly owned electricity companies by more than half.” said ETU Secretary Steve Butler.

“Essential Energy currently employs 548 staff at more than twenty locations across northern and north west NSW.

“Residents across northern NSW continue to endure natural disasters including bushfires, storms and flooding but it is the highly skilled and dedicated workers from Essential Energy that make sure the community have power restored as quickly as possible in times of need.

“If the O’Farrell Government goes ahead with their plans to cut more than half the workforce, this could result in the loss of hundreds of highly skilled jobs from the North West, Tamworth and Northern Tableland regions potentially leaving the community stranded and without power during future emergencies.” Mr Butler said.

“You cannot sack more than half of the electricity sector workforce without having a negative impact on emergency response capabilities, reliability, network maintenance and public safety” Butler said.

“Ask the residents of Coonabarabran if they think cutting staff at an essential service like the electricity companies is a good idea considering what those communities have just had to go through.” said Mr Butler 

Documents obtained by the ETU also reveal a planned timetable that will see the cuts implemented well before the next election.

“This timetable demonstrates that the Government knows these cuts will be unpopular and they want them implemented well before the next election in the hope that the community forgets.

“If you were cynical like me, you might think these cuts were being made in preparation for full power privatisation which will result not only in further cuts but also depot closures.” said Mr Butler.

“Towns across Northern NSW like Tamworth, Armidale, Moree, Glen Innes and Bourke are all doing it tough when it comes to employment opportunities and this is why we cannot allow hundreds of local jobs to be ripped out of these regional areas.” Mr Butler finished.

While the NSW electricity network is expected to cope with the increased demand and extreme heat conditions today the ETU has said that any future reduction in network investment and network reliability standards would mean future extreme heat days could be very different.

ETU Secretary, Steve Butler said that some politicians are pushing to reduce network reliability and network investment that would put undue pressure on the electricity network in future extreme heat occurrences.

“In recent months we have listened to politicians from all major parties say that there should be a reduction in network investment and reliability standards but today is the perfect example why this should not happen.” said Mr Butler.

“NSW residents and business owners expect electricity to be available even on the hottest days of the year and any push to reduce network reliability would be bad for the business community and bad for NSW residents trying to stay cool.

“I challenge those politicians that have recently said we should reduce reliability standards to come out today and repeat those claims. These political leaders need to tell us how they will reduce reliability and what impact that will have on businesses and residents on a day like today.” Mr Butler said.

“Blackouts are inconvenient at the best of times and are sometimes unavoidable but governments have a responsibility to do everything in their power to guarantee the supply of electricity all year round including in extreme weather events such as today.

“I expect that the NSW electricity network will stand up to the demands placed on it today, this will not be without incident but a well maintained and well managed network, which we have in NSW can deliver on a day like this.” said Mr Butler.

“I believe that the government is best positioned to deliver a reliable electricity supply through a well maintained and well managed network and that is why the ETU in NSW is opposed to any form of electricity privatisation that would put future reliability and public safety at risk.

“We have seen in the past that the privately owned electricity networks in Victoria and South Australia continually fail to meet community expectations during extreme weather events.

“The Bushfire Royal Commission found that five of the eleven 2009 Victorian bushfires were caused by lack of safety inspections and network investment, while in South Australia the electricity network struggles to cope during extreme heat resulting in blackouts.” Mr Butler said

“We cannot let this happen in NSW and that is why the ETU will continue to highlight the benefits of public ownership of the NSW electricity assets.”