Power industry unions have slammed a NSW Government’s decision to privatise the function of electricity metering, saying the policy will drive up prices and add yet another level of complexity to an already confusing sector.
The United Services Union and Electrical Trades Union said the decision would also lead to higher prices, with the profitable metering arms of the electricity distributors currently providing income that allows electricity prices to be kept lower for consumers.
They also attacked the announcement as a political backflip, saying it had come just months after Premier Barry O’Farrell pledged that the NSW Government would seek an electoral mandate before selling electricity network assets.
The unions are considering lodging a dispute with Fair Work Australia over the planned sale of the electricity meter arms of Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy.
United Services Union general secretary Graeme Kelly said the decision to slice off profitable parts of the electricity network for sale to the private sector was not only a political backflip, it was short-sighted and would lead to increasing prices for customers.
“The NSW Government has no mandate to cut out parts of the electricity network and sell them off to private operators,” Mr Kelly said.
“This is a clear backflip on promises Mr O’Farrell has repeatedly made to the people of NSW that he would not sell the poles and wires electricity business without seeking a political mandate.
“He is acting without any accountability, either to the Parliament or the people.”
ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said experiences from around Australia confirmed that consumers would be the big losers if the sale was allowed to go ahead.
“Every time the government sells off a part of the electricity sector it adds yet another private company to the supply chain that is looking to make profits for their shareholders and not deliver a service at the lowest possible price to the public,” said Mr Butler.
“It was only two weeks ago that the former head of the electricity network in South Australia, a state that has already privatised their electricity assets, said that South Australian residents had the highest electricity prices in Australia as a direct result of privatisation and the complexity of the sector.
“South Australia has among the highest electricity prices in the world and the same thing will happen in NSW if the O’Farrell Government is allowed to get away with privatising further elements of this essential public service.
“Today’s announcement has been made without any consultation with the public or those that currently do this work.”
Mr Kelly said the NSW Government appeared to be starting with large industrial customers, but that unions were concerned residential electricity meters would form part of the final sale.
“You can bet your house on the fact that if the NSW Government are pushing to sell off large industrial electricity meters that the next step will be to privatise residential meters, a device that every single house across NSW has,” he said.
“What this will ultimately mean is yet another company will have their hand in the consumers pocket when it comes to electricity prices.”