04 June 2006

Great debacles of our time: Snowy Hydro

The road to privatisation for non-core government assets is riddled with potholes.

But that's not to say that most of them cannot be avoided.

In the case of the recent Snowy Hydro fiasco, it appears that the driver of this particular car fairly aimed all four wheels at the same hole. At once.

What we ended up with was a complete mess.

Morris Iemma, premier of New South Wales has come out of this in perhaps the worst shape of his political career. Steve Bracks, premier of Victoria hasn't ended up much better.

In fact, the whole sordid affair looks more and more likely to bury the New South Wales labor government.

Meanwhile, the architects of this disgraceful little episode, the PM and Senator Bill Heffernan, look like heroes to their core constituents, as well as some unlikely prestige in the eyes of the green/left vote.

Who woulda thunk it?

I for one have to get my two cents in and tip a bucket over the federal government for this.

The thing is - would they have done anything else?

John Howard has revealed himself to be a policy maker on the run, incessantly chasing after votes from the lowest common denominator.

Iemma needed these funds real bad. The NSW government, after years of financial mismanagement by the ALP have a fiscal black hole that needs some serious plugging.

And as for Bracks, well, at least he was able to back out with some pride when the rug got pulled.

But none of this is the point.

None of this finger pointing actually achieves anything. Incidentally, Alan Kohler speculated in Saturday's Age that Howard was going to fry Bracks and Iemma all along. The theory being that, even though the federal government is all for privatisation and would, "plough on through any opposition, even Alan Jones," to achieve it, they would much rather embarrass two state labor governments if they could.

The point is that all the reasons for not privatising Snowy Hydro were all wrong.

Kohler himself points out the following:

"The Snowy hydro-electric scheme is no more iconic than the Loy Yang power station, the national phone network, or even the TABs."

"In withdrawing it from sale the [federal] Government has capitulated to the paranoid and cynical campaigns of vested interests."

"Snowy Hydro is, in fact, an investment bank — selling derivatives and insurance products to the electricity industry."

Quite a scathing indictment, actually.

Elsewhere, some quite fraudulent arguments were uttered by the Victorian branch of the Australian Greens about who owned the water.

Bill Heffernan weighed in with some concerns that foreigners could end up controlling it. (So what?)

What is nearly worst about this tawdry chapter is that our government once again, just like with the failed bid by Royal Dutch Shell for Woodside Petroleum, has shown the rest of the world that while we talk the talk about open and fair economies, we don't walk the walk.

This is a DISGRACE.

What is the worst is that it shows that the federal government is not above using populist rubbish like this for their own political gains, once again proving that democracy is at times, frustratingly undemocratic.

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