Fears sell-off will be a shocker

A TAMWORTH National Party powerbroker has made a last-ditch plea for MPs to reject a sell-off of poles and wires ahead of today’s cross-party room crisis talks on the issue.

Chairman of the Nationals New England Federal Electorate Council and Tamworth deputy mayor Russell Webb said regional areas would be left highly vulnerable if the state government forged ahead with a sale.

Premier Mike Baird and deputy premier and Nationals leader Andrew Stoner are today expected to pitch a proposed 99-year lease of 49 per cent of the poles and wires to their respective party rooms in the hope they can take the policy to next March’s election. 

Cr Webb said while a sale would raise crucial revenue for the government, it could come at the expense of jobs and services for the bush.

“Any corporate body that takes over will look at the best return for their dollar and the best return is obviously in the more highly populated areas,” Cr Webb said.

“I really believe service delivery and job security will be jeopardised.

“We need to stand up and fight for residents in outlying areas on this one.”

Cr Webb will ask councillors to take a formal position on the sale at tonight’s Tamworth Regional Council meeting.

The sale could raise up to $15 billion for the government, at a time when NSW faces pressing infrastructure needs.

It is likely Essential Energy – which services the bush – would be exempt from the sale proposal, but anti-sale MPs fear a partial sale would leave Essential far more exposed to future privatisation.

As concerns rise about the sale, Nationals MP John Barilaro has called for a referendum on the issue, also sending a briefing document to his party colleagues.

The document, which assumes a full sale of the poles and wires network, estimates an $8 billion return to the government based on a sale price of $30 billion, including a 

$1 billion federal incentive payment. But it also points out that in 2013 the businesses delivered more than $3 billion to the NSW government through dividends and other payments.

An $8 billion return on a full sale would be “the equivalent of 2.5 years of current government revenue,’’ it notes.

The briefing highlights “issues’’ identified in Victoria following its electricity network privatisation in the 1990s. 

Consumer complaints increased from 5166 in 1997 to 56,975 in 2013.

Electricity jobs in the state were also cut by close to 80 per cent.

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