Warning not to sell power poles and wires


The NSW opposition and unions are warning the government not to sell off the state's "poles and wires" electricity infrastructure, despite repeated promises it won't be privatised.

A $1.5 million campaign against the sale of the distribution network was launched yesterday by the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), the United Services Union (USU), the Public Service Association, and the Association of Professional Engineers and Scientists and Managers Australia.

Using the results of a recent union survey of 1801 NSW residents, the ETU and USU argue the "overwhelming view" of the public is against the sale of the infrastructure.

"[The poles and wires] are owned by the residents of NSW and they're not for any government to sell," ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said yesterday.

The survey indicated the fate of the power infrastructure would influence how people voted at the next state election, Mr Butler said.

Both groups argue the distribution network would probably be purchased by foreign investors if put up for sale, as happened in South Australia and Victoria.

This would drive up electricity costs and transfer $3.5 billion the government earns from the poles and wires - money used to improve schools and hospitals - into the hands of overseas investors, USU general secretary Graeme Kelly said.

"Our polling shows us that the vast majority of people don't believe that foreign ownership is in their best interest," Mr Kelly said.

Opposition Leader John Robertson has called on the government to confirm it won't privatise the poles and wires, saying it would "send energy bills soaring".

"Electricity bills have already risen by almost $600 in the two years since Mr O'Farrell came to office, and privatising electricity will only make things worse," he said in a statement.

"If the premier and treasurer have any understanding of the pressure rising electricity bills are having on NSW families, they will categorically rule out selling the poles and wires," Mr Robertson said.

NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell said in a statement yesterday that his government's election promise to keep poles and wires as a public asset "has not changed".

He said the unions were using the issue to run an "unfounded scare campaign". AAP


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