Thanks to Jeremy Corbyn the message that neoliberalism is in its death throes is inspiring people from London to Wollongong.
Corbyn’s deputy, Ian Lavery, is in the Illawarra on Thursday to give the keynote speech at the ‘Beyond Neoliberalism, Privatisation & Inequality’ Conference, organised by the South Coast Labor Council.
Mr Lavery will feel right at home in one of Australia’s most prominent coal mining communities. In the famous British coal miners’ strike of 1984-85 that took on the Thatcher government Lavery was the only mining apprentice who downed tools. By 2002 he was president of the coal miners’ union and by 2010 a MP at Westminster.
He will be in his element joining with unionists, academics, activists, Greens and Labor members talking about a post neoliberalism future.
His own party, British Labour, has surged to 400,000 members largely off the back of a concerted campaign to shift away from the policies of the Thatcher-Reagan years that have delivered privatisations, weaker unions, deregulation and tax cuts for the rich.
The post-neoliberal message has the potential to resonate with the people of the Illawarra, an area of high unemployment and therefore welfare dependence.
The electricity mess, directly related to the privatisation agenda of the NSW government, illustrates just one of the reasons why neoliberalism is on the nose.
We were promised more competition and efficiency if we sold off the electricity sector. Instead we have double digit increases in power prices and system unreliability.
In contrast it is worth recalling that right up until the privatisation in the 1990s government–owned electricity sector was delivering falling prices.
The debate in Briton over their suite of privatisations of government assets and services has thrown up the solution of renationalising privatised assets like electricity and to initiate a new age of public enterprise.
John Quiggin, the professor of economics at Queensland University, earlier this year laid out a path to bring back the Australian electricity grid into public ownership. It would be owned by Commonwealth and state governments, much like Snowy Hydro.
Professor Quiggin put the emphasis on making sure the publicly-owned national grid ensured regular and reliable supply to consumers at a reasonable cost.
I would add that if we are to genuinely tackle climate change and significantly reduce emissions then a publicly owned electricity system is essential. Markets and private enterprise will not do the job of converting our power system to renewables fast enough.
Governments can do the job cheaper too, as they can borrow the money needed for investment in renewables at interest rates about four per cent lower than private firms.
Nationalisation might seem a notion that has been long dead and buried but it has now become a popular demand in Britain where the mania for privatisation began back in the 1980s.
A recent poll commission by right-wing think-tank Legatum Institute found that 80 per cent of British voters favoured nationalisation of rail, electricity, gas, water and the Royal Mail. What’s more, a majority of Conservative voters, also favoured these nationalisations.
For Britons, the modern idea of nationalisation includes democratic management by workers and consumers of the government-owned firms, a concept that Illawarra unions have raised in past campaigns. No one wants a return to the centralised bureaucracies of the past.
Jeremy Corbyn, Ian Lavery and British Labour made nationalisations a central part of their platform in the recent British elections which they nearly won against all predictions.
Thursday’s conference in Wollongong is set to put the call for re-nationalising the privatised electricity grid and other key assets centre stage coming into the next federal election.
* Lee Rhiannon is a Greens NSW Senator.