Last month the architects of the plans to privatise New South Wales (NSW) electricity infrastructure were thrown out of power. Morris Iemma, the former Premier and Michael Costa, the much hated former Treasurer were kicked off the front bench of the Labor led State Government.
The saga began when the State Labor Party cabinet defied a NSW Labor Party Conference decision not to support privatisation. Iemma and Costa decided to not only go against the Conference decision but to also go against the wishes of the vast majority of the NSW population.
Despite threats from several Labor MPs to vote against the plans, Iemma persisted in pursuing the privatization in parliament. Unfortunately for him NSW opposition leader Barry O’Farrell decided for his own political purposes to oppose the sale. Desperate for a way forward Iemma proposed a plan to reshuffle the cabinet and dump Costa. The caucus opposed the plan and forced Iemma himself to resign. A serious reshuffle of the front bench then took place.
This however was not the end of the saga. Within three days of the reshuffle newly appointed Police Minister, Matt Brown was sacked for being involved in a wild party at Parliament where he was running around in his underpants.
The most significant thing about this incident however is not that it happened or that an MP lied about it, but that its possible source was from disgruntled people inside the Labor Party. More ‘revelations’ like this are likely in the future.
The new front bench contains John Della Bosca of Iguanagate fame who is now Health Minster and Joe Tripodi who was caught up in sex and building scandals surrounding Wollongong council. The new Treasurer is Eric Roozendaal who is another factional heavy weight. This is not exactly the most rock solid team!
The new front bench has also not in anyway changed Labor’s right wing policies. The new Premier Nathan Rees is a supposed ‘left winger’ as is the Deputy Premier, Carmel Tebbit. Rees has already indicated that the 2.5 per cent cap on public sector wages will remain and that further budget cuts were inevitable.
The privatisation of public transport and other government services is also currently under consideration. Rees has also said that he intends to go ahead with the privatisation of the retail arm of the electricity industry. On this basis the fight against privatisation is not yet over and the campaign must be continued.
The recent council elections in NSW have shown that there have been significant swings against Labor with some independents and Greens benefiting the most. Some of the largest swings happened in the Hunter Valley where electricity privatisation will have the biggest impact on jobs.
The recent events in NSW highlight the contradictions that exist in the Labor Party but also in society at large. Most people disagree in general with privatisation and other neo-liberal policies. People are fed up with big business having such major influence over every aspect of their lives. The problem is that both of the major parties continue to push in the opposite direction.
At the same time as the Labor Party ignores the unions and pushes ahead with privatisation plans, the unions continue to pump millions of dollars of affiliation fees into their bank account. If the situation was’t so serious it would be a joke.
What workers need is a new political party that will put their interests first. If the unions broke from Labor and set up a party that was clearly against cuts and privatisations it would quickly gain mass support. While the campaign against privatisation is not yet over it has shown the potential to build a genuine alternative for working people that clearly stands to the left of Labor.
Editorial from the October 2008 issue of The Socialist