On the last sitting day of the year, Abigail secured the passage of an anti-privatisation Bill with a Greens amendment which will close a loophole to prevent the Government from further privatising public assets.
On behalf of The Greens, I support the Fiscal Responsibility Amendment (Privatisation Restrictions) Bill 2021. I thank the Hon. Daniel Mookhey for introducing the bill. It is no secret in this place that The Greens are not big fans of privatisation. We believe that privatisation has continuously failed society. It has led to huge profits for big corporations but less reliable services and increased costs for the rest of us. We end up with privatisation undermining the right to essential services. The selling off of all our public assets, deregulation, outsourcing services and the multitude of ways in which this Government has privatised assets and services under names other than privatisation and then declared them not to be privatised has become a little ridiculous.
We saw an example of that yesterday at a rally, which I attended, for the Rail, Tram, and Bus Union against further bus privatisations. I remember having an absurd conversation with Minister Constance when he was the transport Minister about whether or not what was happening to those bus services was actually privatisation. He was telling me that it was "franchising". I was reading out dictionary definitions and all sorts of things to explain that this "franchising" was in fact a privatisation of an essential service, because we no longer had control of it in the same way. We were not selling our buses, but we were not going to end up holding them as assets either. We were going to let the old buses retire and then we were going to rely on the corporate sector to lease the State the rights to use the new electric buses being rolled out.
A transaction that ends up with the Government having fewer assets because it has done a deal with the corporate sector is privatisation, whatever the name the Government calls it. This kind of selling of public assets, deregulation or outsourcing of services has not only increased economic inequality in our State, it has also reduced our flexibility as a Parliament to withstand shocks and to plan for the future in a way that benefits the people rather than the profits of private corporations. As we have seen many times, particularly with energy, assets are frequently sold below their true value. The sell-off is ordinarily followed by higher prices and charges. Profits boom, which is great for the corporate sector, but the people always end up with downgraded services at far higher cost. As part of the picture of this privatisation away from publicly run services, we have also seen, particularly in the transport sector, the deliberate exclusion of unionised workforces. It is no secret that The Greens are not big fans of privatisation and it is in that spirit that we lend our support to the privatisation restrictions bill.
The bill requires at least an inquiry to be held to show transparency, so the Parliament would be able to decide whether the assets of the public should be sold off. I have noticed a really disturbing narrative creeping into this place over the past couple of years. Every time the Government gives or allocates funding to a service or an institution or announces that it is paying for a project, the Ministers and Government members in this place tell members of the public that they should be grateful for this money being spent in their communities. But, of course, it is not the Government's money to give and never has been. In the same way, the assets of this State, which we rely on for centuries to come, are not the property of this Government to sell off whenever it chooses. If any further assets are to be privatised, they should be brought before this Parliament for proper scrutiny. It should not just be done by Government under some mistaken idea of an election mandate. I flag that The Greens will move an amendment to the bill to close a loophole in proposed new section 8A (4) (b), which states:
Nothing in this section prevents a sale, disposal or lease …
(b)that results in the state owned asset remaining in public ownership or control.
The State‑owned asset definition only refers to particular government‑owned entities. It looks like there is a loophole under the existing provisions, where the Government could in fact sell an asset from one of those listed entities to a newly created government entity and then sell it on to the private sector. To tighten that loophole and ensure that that does not happen, we propose a very short amendment that we will move at the Committee stage. With that, and given how much chatter is happening across the table, I conclude that The Greens wholeheartedly support the bill.
The full debate can be found here.