Howard wedges Iemma over Snowy Mountain scheme sale

Labor Tribune editorial board statement - June 2006

Prime minster John Howard has wedged NSW premier Morris Iemma and Victorian premier Steve Bracks into backing down over the privatisation of the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric scheme.

The federal government pulled its 13 per cent stake from sale, which would have meant Iemma would bear most of the political pain for the unpopular privatisation proposal. NSW and Victorian Labor had planned to plug their budgets with up to $3bn from the sale of the Hydro, considered by many an icon of early multiculturalism. Iemma is 10 months out from a state election.

While Labor Tribune opposes the privatisation of such assets, it does not believe nationalisation in any way means socialism or democratic control over work or the environment. We oppose the neoliberal agenda that seeks to line the pockets of the ruling-class cronies of Morris Iemma and his rightwing mates. Capitalism's increasing irrationality pushes governments of all stripes, social-democratic and conservative, to insist the market is the solution when it is at the centre of our problems. Market "solutions" as such are only possible through massive state intervention, a fact hidden by the acolytes of Milton Friedman and other market fundamentalists.

Democracy and accountability

Prior to the sale being pulled, NSW premier Iemma stuck two fingers up to Labor Party democracy, declaring the sale would go ahead, irrespective of a vote at NSW ALP state conference over June 10-11. According to the Sydney Morning Herald (June 2), NSW government sources said "any resolution would be too late, because pre-registration for prospectuses had already started".

Maurice Iemma - pre-registration for prospectuses had already started. So Iemma's goverment planned to sell the snowy mountain scheme and ignore NSW ALP conference
Iemma - champion of democracy?

The government's backflip has exposed Iemma's anti-democratic arrogance.

Former premier Bob Carr was forced to back down on a planned privatisation of the NSW electricity industry in 1997 when the nominally rightwing Electrical Trades Union blocked with the party's anti-privatisation leftwing at state conference. The ETU had threatened a similar move over the Snowy Mountain scheme sale at this year's conference.

Labor activists must seek to entrench and deepen the alliance between the party's left and the labour movement against further privatisations.

Liberal hypocrites

Howard's move is a purely cynical act aimed to cause maximum damage to the NSW Labor Party. Rightwing radio shockjock Alan Jones and NSW Liberal numbers man, Bill Heffernan had urged Howard to oppose the sale.

In withdrawing from the sale, John Howard attempted to drape himself in the mantle of official multiculturalism saying:

"There is overwhelming feeling in the community that the Snowy is an icon, it's part of the great saga of post-World War II development in Australia. It conjures many stories of tens of thousands of European migrants coming and blending with each other and in the process of working on the Snowy becoming part of this country."

However, it was the union movement that demanded from the Chifley Labor government that any migrant workers brought to Australia for post-war development would be paid at award rates and would work under award conditions. It was to the credit of the labour movement that the migrant workers and their culture were incorporated into an increasingly changing working class identity. Real multiculturalism is about the democratic unity of working people from below, not attempts by the state to create an artificial "Australian identity" from above.

Howard is hypocritically citing the role of migrant workers in building an "Australian icon", while at the same time obliterating the awards system and introducing a cheap labour scheme with its temporary overseas worker program .

Labor movement and migrant workers

But the ACTU should take heed. In its criticisms of Howard's temporary visa scheme, it should not scapegoat migrant workers for any loss of working conditions. It should not insist that "foreign labour" be limited in favour of "Australian labour". Rather, it is the responsibility of the labour movement to demand any temporary workers be given full citizenship rights. That is one of the real democratic legacies of the Snowy Mountain scheme, a recognition that our class is international in character. Foreign workers should be welcome here.

Labor Tribune
editorial board


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