Electricity Retained Interest Corporations Bill 2015

28 May 2015



Mr ANOULACK CHANTHIVONG (Macquarie Fields) [5.53 p.m.]: I speak on the Electricity Networks Assets (Authorised Transactions) Bill 2015 and cognate bill, the Electricity Retained Interest Corporations Bill 2015. Two weeks ago in my inaugural speech I spoke about the need to elevate the perception of our profession in the public eye through reason and rationale in the policymaking process. I said that we needed the combined will of our community and that we needed to take them with us. I also said that we needed to raise our standard of parliamentary debate and public discourse. I spoke, of course, of the importance of our Parliament, with its Westminster traditions and as an institution for great change.

However, with the rushing of these bills through the Parliament, we are seeing a violation of these principles and a further dent in the level of public confidence and trust in the parliamentary process and its members. My words are not the only words to have been spoken in this Chamber about the need to adhere to these principles and to strengthen public trust in the people's Parliament. Almost to the day a few years ago, on 29 May 2007, in an inaugural speech these words were spoken:

Tonight I want to talk about three ideas that I believe will restore and strengthen public trust in our major political parties and in this wonderful institution … We should never be ashamed of listening to our conscience nor to our community—in essence this is why we are here.

The speaker indicated that we needed to repair public confidence in the two-party system and lift public confidence. The speaker showed a respect for the Parliament as an institution and the democratic processes of scrutiny and oversight and talked about the need to continually have conversations with our community to encourage their confidence in this "wonderful institution". I agree with the member who said those very genuine words. How quickly such words are forgotten and how conveniently such principles are discarded.

The speech I have quoted was made by none other than the member for Manly, the Premier of New South Wales. He said he wanted to repair and lift public confidence in our major political parties. He said he wanted to strengthen public trust in this wonderful institution and he said we should never be ashamed of listening to our community. The Premier has failed the tests that he set for himself and in the process he has devalued the importance of our Parliament. He has shown disrespect for our democracy and a disregard for the people who elected him, every one of us. He is not willing to represent our views in the Parliament.

This House belongs to the people of New South Wales, not to the Liberal Party and its slick parliamentary tactics to avoid parliamentary scrutiny and community input. What this Government is doing with this rushed legislation contradicts its promises to the people of New South Wales and further demeans the integrity and importance of our Parliament and the parliamentary process—in the Premier's words, "this wonderful institution". This is a breach of trust—even though the Premier spoke in his inaugural speech about restoring trust. The upper House inquiry is yet to be finished and its findings are not yet known. We have not been given an opportunity for democratic scrutiny and oversight to thoroughly review these bills. The Premier is afraid to listen, or in his words, is "ashamed of listening to our community". It is politically convenient for the Government to ignore proper parliamentary processes. By circumventing the rules of Parliament, the Premier does not lift public confidence. In fact, he further reduces the perception of our profession in the eyes of the public.

Our electricity network is the major asset owned by the people of New South Wales. It provides dividends that are used to fund our hospitals, schools and front-line services. The people of New South Wales know that the Premier is a former high-flying merchant banker who is comfortable with the big end of town and with their even bigger bonuses. The people of New South Wales know that Mr Baird is a corporate fixer who is used to closing billion-dollar deals on public assets and getting them on the cheap and that he is a regular visitor to major corporate boardrooms.

However, the people of New South Wales do not know how the Premier will replace the dividends that will be lost forever; they do not know what deals he is doing with his merchant bank boardroom buddies—deals that come at the expense of the people of New South Wales. What is the next publicly owned asset or service he wants to privatise or sell off? When will the Premier put public interest in front of his own political ideology? This is a major sell-off of the people's asset without proper parliamentary scrutiny. Many in our community are rightly concerned about what the Premier is doing and they are even more concerned about the way in which he is doing it, closing down debate and ramming the legislation through the Parliament. The eminent Australian economist Professor John Quiggin has said:

The record of privatisation in Australia has been poor … the price received for assets has been less than their value in continued public ownership.

The Premier would not listen to such people because it does not fit in with his hardened political ideology and, hence, he seeks to close down debate and drive down the integrity of our Parliament. Of course, there are also concerns about higher prices and the impact this will have on families and businesses alike. These concerns about keeping electricity power prices down are genuine, and they are not just recent concerns. Indeed, these words were spoken on 18 June 2013 in this Chamber:

We are putting downward pressure on electricity prices.

I agree with this objective. These were the words of the member for Manly, the Premier of New South Wales. To mount a legal challenge at public expense against the determination of the Australian Energy Regulator [AER], which reduces electricity prices, is contrary to the Premier's own words. The Premier has an opportunity to live up to his own words—not my words or those of another member, but his words. Yet he conveniently forgets them. The Premier need not worry about his lapse of memory because the Opposition will remind him.

These bills deal with public ownership of a public asset. However, they are also about the integrity of the Parliament, the importance of parliamentary debate, scrutiny and public discourse and the respect we have for this great institution. These values are being eroded, diminished and devalued by the Government's slick tactics and abuse of parliamentary processes, with the aim of political expediency. If the Premier wants to lift public confidence and regain public trust, as he promised, he should consider how his actions in avoiding community input and parliamentary oversight run counter to his own views. If he does not respect the integrity of the Parliament, how can he ask the people of New South Wales to do so? The Premier concluded his inaugural speech in 2007 by stating:

I trust that when my time is done my community would collectively put its hands on my shoulders to say, "Well done!"

Premier, your disregard for the Parliament and disrespect for our democratic processes in this instance will make us individually and collectively point the finger at you and say, "What have you done and how could you break our trust? How could you?"