In whose hands – public or private?

No politician in Queensland today would advocate the selling of our railways to a syndicate. If it is right and beneficial for the State to build a line and run an engine on it, why should it be wrong and injurious for the State to build that engine or to mine for the coal it consumes? Harry Turley  1896, later a  Labour Senator for Queensland.

There are various forms of coal.

The highest grade, metallurgical (or coking) coal, is used in steel production.

There is no substitute for coking coal in steel production – the demand for coking coal is determined by the demand for steel.

BHP Billiton is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of coking coal.

Two thirds of coking coal transported by sea comes from Queensland.

The Qld Labor Government wishes to privatise the means of transporting Queensland coal to port Queensland Rail (QR National).

If the sell off proceeds, QR National will be bought by institutional investors like super funds and large companies. Some shares may also be bought by small investors. The Queensland government intends to retain about 25% of QR national and use the $5Bn it gains to win the next election by offering people more roads, hospitals and schools.

The Liberal National party in Queensland are split on whether to oppose the sale of QR national.

Two independents recently formed the Queensland Party (Rod Messenger and Aidan McLindon) both question selling off QR.

“Mr McLindon said the government should call an ideas summit including trade unions and business leaders such as Richard Branson in a genuine attempt to rethink privatisation.” MPs to walk a mile in your shoes by Daniel Hurst August 31, 2010 Brisbane Times

Big questions are being asked about what resources and enterprises should be in public hands and what should be at the mercy of the market.

This is a political question where all mainstream parties in Australia have not adjusted to the Global Financial Crisis. Federal Governments (Labor and Liberal) sold Telstra for $30Bn. They now need Telstra to help build a national broadband network. Still, Telstra shares have plummeted in recent times.

There is no organised political voice to analyse and challenge assumptions made by government. There is little analysis in the media.

During the past decade, BHP has become the world’s most profitable and most powerful miner because it has seen the future and executed a strong but simple strategy. It has a diverse portfolio of world-class mines. It is not reliant on any single commodity. It controls its destiny, rather than being a captive to it. Once again, it is taking the lead. And Kloppers (BHP) has found a friend in Bob Brown. Kloppers plays strategic card by backing a carbon tax IAN VERRENDER, SMH September 18, 2010

If a change is gonna come, how?

There is a challenge to private ownership of enterprises involving essential services since the GFC.

This argument is occurring in mainstream economic and political discourse.

Questions like ‘Which is more efficient – public or private sector?’ are resurfacing.

The corollary ‘What enterprises should government own and what should be in private hands’.

The role of the firm is in question again since the giant investment banker Lehman Bros collapsed.

There has been no push for worker control but there has been questions about whether the public sector should enter into Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), whehter it is better to contract out or to keep ‘in-house’.

Bob Walker and Betty Con Walker

As long as ten years ago PROF.BOB WALKER with his wife Betty Con Walker wrote a book called ‘Privatisation – sell off or sell out?’ He told Kerry O’Brien on the ABC’s 7:30 report:

We’ve got to the point where government’s sold off so many things that there are still people around looking at what they can sell next.

We’re really saying, “Hang on, enough’s enough.”

I guess we’re just very concerned about the intellectual poverty of some of the arguments being advanced and some of the rather tired rhetoric, such as we need to sell assets to reduce debt, and so forth.

(to be continued)

Ian Curr
September 2010

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