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Possible lease of poles and wires has MP under fire from foes

SAVE OUR ASSETS: Electrical Trades Union organiser Stuart Traill is unimpressed with Ipswich West MP Sean Choat’s attitude to electricity assets.
SAVE OUR ASSETS: Electrical Trades Union organiser Stuart Traill is unimpressed with Ipswich West MP Sean Choat’s attitude to electricity assets. David Nielsen

THE challenge has been laid down to Ipswich West MP Sean Choat to restate his commitment to crossing the floor now that the LNP has put the lease of key electricity infrastructure on the table.

The Queensland Government had previously planned private equity injections of up to 49 % into state-owned electricity networks Ergon, Energex and Powerlink, but the proposal now is to put the power poles and transmission wires up for long-term leases.

Mr Choat previously told the QT he would cross the floor if electricity assets were sold.

Bundamba MP Jo-Ann Miller and Electrical Trades Union (ETU) organiser Stuart Traill insist the LNP's new plan will have the same result as an asset sale, but Mr Choat disagrees.

"The shock announcement from the LNP that poles and wires are on the table make this the single biggest asset sale in Queensland's history," Ms Miller said.

"This is Sean's chance to stop being Campbell Newman's yes-man.

"He was prepared to cross the floor in February. Is he still prepared to cross the floor or has he been forced into a back down by Campbell Newman?"

Mr Choat said "the assets will remain in public hands".

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"Leasing can be a very positive thing. There is public ownership and there is an injection by private people who pay for the privilege," he said.

"But those private interests will have to maintain the poles and wires and upgrade them under a lease arrangement. The state still owns those assets.

"My understanding is that this will not happen until 2016 but if any of these electricity assets are sold, I will stick to my word. I am not about to change now."

But Mr Traill said it would be the public that pays in the end. He said a 50 to 99 year lease of the poles and wires to private companies would see the state lose control of the network.

"We don't own it because the lessees control it and take the profits but we should be keeping the network in public hands and keep control of the jobs and service standards so we can hold the government to account," he said.

"If the services go bad in five years time, we can go back to the government and say 'service levels are shot, response times are going through the roof because you don't have enough staff and we are paying higher electricity prices'.

"But the government can turn around and go 'there's nothing we can do because we have leased it for 99 years and we are locked into a contract'.

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"Every single cent of profit currently goes into general state revenue but the profit will now go to whoever leases it, which will likely be off-shore.

"Between Victoria and South Australia, those profits go to China, Korea and Singapore.

"In South Australia, following a lease, electricity prices are now the highest in the world.

"This is a just a sleazy way Sean Choat can rat on the commitment he has given."

Ms Miller said Labor would not sell assets.

"But the LNP will sell your assets. It's that simple."

But Mr Choat said he was "not a 'yes' man and these assets are not for sale".

"I have always said I would accept a lease arrangement where the public retains 100 % ownership," he said.

"Jo-Ann Miller should look back four years at Labor's sale of QR National which the public no longer owns."

Mr Traill said Mr Choat should come clean.

"Technically he says it is not privatisation, but I spoke to our South Australian branch and they say the results are exactly the same," he said.

"The LNP are trying to dress it up in a different way to make it more palatable to voters."

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Topics:  asset sales electrical trades union energex ergon powerlink privatisation sean choat



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