SOLD OUT: PM accused of betraying Iemma on electricity sell-off

morriskyle Former NSW Premier Morris Iemma relied on a promise of support for electricity privatisation from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd given in return for deferring consideration of the proposal until after the 2007 federal election. Rudd’s promise wasn’t honoured, according to press reports this morning.

The Australian’s Paul Kelly writes:

In September-October last year, during a meeting in Mr Iemma’s office, Mr Rudd, as Opposition leader, told the premier that if he deferred the battle over privatisation until after the federal election then Mr Rudd would help if the NSW state conference became a problem.

Mr Iemma tried belatedly to pursue this offer after the conference in May this year voted by a huge majority against privatisation. At that time the premier tried unsuccessfully for three days to speak to Mr Rudd to canvass how he might help.

In his August 27 phone discussion with Mr Rudd, Mr Iemma wanted to address threats being made to MPs supporting his sell-off plans. Anxious to salvage his policy in the teeth of opposition from the trade unions and the state ALP conference, Mr Iemma asked without success for a limited statement from Mr Rudd, not on the merit of privatisation but on preselection integrity.

Mr Rudd’s formal public position has been for electricity privatisation. Mr Iemma told colleagues that Mr Rudd had never offered “more than lukewarm” support. In practice, the Prime Minister stayed far away from the NSW conflict, being advised it was a lost cause.

It is true that a year is a long time in politics. But equally true that many have difficulties getting through to the Prime Minister now he is installed in office. Some blame his office, so much so that “OPM” is spat out by many in the ALP with the venom normally reserved for profanity. But Kelly’s revelations, just one chapter in a long volume seemingly coming from the Costa-Waters axis, ring true for those who say that it’s the bloke with his name on the door who is ultimately responsible.

Ultimately Iemma and his former Treasurer Michael Costa tested their power against the Right machine that installed them in the first place. It cost them their jobs. With the benefit of hindsight they ought to have grabbed the compromise offered by the Right involving the sale of electricity retail. But equally those who preside over the ALP’s historically most successful branch need to ponder whether manning the barricades of state ownership in 2008 has any future at all. They won this battle but long after the war was lost.

Now – mostly due to the disunity and stupidity of those involved – they face the almost certain prospect of a Liberal government who will privatise the state’s electricity assets with presumably much less consultation with the ETU and other unions and fewer protections for the jobs they rightly prize.

They then might have cause to look back on the days of Morris with some nostalgia.

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