Matters of public importance

Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (16:51): I am pleased to rise on this matter of public importance, because I have said before that I love a bit of argy-bargy here, and there is no better argy-bargy than Labor versus the Greens, the brother and the sister, the two brothers, the sisters, whoever you want to call it, the family members, the siblings – they love each other and they hate each other, and it is really good. I am actually disappointed, with due respect to the member for Monbulk and the member for Tarneit, but I hope someone over there is actually going to get up and have a crack. The member for Mordialloc, I hope he is next on the agenda because he might actually have a good go at the Greens.

I am pleased to have this debate, because it actually is a genuine philosophical, ideological debate. Sometimes people say that the political parties are all the same – they are not. As the member for Bulleen has pointed out, we know where we stand on this side when it comes to privatisation. We are not afraid of it. We support it in some areas. There are some areas we would not go to, but we are not afraid of it. We know where the Greens stand. We think they are wrong, but we know where they stand at least: they are just dead against it. But the government, the Labor Party, are just the biggest hypocrites when it comes to privatisation. They will be standing up here now, but they actually do not know how to handle this matter of public importance, because they were apparently told that they have got a privatisation agenda according to this MPI. Are they going to argue against it or are they going to argue that they would like a little bit of privatisation but not a lot? We heard the member for Tarneit turning himself in circles, saying that even though we went into a joint arrangement with the private sector and they now run it, that is not privatisation. I have had great pleasure in hearing this over the years, particularly from the member for Essendon, the Minister for Transport Infrastructure, because we like to mention it whenever those opposite – and the member for Tarneit went there again – talk about how Jeff Kennett privatised the SEC. Now, does anyone remember who actually began the privatisation?

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Members on the front bench who are not in their seats will cease interjecting.

Danny O’BRIEN: I will ask the question again: does anyone remember who began the privatisation of the SEC? Wayne Farnham, the member for Narracan, is not allowed to talk, according to the Speaker, so I will not invite an interjection from him. But for the benefit of the house it was Joan Kirner, and we have got the media release from the government of the time in 1991 celebrating the decision of the Parliament under a Labor government to pass legislation for the partial privatisation of Loy Yang B. We have the Minister for Transport Infrastructure constantly – and I am really disappointed he is not in here for this – trying to tell us that that was a ‘co-investment’. So that is another word that they use to avoid ‘privatisation’ – it was a co-investment, even though the private company owns 51 per cent of Loy Yang B, and it is astounding. We could go on. So there is Joan Kirner and the Treasurer at the time and David White with Loy Yang B. With this government we have had the Port of Melbourne, the Land Titles Office, the VicRoads licensing division. Now, apparently, we are going to do Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria. Well, I have some issues and some support for that, because births, deaths and marriages is absolutely horrible at the moment in terms of providing a public service, and the private sector might do better, but at the same time it is pretty sensitive information so I hope that the Treasurer and his colleagues have a good, hard think about that and put some serious fences around it if they do do it.

We can talk about the federal government; the member for Bulleen did that. It was of course Paul Keating that actually privatised Qantas. It was Paul Keating and Bob Hawke that began the privatisation and completed the privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank. There are a few others. I know that those opposite are not responsible for their interstate colleagues, but you could go to Queensland, where it was the Bligh government that privatised Queensland Motorways, the Port of Brisbane, Forestry Plantations Queensland, the Abbot Point coal terminal and coal rail lines owned by Queensland Rail. In New South Wales it was Kristina Keneally that began the privatisation of the electricity system.

The Labor Party, as the member for Bulleen said, is completely trying to be half pregnant on this issue. They say one thing and they do another. More particularly, what they say is privatisation done by the Liberals and Nationals is bad; privatisation done by them is not privatisation at all. Co-investment, joint venture, joint partnership – anything other than to say privatisation, because they know if they accept that what they are doing is privatisation, they are going to get whacked by their mates the Greens, just like they are today.

I think this is where I need to turn my attention to the Greens. Unlike the member for Bulleen, I am not able to sing the Soviet Union national anthem, but I think it is important that the Greens understand that some of the things that they promote in this place go very close to communism. We have actually had some evidence of that in the last century. Some of the members of the Parliament these days are pretty young and they probably do not remember what happened last century, but communism did not actually work out that well. I hear laughter from behind me, but the Greens not only want price caps on rentals and all those sorts of things but actually now want us to regulate prices of groceries. That is what happens under communism. You might have worked out that it has not worked.

That goes to my next point, which is about the extremes of this debate. You can go from one extreme to the other. One extreme is complete laissez-faire – no government, no regulation, no laws – which would be ridiculous. No-one supports that. At the other extreme is total socialist government control of all the means of production, the operation of society and everything. That is the bit that actually did not work. For the record and for the Greens who might not have picked up on it, the communists themselves actually said, ‘Hey, this hasn’t worked, so we’re going to wind it all back.’ That is how the Berlin Wall fell and that is how the Soviet Union fell. There are a few places that have not worked it out. The Chinese have got a very good model. It is complete capitalism, but they still call it communism. They just do not let anyone vote for the government, but that is how that works.

This brings me to a point. I do not want to get into the current geopolitical issues, but I did find it quite ironic a couple of weeks ago when our colleagues in the Greens came into this place wearing watermelon badges. I thought at first they were taking the mickey out of themselves of being green on the outside and red on the inside, but it turned out it was not actually about that at all. It was something altogether different, and I am not going to go there. I do not know whether they might have picked up the irony of that, but I will let them know about it.

The reality is, when it comes to the private sector, government does not get it all right. Private sector does not get it all right. Capitalism does not work ad infinitum, but certainly the government sector does not. I hate to get technical like the member for Essendon, but you can go back to Adam Smith and The Wealth of Nations. He introduced the concept of the invisible hand, and basically the invisible hand is that the self-interest of humans will drive the needs of society. That is exactly what happens in the private sector.

I know that the Labor government loves to talk about the SEC. I grew up in the valley, as did the member for Narracan and the member for Morwell. We remember what happened to the SEC, and I know it is not particularly popular in some quarters. Indeed I have got a brother-in-law that says that privatisation was terrible and essential services must be kept in government hands. I remind him that he lives in Sale, home of the oil and gas industry, and that for 50 years the private sector – Esso–BHP and now Esso–Woodside – has delivered gas to this state entirely without government assistance.

I go back to the issue of food and supermarkets and groceries that the Greens want to regulate. Who produces the food? Is it governments? Is the most critical thing that we have after water left to governments? No, it is the private sector. It is farms – it is family farms, it is corporate farms. Electricity is delivered by both, and I just want to pick up the point made by the member for Tarneit, which is entirely wrong. In 2015 ABC Fact Check fact-checked the question: has privatisation increased electricity prices? It was a claim made by a then Labor member of the opposition, and the answer was no, it was spin, and they gave a couple of examples. There was a report done for New South Wales Treasury by Ernst & Young that found since privatisation electricity bills had increased less in the privatised states of Victoria and South Australia than they had in the publicly owned areas of New South Wales and Queensland. The University of Sydney researchers found exactly the same thing. So it is actually not privatisation that has seen electricity prices rise, it has been other factors. We could talk about that, but let us not go there.

We could also talk about petrol. That is a pretty essential service. Operated by the government – no, it is operated by the private sector, because generally the private sector does better. At least the Greens are pure on this. The government does not know whether it is Arthur or Martha.


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