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Motion: Privatisation Inquiry

12 May 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I move:

1. That a select committee of the Legislative Council be established to inquire into and report on the privatisation of public services in South Australia, with particular reference to—

(a) the cost to the public of privatised services;

(b) the quality of privatised services and the outcomes for the public, particularly with respect to disadvantaged members of the public;

(c) the impact on employment rates, conditions and locations, especially rural and regional employment;

(d) the effect on income and wealth inequality;

(e) the effect on public participation, social cohesion and public perception of the role of government; and

(f) any other related matters.

2. That standing order 389 be so far suspended as to enable the chairperson of the committee to have a deliberative vote only.

3. That, during the period of any declaration of a major emergency made under section 23 of the Emergency Management Act 2004 or any declaration of a public health emergency made under section 87 of the South Australian Public Health Act 2011, members of the committee may participate in the proceedings by way of telephone or videoconference or other electronic means and shall be deemed to be present and counted for purposes of a quorum, subject to such means of participation remaining effective and not disadvantaging any member.

4. That this council permits the select committee to authorise the disclosure or publication, as it sees fit, of any evidence or documents presented to the committee prior to such evidence being presented to the council.

5. That standing order 396 be suspended to enable strangers to be admitted when the select committee is examining witnesses unless the committee otherwise resolves, but they shall be excluded when the committee is deliberating.

This is a motion to establish a select committee of the Legislative Council to inquire into and report on the privatisation of services in South Australia. With South Australia now one of the most privatised states in the country, we need a wideranging inquiry into the impact of almost three decades of privatisation. From the sale of our water supply and electricity services to the complete debacle that is our public transport system, it is clear that private profits have been put before the public good and before quality public services.

It is clear that a number of members of the community, a vast majority of people in the community, are concerned about what is happening when it comes to the privatisation of their essential services. Research from the Australia Institute in 2019 found that 40 per cent of South Australians blame the privatisation of our state-owned electricity provider as the single biggest reason for power price increases, and three out of five people (60 per cent) consider it to be one of the main sources of upward pressure on prices.

This report also found that price gouging from energy companies was the number one concern for one out of three South Australians (34 per cent). Privatisation has become an ideological hobbyhorse pursued by both sides of politics at different times. It has often been packaged up and sold to the public as something that is actually going to deliver improved services to the community.

Could anybody actually say that the privatisation of ETSA was a success? Could anybody actually say that the privatisation of our public transport system has been a success? The results speak for themselves. The sale of ETSA did not see a reduction in our electricity costs; instead, it was a monumental failure that has delivered us higher prices. Privatisation of our public transport network certainly did not result in improved services; instead, it resulted in cuts and a slash and burn approach to some of our most vulnerable communities.

I had a look, in preparing for today, into some of the examples of privatisation that have unfolded over the 30-year history of this experiment in South Australia. I must say that I was stunned by the length of the list and the number of important utilities and public services that have been sold off at great expense to the South Australian taxpayer in terms of the quality of the services they receive.

In 1992, we saw the sale of the SA Gas Company; 1993, SA Financial Trust; 1994, State Bank of South Australia; 1994, Austrust Trustees; 1994, Enterprise Investments (there was a real fire sale happening in 1994); 1994, Island Seaway, ferry to Kangaroo Island; 1995, Pipelines Authority of SA; 1995, Sign Services; 1995, State Government Insurance Commission (keep on selling it all off—it has all got to go); 1995, State Bank of SA; 1995, State Chemistry Laboratories; 1995, State Clothing Corporation; 1996, Radio FIVEaa; 1996, Samcor Meatworks; 1996, Forwood Products (timber); 1997, Port Bulk Handling Facilities; 1999, ETSA (and we all know what happened there); 1999, Central Linen Service; 2000, Torrens Island Power Station; 2000, ElectraNet; 2001, South Australian Totalisator Agency Board (SA TAB); 2002, SA Ports Corporation; 2012, SA Lotteries (master agent); 2012, Forestry SA; 2016, Motor Accident Commission (that was an investment portfolio); and 2017, Land Services, the lands titles office.

It is a long list and, sadly, we know that it is a list that will be added to in the years ahead, with the privatisation of our train network and the appalling consequences that will flow from that. This inquiry is seeking to look at the implications of these privatisations, the impact that this has on the services made available to the people of South Australia and the impact this has on the workers in those industries.