Power politics

Crisis & reform

John Spoehr

After nearly half a century under public ownership and control, the electricity industry in Australia is now subject to the influence of market principles and private interests. Over the last ten years most attempts to privatise electricity assets have failed. As a consequence, only two states in Australia have managed to sell or lease electricity assets - Victoria and South Australia. There is no immediate prospect of other states and territories doing the same. Strong community opposition and the inability to get a parliamentary majority are ensuring this for the time being. However, the struggle over the ownership and control of the industry will continue. Power Politics chronicles the history of one such struggle in South Australia.

Few debates have stimulated as intense community and political interest in recent times in South Australia as the privatisation of the state's electricity industry. The Liberal government's policy backflip on privatisation was deeply unpopular in the South Australian community, with the vast majority of South Australians wanting the industry to remain publicly owned and managed. Furthermore, they were skeptical about the claimed benefits of privatisation. Community dissatisfaction with the privatisation of the Electricity Trust of South Australia (ETSA) undoubtedly contributed to the erosion of the Liberal Party's slim majority at the 9 February 2002 state election. Ultimately a Labor government was formed with the support of the independent member for Hammond, Peter Lewis, a disgruntled former Liberal Party member.