Governments flogging essential services, particularly monopolies, to private operators has always been a “no-no” of the highest order, at least as far as this publication is concerned. Hence our coverage of the sale of hospitals to Brookfield in the Caymans and, more recently, the Government’s decision to allow Brookfield to take over aged care operator Aveo.
Of all the monopoly privatisations, only one springs to mind as successful – so far – and that was the decision by the NSW government of Mike Baird to sell a fast ferry monopoly service on Sydney Harbour.
But that was different. It was not a sale but the awarding of a lease to one bidder, and that bidder would compete against the established government ferry service. This was a service which did not exist, and Manly residents have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic about it.
The sale of Western Australia’s rail freight assets to Babcock & Brown, which then sold it to Canadian financiers Brookfield, has been a classic example of the perils of monopoly privatisations.
Services has gone down, prices have gone up. Both taxpayers and rail users have been disadvantaged, considerably.
Following our coverage of this issue however, there has been a ray of light, a spot of common sense. Brookfield, it seems, is being brought to heel in WA. Since the coverage of the Brookfield deal to take over Genessee & Wyoming in the US, things have changed.
It was noted here that, while closing down 2,100k of narrow gauge rail track in WA, and funnelling profits offshore, Brookfield has made a 280 per cent return from this monopoly, even tapping the government for grants.
Since then, Brookfield has begun to comply better with its statutory obligations in Australia, filing late statements with ASIC. And now the Government in WA has moved to revamp its access regime with Arc Infrastructure, the Brookfield subsidiary which controls the rail assets.
A revised state freight rail access regime under which CBH Group is likely to negotiate its next agreement with Arc Infrastructure to run grain trains beyond 2026, is expected within a “few months”.
A spokesman for Treasurer and Finance Minister Ben Wyatt has confirmed to Farm Weekly the Treasury’s final report on recommendations for a more streamlined and user-friendly access regime is being considered by the State government.”
Farmers and taxpayers would not have been screwed in the first place had the government adhered to common sense and never allowed the deal to happen.
The latest harebrained scheme is the Federal Government’s proposal to privatise Australia’s visa system.
There is no global precedent for this, except in the UK where it has been unsuccessful.
Now it might be time to revisit the privatisation of NSW Land Titles Office, to see how that 2017 deal has fared. Rumour is, not well.
Public support is vital so this website can continue to fund investigations and publish stories which speak truth to power. Please subscribe for the free newsletter, share stories on social media and, if you can afford it, tip in $5 a month.