NSW Treasurer Eric Roozendaal has stared down a call by an upper house inquiry to halt the state’s $5.
3 billion power privatisation.
He says to do so could cost the state billions of dollars in damages.
An upper house committee on Wednesday handed down a scathing report into the controversial sell-off, with a key recommendation that gentrader contracts be scrapped.
The committee chair also warned the sale could generate less than $700 million in net profit for taxpayers, despite government reassurances it was a good deal.
Under the deal announced last December, NSW is offloading the generation rights of Delta West and Eraring Energy, electricity retailers Energy Australia, Integral Energy and Country Energy and power development sites.
Mr Roozendaal said contracts had been signed and while completion won’t occur until next week, freezing the sale would expose NSW to “hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars” in damages.
“We are in the middle of a serious $5.3 billion energy strategy – you can’t freeze it like a packet of chips and throw it in the freezer,” he said.
“We have binding signed contracts in place, we have financial closure at the end of this month, we are proceeding with this process.
“This report is nothing more than a piece of political fiction, written by politicians for political purposes.”
The partial privatisation has been marred by scandal, with eight power directors resigning in protest at the deal, and community outrage over government attempts to stop the upper house inquiry.
Chair of the inquiry, Fred Nile, on Wednesday questioned the net value of the sale once sale costs, damages and the multi-billion dollar outlay on the associated Cobbora coal mine were deducted.
Mr Roozendaal has said the state would net $3.27 billion but Rev Nile said the real figure could be much lower and “between $600 million and $700 million”.
Included in the report’s 10 recommendations were calls for a judicial inquiry into the sale and the introduction of laws prohibiting a further power privatisation without the approval of parliament.
The report was also highly critical of Premier Kristina Keneally’s decision to prorogue parliament in the lead-up to Christmas, which stripped the inquiry hearings of legal privilege and scared off potential witnesses.
Ms Keneally has repeatedly said she did not intend to stymie the inquiry but the report said her claims were “directly contradicted by the evidence”.
“There is no doubt the proroguing of parliament was designed to not just frustrate the inquiry, but stop the inquiry dead in its tracks,” Rev Nile said.
But the opposition did not escape with the inquiry identifying a “real risk” of further power privatisations under a future coalition government.
Coalition leader Barry O’Farrell on Wednesday again ruled out the sale of “poles and wires” and restated his commitment to hold a judicial inquiry into the sale if the opposition wins government on March 26.
“Last Sunday I expressed my own view, which is I’d rather see things run commercially in public ownership,” he told reporters.
Mr O’Farrell backed the inquiry’s recommendation for the sale to be halted, at least until an official inquiry can be held.
“The deal should be halted until we have the special commission of inquiry, until we get to the bottom of the saga,” he said.
Greens MP and upper house committee member John Kaye said the coalition’s pledge of a judicial inquiry – which won’t report back until September – was “not a substitute for an energy policy”.
The upper house report compounded a bad day for Labor, with the latest Newspoll putting its primary vote at 23 per cent, and the Coalition ahead on two-party preferred vote at 62 to 38 per cent.
However, Mr O’Farrell downplayed predictions of a landslide win on March 26, saying he was waiting to see what voters decide on the day.