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Nationals given a power cut

POLES APART: Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis has backed the proposed lease of electricity infrastructure in the hope it will help bring a second Grafton bridge.
POLES APART: Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis has backed the proposed lease of electricity infrastructure in the hope it will help bring a second Grafton bridge.

NATIONALS MP for Clarence Chris Gulaptis has voted with his party to back the State Government's proposed sell-off of electricity infrastructure.

"The party was aware I opposed the sale and my opposition was noted but consensus was reached in the party room," Mr Gulaptis said.

An agreement to quarantine Essential Energy from the offer, along with a share of an estimated $20 billion windfall, was the deciding factor.

"With Essential Energy exempt from the deal it will remain in public hands and retain control of the poles and lines," Mr Gulaptis said. "There will be no loss of jobs and no change to the status quo in the Clarence Valley and regional NSW... it's probably one of the best outcomes."

The deal could see 49% of the state's distribution and transmission network, or poles and wires, offered to investors on a 99-year lease expected to raise $20 billion. Of that, $6 billion is earmarked for regional infrastructure, with the remainder deposited in a NSW future fund that will finance public servants' future superannuation and a backlog of infrastructure projects in Sydney.

North Coasters may well be wondering what, if any, of the income generated will come our way.

Mr Gulaptis was hesitant to share his wish-list for the region, however, he said the Grafton Bridge would be a top priority.

"There's a backlog of projects that all deserve funding and I've got my wishlist, as does every other MP," he said.

"I made a commitment at the last election work would commence this term on the Grafton Bridge - hopefully we'll see this in next week's budget to ensure the bridge is finished by 2019; that's what I'm aiming for."

He also earmarked health, roads and jobs as critical areas of need, including an Ambulatory Care Unit at Grafton Base Hospital estimated to cost $10 million.

"The problem is when the Coalition came to government there was a $27 billion backlog in infrastructure; basically just hollow promises which had been made but no money, which makes for a cynical electorate.

"The lease of electricity assets will allow the backlog of infrastructure to be built but we've got a long way to go to consider this between now and the next election."

Meanwhile, NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson has strongly criticised the privatisation that he says will lead to higher electricity prices and a less reliable electricity network.

He said it would mean a cut in frontline nurses, teachers and firefighters, because the state would no longer receive $1.7 billion a year in dividends.

Selling an asset to spend on infrastructure was like using your superannuation to buy a flashy car and have a holiday, but having nothing left afterwards.

The money from the sale was not needed to fund infrastructure, as NSW spent $15 billion a year.

Meanwhile Greens NSW MP John Kaye is calling for North Coast Nationals to unite and block the sell-off and commit to crossing the floor when legislation is introduced after the March election.

Dr Kaye said Nationals MPs were deluding themselves and their constituents if they thought the deal to keep Essential Energy in public ownership has any real future.

"The country power distributor will rapidly become a sitting duck in an otherwise fully privatised industry," he said.

"Mike Baird has pulled one over the Nationals and it's time they stood up for their rural and regional communities.

"National Party members voted against the sale of the poles and wires at their state conference last year.

"If their MPs remain committed they need to launch a full-scale campaign. Nationals MPs including Andrew Fraser, Chris Gulaptis, Adam Marshall and Don Page have been vocal opponents."

Topics:  electricity nationals nsw government privatisation



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