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  • Unions warn of foreign ownership

    2018 - 07.03

    Premier Mike Baird and Lend Lease magaging Director Steve McCann.UNIONS are telling Upper Hunter voters the ‘‘Chinese government could have their hand in your pocket’’ if they back the National Party, amid an aggressive new election advertisement push that warns against foreign ownership of privatised electricity assets.
    Nanjing Night Net

    The Baird government has labelled the advertisement, which was authorised by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union’s Northern Mining and NSW Energy District secretary Grahame Kelly, as ‘‘racist’’ and part of a massive union ‘‘scare campaign’’ designed to back Labor into office.

    But the issue of the government’s plans to lease 49per cent of the ‘‘poles and wires’’ may already have begun to bite in the electorate, which for the first time in two decades isn’t being contested by sitting MP George Souris.

    Country distributor Essential Energy, which covers most National Party seats, was deliberately left out of the lease plans to secure the support of country MPs in the Coalition party room.

    But the electorate of Upper Hunter is uniquely split between Essential and Ausgrid, which also services the rest of the Hunter.

    Ministerial diaries published in January revealed a meeting last year between Treasurer Andrew Constance and Chinese government-owned energy giant State Grid Corp.

    Premier Mike Baird also attended a roundtable with investors in China last year.

    The CFMEU advertisement says State Grid is the likely buyer of the assets.

    Mr Kelly, who is Cessnock-based, was unavailable to comment on Wednesday.

    But Stop the Sell Off campaign spokesman Adam Kerslake said: “A vote for the National Party on Saturday will mean that every time you turn on a light or use the washing machine, the Chinese Government could have their hand in your pocket’’.

    It makes retaining the seat for the Nationals after Mr Souris’ retirement a harder task for candidate Michael Johnsen, although he says ‘‘most people are not believing the lies from the unions and Labor’’.

    ‘‘If the CFMEU feels the need to spend their members’ hard-earned money on peddling lies than for their benefit, then that’s for their members to decide on,’’ he said.

    However, Mr Johnsen said he expected a close contest with Labor’s Martin Rush for the traditionally safe seat.

    ‘‘I’ve said from day one the margin retires with George,’’ he said.

    The Coalition recently announced about $160million for the Singleton and Muswellbrook bypasses from the expected proceeds, and is understood to have brought in more volunteers by bus.

    But Mr Rush said people ‘‘know that those promises are tied to the sale of public assets’’.

    Asked why he supported the Port of Newcastle lease to Chinese-government owned China Merchants but opposed the foreign ownership of power assets, Labor leader Luke Foley said: ‘‘Unlike the Ports, Transgrid – which the Liberals propose to sell off completely – delivers power to some of our key institutions.

    “It is the sole power supplier to Canberra, including the headquarters of ASIO, the nation’s international spy agency ASIS, the Australian Federal Police, multiple government departments and Parliament House.’’

    The Australian Energy Regulator sets electricity prices.

    Former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair Allan Fels will take on the new role of Electricity Price Commissioner, to oversee the implementation and operation of the Price Guarantee.

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