That is what crosses my mind when the mania for privatisation surfaces yet again. The latest is in today’s Sun-Herald and it may be a furphy, but then maybe not. Why not just let the government out to tender and be done with it? And the Defence Forces. Nothing wrong with mercenaries… And the justice system. Why not? Let The Market determine all! Yea!
But, back to NSW:
Government buses could be privatised before the next election as the state government looks to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to the State Transit Authority.
The running of the 2250-strong bus fleet and its 5000 employees will be handed over to the private sector, as the O’Farrell government has already done with Sydney Ferries…
In a statement, the NSW Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, said privatisation was ”not currently government policy”. But The Sun-Herald has learnt that on at least three occasions the minister has told leaders of the private industry that State Transit would be put on the block. Her office would not deny this.
The prospect has been used as a carrot for bus companies, which were recently told their exclusive contracts with the government had been thrown open to competitive tender.
Ms Berejiklian told private companies, which run 11 of the 15 metropolitan contract regions in Sydney, they have a chance to ”get their houses in order” before the four government contract regions are put out to tender.
The government’s retreat has begun, with State Transit recently telling 90 drivers on the Liverpool to Parramatta T-way it would not re-tender for that express route in region three, which is otherwise serviced by the private companies Metrolink, Westbus and Busabout. It is understood at least one government contract region could be privatised before the 2015 state election. The Bus and Coach Association declined to comment but sources said it had informed 40-odd members of Ms Berejiklian’s stance…
On the other hand Nick Possum, hardly an advocate of privatisation mania, had this to say back in March 2012.
Down at the Brushtail Café the news that the O’Farrell Government had bought out Metro Transport Sydney, owners of the monorail and operators of the light rail, was greeted with almost saturnalian rejoicing. Drinks were on the house and Joadja herself got quite tipsy.
The mainstream media focussed on the decision to pull down the monorail, but the big story was the Liberal government’s de-privatisation of the light rail service.
MTS ran the light rail under a weird contractual anomaly. The trams started running in 1997 and MTS was given a lease over the former freight line and a contract to run the service for thirty years. It also had the right of first refusal to run any future extension…
A decade later, the tide began to turn in light rail’s favour. And it soon became obvious that no responsible government could live with a contractual arrangement that was messy, opaque, and gave one company an open-ended monopoly. In the closing months of the Labor administration, many began to ask why the government hadn’t renegotiated the deal to put the light rail on the same footing as Sydney’s private bus operators.
Now most people think that the private companies that dominate bus services in the outer suburbs operate like any normal company by making a profit from sales (in this case of tickets), but it ain’t so. The government pays the operator to service a route according to an agreed timetable. The operator collects the fares and gives them to the government, which therefore picks up the shortfall between the fare box and the total cost of running the service. Nowadays the government buys the buses as well.
The ideological centrepiece of the system is “contestability”, which means that every few years, the contract to operate the service goes out to tender and the government makes a choice based on some combination of price and reputation for reliability.
In Sydney the private buses are badged as though they were truly independent businesses, but we don’t really have private buses, they’re privately-badged government bus services. Only the management is private.
Most people don’t regard the “private” buses as remotely as ‘real’, efficient or permanent as the government-run Sydney Buses, and indeed in some cities in Australia and overseas (Perth is an example) the privately-managed buses look just like the government–managed ones.
Why this complex rigmarole? It’s basically a free-enterprise figleaf – a way for conservative governments (including Labor of course) to pay homage to current capitalist ideology. It’s also a way of distancing the government from any problems that may arise. When the public jack up about services they can say “It’s not our fault the 666X is never on time, you’ll have to direct your complaints to RapidexTrans”, and if bad service persists, they can slap the company with a mild fine or a reprimand….
We have privatised buses down here in The Gong, and it’s not all that bad – especially the clearly highly subsidised but excellent Gong Shuttle service.
Thanks to Dave Wilson for that image – see more at Variety in the Wollongong-Pt Kembla Area 2 4 09 where you get a good idea of our local services.
Even so, having lived so long in Surry Hills, I know who had the better bus services: Surry Hills – no contest. And three cheers for the “socialist” buses up there!
Have a look at this rather well argued moan from the United Kingdom: Why Privatisation Sucks.
We now spend more money subsidising the rail network than we ever spent on British Rail, yet ticket prices are going up, engineering works overrun to the tune of billions of pounds (looking at you West Coast) and our best trains were built in the 1970s, all while shareholders seem to be making lots and lots of money! This doesn’t seem right, how is this happening?
Short answer? Because privatisation sucks.
This article is aimed at explain just how and why privatisation sucks, the various arguments that can be had about how we can ‘improve’ the situation from a series of perspectives (aka ‘free the market!’ versus ‘nationalise the bastard!’), why the latter is correct, and how we can achieve it without having to sell Scotland to pay for it.
First, I will start with a critique of the current system, how it works and why it sucks….
Perhaps a bit of old-fashioned Marxism is in order.
David Harvey, the noted critic of neo-liberalism, calls privatization one of the four practices that characterizes the neo-liberal agenda. He terms it "accumulation by dispossession." Since the 1970s, privatization has been a mania, a usurping of the commons for individual gain at public expense. Granted in the US, state-owned enterprises are rare but that didn’t stop the neo-liberal set from setting their sights on the acquiring public airports, bridges, roads, schools, hospitals, parks, utilities and even city parking rights. The stated purpose was efficiency but the real aim was simple avarice and greed. Now thankfully, this mania seems to be running out of steam.
Charles Lemos wrote that in 2009.
I do rather like this admittedly over-simplified intro from the Khan Academy:
Love these presentations: chalk and talk for the 21st century, but brilliantly done.
And like most Australians of my generation I am all for a bit of socialism, but also dubious about the future paradise. It just seems to me that we deserve more than a growing Ministry of Irresponsibility… How about a bit of pride in the commons, and in public service?