||Issue No. 267||10 June 2005|
Rivers of Gold
Interview: The Baby Drought
Industrial: Lies, AWAs and Statistics
Workplace: The Invisible Parents
History: Bruce’s Big Blunder
Politics: All God's Children
Economics: Spun Out
International: Shakey Trials
Legal: Civil Distrubance
Review: Crash Course In Racism
Poetry: You're Fired
The Locker Room
All The Way With The USA
Expensive Door Charge
Teen Years in Detention
Court Cases are Media’s Drug
Lang Is Right
Hertz Meenz Hurtz
Rivers of Gold
That was the term we used when we elected governments to build us things - roads, railways, schools and hospitals, power grids, sewage and water - when we entrusted our tax dollars to leaders who would pool them for our common good.
Then the economists convinced us that 'public' and 'works' had become a contradiction in terms, that the real role of government was to reduce debt and balance their budgets, year after year after year.
Then these chooks came home to roost and things stopped working because governments had been too scared to invest in the future.
And those same snake oil salesman who'd convinced them to stop spending came back with a deal they could not refuse - let us do the spending for you!
This is the logic behind the solution to our 'infrastructure' crisis - the use of private capital to build, own and operate what were once public assets - in return for legally guaranteed dividends over many decades.
Officially, they are know as 'Public Private Partnerships' - the private sector raises capital to fund public projects to derive a profit: not exactly a licence to print money, but something very close.
The advent of PPPs has seen a seismic shift in politics - particularly at a state level.
At one time public works had become a beauty contest, where a whole range of worthy projects competed for limited public funds. Now governments have a different challenge, to choose which of a seemingly limitless series of proposals should be given the green light.
There are some clear attractions to PPPs within the current constraints of economic thinking, not least the ability to get on with much needed projects - now. But there are also questions.
First, what inducements and/or shortcuts are included to make a PPP attractive to the private sector?
The obvious sweetener is the decision to charge the public to use services that used to be free.
But there are more subtle inducements at play too.
Freeway contracts negotiated by the former Greiner Government, for example, included guarantees that competing public transport corridors would NEVER be built.
Secondly, there is the sneaking suspicion that the only business case for these PPPs is the ability of the government to commission work by low paid contract labour, rather than workers on public sector wages and conditions.
If, this argument goes, the only way to make a PPP profitable is by either charging the public more or cutting workers' wages, is there an overall public benefit from the exercise?
It is these concerns that are behind two of the really substantial policy debates at this weekend's ALP State Conference: the review of PPPs and a call for Labor Governments to demand firms tendering for contracts to offer their workers collective agreements.
This is the new political dynamic that has been imposed on us - if governments have access to these rivers of gold what conditions do they put on their flow?
Labor Governments must do more than just commission projects to keep executives living by the waterfront - they need to ensure that labour values are respected in the work that gets them there.
Maybe it will make the profit margins a little thinner and the bargains a little harder to strike - but standing up for the workers and taxpayers was never meant to be the easy option.
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