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ACT Labor Is Leading the Way in Keeping Public Assets in Public Hands

Maddy Northam

The crises that 2020 has thrown at us have shown that just how vital good public services are. We all know that now. And not only is it important to have good, well-funded public services – it’s also vital that they stay in government hands.

For-profit employment services are making a killing out of the corona virus. Companies like Serco are swooping in to try and pick up social security contracts, where private companies pocket cash but clients are left stranded on the phones and in queues for hours and hours.

But as a long-time anti-privatisation campaigner, it sometimes feels like an endless and uphill battle. It’s a fight that we’ve become really good at over the years. As the Secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union in the ACT, I’m incredibly proud that our members have together defeated proposals to privatise Medicare, visa processing, Australian Hearing and the ASIC Registry, all just in the last few years.

But I’m even prouder that in the ACT we’ve gone it one better, and changed the terms of the privatization debate permanently.

Back in 2016, public sector unions teamed up with civil society to run the People’s Inquiry into Privatisation, led by a distinguished panel of David Hetherington of Per Capita, Yvonne Henderson (former WA Equal Opportunity Commissioner) and Archie Law of ActionAid.

The inquiry travelled Australia and heard from communities across the country about the devastating impacts of privatisation. The report found that foundational to our society is a set of well-functioning government institutions that together guarantee fair access to essential services, to all of us, regardless of who we are and where we live.

In early September, the Barr Labor Government announced that it will enact one of the major recommendations of the report, by introducing legislated limits on privatisation.

By the end of 2021, a re-elected ACT Labor Government will introduce legislation that:

  • Ensures a public interest test is applied before any privatisation is considered;

  • Maintains pay and conditions of employment for any privatised jobs; and

  • Guarantees public accountability and transparency for any privatised services.

This legislation will mean that vital public services stay in public hands. And importantly, it will end the secrecy surrounding private sector involvement in public services. The public have a right to access services, and they have a right to know exactly what the private sector is doing and how much it costs.

This legislation is game-changing. It means that instead of fighting privatization issue by issue, we can change the political debate permanently. We know that privatization is unpopular, but governments – especially conservative governments – keep doing it. This legislation will force future governments to allow communities to have a voice, which has so long been ignored.

The ACT is the first in Australia to introduce this legislation (I might be biased but I’m not surprised that something this good has come from the ACT). But we won’t be the last. This is a model for Labor Governments to follow. It speaks to our values and it’s vital to the communities we represent, who rely every single day on the programs that Labor has built and defended – health, education, public transport, broadcasting, social security. It shows what the labour movement and Labor Governments can achieve together, and so it’s something we can all be proud of.

Maddy Northam is an ACT Labor candidate for Kurrajong. Facebook

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