Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls
Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls Luka Kauzlaric

Queensland's electricity could be privatised by LNP

THE poles and wires of Queensland's electricity network could be leased to a private entity for 50 to 99 years when the LNP's final asset sales plan is unveiled in the next fortnight.

The move essentially means the Queensland Government will take the assets to the market and if successful would relinquish ownership of the assets for the lease term.

This is a stark move away from a hybrid structure where the Queensland Government would retain ownership of ordinary shares in the three electricity network businesses - Powerlink, Energex and Ergon Energy - to keep a share of the revenue but use private investment to operate them.

During its Strong Choices draft plan, released during the budget in June, the LNP flagged long-term leases for the Gladstone and Townsville Ports and the Mt Isa Rail Line.

It also flagged the sale of the Ergon Energy retail business; SunWater industrial pipelines business; electricity generation businesses Stanwell Corporation and CS Energy and some other entities such as a coal mine.

But Premier Campbell Newman has always maintained the poles and wires were safe from privatisation.

Treasurer Tim Nicholls argued on Wednesday the move would mean Queenslanders would get ownership back at the end of the lease period.

Mr Nicholls, speaking at BDO's economics and politics breakfast in Brisbane, said the change came from feedback from the public.

"Certainly leasing is something I've favoured for a long time," he said.

"That seems to be something that is very popular with Queenslanders.

"The idea of a lease seems to sit very strongly with Queenslanders, more so than some of the other structures we have proposed."

Mr Nicholls said the LNP would take the final plan to the next election in 2015 but he could not confirm when that would be.

"I'd like to be able to get out my crystal ball and tell you all when the next election is going to be held but unfortunately that crystal ball doesn't work for me," he said.

"That crystal ball remains firmly in the premier's hands.

"What I can tell you is that there will be an election in 2015.

"It will have to be held before June 20.

"I think you can rest assured the government though is fairly, firmly entrenched with a view that it will go its full term to March."

When he was in Opposition in March, 2010, Mr Nicholls told Queensland Parliament that a lease was privatisation.

"As anyone would know if they had observed the privatisation of assets, a 99-year lease is as good as giving away the farm…." he said.

Queensland Council of Unions President John Battams said the LNP had previously promised it would not sell the poles and wires component of Queensland's publicly-owned electricity system.

He said he feared prices would go up while the profits went overseas.

"We are now discussing a strategy to respond to the LNP's trick and deceitful move to hoodwink Queenslanders," he said.

"A 99-year lease is a sale."

Mr Nicholls said the LNP would take the final plan to the next election in 2015 but he could not confirm when that would be.

"I'd like to be able to get out my crystal ball and tell you all when the next election is going to be held but unfortunately that crystal ball doesn't work for me," he said.

"That crystal ball remains firmly in the premier's hands.

"What I can tell you is that there will be an election in 2015.

"It will have to be held before June 20.

"I think you can rest assured the government though is fairly, firmly entrenched with a view that it will go its full term to March."



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