The Guardian July 23, 2003


Privatisation: dangerous and criminal

by Tom Pearson

The announcement by the management of the privatised Sydney Airport that it 
intends cutting almost half of its full-time equivalent employees was on 
the cards ever since its sale last year by the Howard Government to a 
Macquarie Bank consortium. The hatchet man is the Government's former top 
public servant, Max Moore-Wilton, now Sydney Airport's chief executive  
another jobs-for-the-boys recipient.

On July 9 the Community and Public Sector Union, one of a number of unions 
representing workers at the airport, warned that some of those sacked will 
be told to reapply for their jobs with the proviso that they sign the 
Howard Government's Australian Workplace Agreements  non-union individual 
contracts.

Unions are concerned not only at the loss of, but also at the implications 
this will have for airport safety and services. The cuts were announced 
with no consultation with the unions, even though there had been 
negotiations going on around enterprise bargaining agreements.

Safety is a major concern, raised by the Liquor, Hospitality and 
Miscellaneous Union, which represents the airport's security staff. Recent 
security scares such as the attempted hijack of a Qantas flight from 
Melbourne to Launceston and the discovery of a box cutter knife on a Perth-
Singapore flight, highlight the failure of the Federal Government to 
properly fund security measures.

"Our members will not be the scapegoats for security incidents", said the 
union. "Our members work under conditions not many others have to tolerate 
 low wages, inadequate training and abuse by consumers."

Privatisation means the opposite of service and security. As Moore-Wilton 
put it, "This is about good housekeeping and sound business."

The job cuts will "save" $11 million in the short term, and will lay the 
ground for an increasingly dangerous situation at Australia's largest 
airport.

The Howard Government removed price restrictions on Sydney Airport 
management after September 11, 2001. Such deregulation was always on the 
cards from the time the airport was privatised. Once in private for-profit 
hands the airport ceased to have as its main aim the running of an 
efficient and fundamentally important piece of infrastructure as an 
essential service.

It is now a cash cow for Macquarie Bank, which appropriated it for a 
bargain-basement price of $5.6 billion. Those spinning the great benefits 
of this piece of thievery can't put enough shine on the ball.

For example, Adele Ferguson in the Business Review Weekly last week, 
pushed the idea of "competition" between the Melbourne and Sydney airports.

"Melbourne Airport, with the help of the Victorian Government and Tourism 
Victoria, is constantly marketing to get more carriers into Melbourne", 
says Ferguson, sending down her wrong'un.

"They offer airlines hard cash  six-figure sums  and help with joint 
marketing campaigns to attract new carriers, whereas Sydney Airport and the 
New South Wales Government give virtually no concessions, and certainly no 
cash."

Adele has outlined precisely the criminal nature of privatisation: 
corporate welfare propping up greedy monopolies that are robbing public 
assets for profit.

Sydney Airport was the last major Australian airport to be sold. As the big 
profit-maker it returned tens of millions of dollars to government revenue 
and cross subsidised the other airports. Now Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and 
Melbourne sink or swim depending on taxpayer-funded handouts, increasing 
charges, cutting corners on safety and slashing jobs.

And what if the Macquarie Bank consortium becomes another HIH or Enron? 
Will public bail it out for billions, or will it come to a grinding halt, 
like Ansett? 

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