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?