Barrister, fitter and turner highly charged in electricity privatisation debate at Kirrawee

Down to business...Chamber of commerce presidents (from left) Andrew
Manson, Esna Lee (rear) and Karen Johnston with candidates Maryanne
Stuart, Mark Speakman, Greg Holland, Eleni Petinos, Peter Scaysbrook,
Greg Petty. Picture: John Veage
Down to business...Chamber of commerce presidents (from left) Andrew Manson, Esna Lee (rear) and Karen Johnston with candidates Maryanne Stuart, Mark Speakman, Greg Holland, Eleni Petinos, Peter Scaysbrook, Greg Petty. Picture: John Veage

FEBRUARY 26 UPDATE:

THE BARRISTER AND THE FITTER AND TURNER 

The electricity privatisation debate had an interesting exchange between ‘‘the barrister’’ and ‘‘the fitter and turner’’ at an election business forum at Kirrawee on Wednesday night.

Liberal MP for Cronulla Mark Speakman, a senior counsel, said he was ‘‘no ideologue’’ but believed people would be far better off under the Coalition plan.

He said electricity prices would continue to be controlled by an independent regulator and were likely to decrease based on experience of Victoria and South Australia where networks had become more efficient after being privatised.

Mr Speakman said the $20 billion would fund much-needed infrastructure including roadworks and public transport improvements.

He claimed the Electrical Trades Union’s ‘‘scare campaign’’ was partly because it had ‘‘rorted and feather-bedded power production in NSW for years and years, and they want to keep their perks’’.

Mr Speakman said privatisation was supported by people such as Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman, Rod Sims, and ‘‘Labor luminaries Paul Keating, Maurice Iemma, Michael Egan and Martin Ferguson’’.

Labor candidate for Cronulla Peter Scaysbrook, who has owned engineering businesses, said, ‘‘I am not a barrister — I’m a fitter and turner — so I will give you the fitter and turner’s approach’’.

‘‘If this asset is viable, it will produce a regulated profit.

‘‘The profit is now going to the government. Why not keep it?

‘‘The other side of this coin is the profit, if we use the South Australia example, will go overseas.

‘‘What is the point in that?’’

Labor candidate for Heathcote, Maryanne Stuart, said Labor governments had built the Woronora Bridge and Bangor Bypass, duplicated Alfords Point Bridge and the Cronulla rail line without selling public assets.

‘‘Small businesses would be concerned about the increase in blackouts in Victoria...,’’ she said.

The forum, at Club Kirrawee, was organised by Miranda, Cronulla, Gymea, Menai, Engadine and Bundeena chambers of commerce to give candidates a chance to say what they would do to grow business in the region.

In attendance were Liberals Mark Speakman and Eleni Petinos, Labor’s Greg Holland, Maryanne Stuart and Peter Scaysbrook, and independent candidate for Heathcote, Greg Petty.

Each spoke for five minutes before an hour of questions from the audience of about 50 business owners.

Mr Scaysbrook, Mr Holland and Mr Petty said they had the experience of running their own businesses and Ms Petinos said her parents’s challenges in running a small business for 38 years had helped shape her views.

Other subjects canvassed at the forum included state government taxes, TAFE changes, ‘‘overdevelopment’’ and infrastructure needs.

A suggestion that efforts be made to create a small business park in Sutherland Shire received bipartisan support (see earlier story below).

STATE TAXES

A chartered accountant said tax was hurting all business people and property owners.

As a result of big increases in property prices, the latest land tax assessments had been ‘‘like the biggest money grab ever’’.

‘‘My ‘favourite’ one is payroll tax, the biggest disincentive to employment,’’ he said.

Mr Speakman said, given the budgetary situation and the need to improve front line services and infrastructure, taxes would have to remain, but some ‘‘modest’’ relief had been given in payroll tax.

He said Labor intended to raise workers compensation premiums and defer business tax cuts to fund infrastructure.

Mr Scaysbrook said the ‘‘most wholesale overhaul of the workers compensation system [to provide lower premiums] was done by [former Labor premier] Bob Carr to the point where he had to cross a picket line of his own MPs to get into parliament, so the suggestion that the Labor Party is not capable of tackling these issues is absolute nonsense’’.

DEVELOPMENT

Mr Holland said ‘‘overdevelopment’’ was to blame for the shire’s ‘‘massive’’ problem with traffic and parking.

Mr Speakman said it was a ‘‘myth’’ that there was a huge difference between Labor and the Liberals on development, and the shire’s final draft local environmental plan was ‘‘a consensus’’ document.

He said the two biggest developments, Cronulla Sharks and Kirrawee brick pit projects, were legacies of the previous Labor government.

BUSINESS GROWTH

Mr Speakman and Ms Petinos said the best thing the state government could do for small businesses in the shire was to have a strong economy,.

Under the present government, the strength of the NSW economy had gone from being the worst to the best in  Australia.

Mr Scaysbrook said there was a great dearth of industrial land in the shire because so much had been given to housing.

‘‘All businesses are important, but I would like to see shire business focused on more than selling cups of coffee and cheap mattresses,’’ he said.

‘‘We have to make things.  A product for me is something you can drop on your foot.’’

Ms Stuart suggested a ‘‘think-tank’’ of retired successful business operators to come up with ideas for growth.

She said hundreds of jobs had been lost through the closure of the Fisheries centre at Cronulla, the Caltex refinery and the pending closure of Toyota at Caringbah.

‘‘Although there is a lot of promotion in western Sydney, we hear very little about promoting economic development in the shire and southern Sydney,’’ she said.

‘‘State government departments and agencies have moved to Parramatta.

‘‘We need to get our act together.’’

SMALL OPERATORS

Ms Petinos said there were 20,455 small businesses in the shire, making up 96.7 per cent of all businesses.

Nearly 60 per cent of small businesses were run by one person and 30 per cent had 1-4 employees.

Ms Petinos said the shire’s unemployment rate in January this year was 3.5 per cent, compared with 5.8 per cent in NSW.

TAFE

Strong debate on the changes made to TAFE by the government will be covered in a separate report.

What do you think about electricity privatisation and other matters discussed at the forum?

FEBRUARY 25 EVENING:

A suggestion that efforts be made to establish a small business park in Sutherland Shire received bipartisan support at a state election business forum at Kirrawee on Wednesday night.

Liberal candidate for Miranda Eleni Petinos raised the idea, saying it was not party platform, but her personal position.

"We are one of the only centres in Sydney that doesn't have a business park," she said. "It's quite criminal."

Ms Petinos said, if elected, she would take the matter up with the government, Sutherland Shire Council and seek the community's views.

Labor candidate for Miranda, Greg Holland, supported the idea, and said discussions had been held with Wollongong University, which already has a business unit at Loftus

"I think it is a great idea," he said.

Many subjects were discussed at the forum, attended by about 50 business people.

They included electricity privatisation, transport and road needs, payroll and land taxes and TAFE courses and fees.

But, one member of the audience raised a very practical problem that resonated with the audience.

"I run a  business at Caringbah," she said.

"There are 10 people in there, but no one can park.

"I lose everyone every two hours (when they have to move their cars)."

The forum was organised by Miranda, Cronulla, Gymea, Menai, Engadine and Bundeena chambers of commerce to give candidates a chance to say what they would do to grow business in the area.

Liberal candidates Mark Speakman and Eleni Petinos, Labor candidates Greg Holland, Maryanne Stuart and Peter Scaysbrook and Independent candidate for Heathcote Greg Petty were given five minutes each to say what they would do to grow  business in the shire. They then answered questions.

Liberal MP Lee Evans withdrew following his mother's death.

A full report on the forum will be published online on Thursday.

How do you think business conditions can be improved in the shire?