24/02/2004 - 21:00

Ripper should stay ... for now

24/02/2004 - 21:00

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ERIC Ripper should resign. At least that’s the call made by numerous people during the past week as the State’s Energy Minister has copped the full brunt of our displeasure at being deprived of air-conditioning, among other power services.

ERIC Ripper should resign. At least that’s the call made by numerous people during the past week as the State’s Energy Minister has copped the full brunt of our displeasure at being deprived of air-conditioning, among other power services.

There are some pretty good reasons for so many people making that call, and it is more than heat-induced frayed tempers at work.

Mr Ripper has been in the bad books with a big proportion of the population since he tried to sneak that dastardly premium property tax in under our noses.

When he lost that battle, embarrassingly early in this Government’s term, he simply found other ways to increase taxes and charges.

Many in business would like to see him go, just for that.

And he has overseen the financial failure of the Dampier to Bunbury Gas Pipeline – a key piece of infrastructure for this State.

Then along came last week’s power cuts, a matter that really hit productivity in WA, no matter how you look at it.

Yet, despite all this, I have decided to reserve my judgement on whether he should resign.

Firstly, I would like to see who really knew what ahead of this power crisis.

It will be interesting to see the chain of events that led to this point – where a minister is being called on by all and sundry to resign, yet the largely faceless people who really toggle the switches appear to be unaccountable.

Mr Ripper, to his credit, has embarked on the rather tough job of dismantling Western Power’s monopoly over electricity in the populated parts of WA.

In my view he has a mandate to do that, yet there is a significant amount of anecdotal evidence that parts of Western Power’s executive have resisted that change, fighting all the way against disaggregation.

That is not their job.

Ironically, one of the arguments to emanate from within Western Power and its supporters is the fact that only such a monopoly can ensure that we have long-term power supply security. Last week’s debacle blew that argument out of the water.

The belief that only the boffins of Western Power can understand the mysteries of power demand has proven to be false.

Energy supply is not that complicated. There is simply a cost to ensure that supply can meet the very top of peak demands. That cost must be transparent and accepted by the community.

In many ways, Western Power’s failure to facilitate its own break-up has distracted the whole power debate. It has chewed up valuable time that we needed to make our State competitive and ensure that adequate new generation capacity came on stream.

While Mr Ripper could be blamed for constantly taking money potentially destined for Western Power’s capital works, his biggest failing has been the time that its taken to make this break-up occur.

Like the railway expansion, the break-up of Western Power should have had more thought behind it before this Government came into office. Instead, it hit the decks running, announcing policy that had yet to be researched within weeks of gaining office.

 I was fooled; I assumed there was a plan.

We are now three years down the track and nothing has really happened.

The Gallop Government considers this delay part of the public consultation period, something it has to do more than others, no doubt, because the last Labor government we had here failed so badly in that respect.

But to me, delays such as the break-up of Western Power just seem like procrastination, no matter who you blame – and Labor will be answerable to the public on this at the next election.

Whether or not Mr Ripper resigns, this issue will dog Labor until the next vote.

I would prefer to see the minister remain and pursue his goal of breaking up Western Power – unless an inquiry shows that he knew more about last week’s power cuts than he’s letting on.

 

 

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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