Strange bedfellows in power split ploy

A UNION-DRIVEN campaign, linked by some to former Premier Brian Burke, is aiming to derail the Western Australian Government’s version of the break-up of Western Power.

The Alliance Against Disconnecting Western Australians – made up of the Australian Services Union, the Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union and several community groups – has been advertising in community newspapers and seeking press coverage to push its message about the $159 million cost of the break-up.

With the spring session of WA Parliament approaching, which will feature the crucial Electricity Corporations Bill that will allow the disaggregation of Western Power, the alliance is going to redouble its efforts. This will include lobbying parliamentarians, increased press coverage and possibly some public meetings in country areas.

Mr Burke has been a sometime adviser to the ASU for at least a year, however the union’s secretary Paul Burlinson denied that the union had retained him in “any financial way” or that he was involved with the campaign.

And Mr Burke’s business partner, Julian Grill, has denied involvement with the campaign.

Mr Grill is a consultant to Griffin Energy, which is keen to see the deregulation of WA’s electricity market.

Mr Burlinson said the alliance wanted the bill changed to keep Western Power as one entity and have a separate corporation controlling access to Perth’s main grid, the South West Interconnected System.

“However, we would accept the separation of the network’s arm of Western Power and generation and retail being left together,” he said.

Mr Burlinson said the alliance was opposed to the break up the way the Government was proposing it.

“The costs are enormous, the risks are significant and the benefits are very few,” he said.

Industry sources say the failure of the Electricity Corporations Bill to pass through parliament in the spring sitting could ruin the WA Government’s plans for electricity market deregulation.

They say that, if the bill does not get through during the spring session of parliament, then a lot of investment in the State electricity system will go elsewhere and the benefits the promise of electricity market deregulation has brought to WA would be lost.

Alinta, which is expected to become one of the main players in a deregulated WA electricity market, has confirmed that the failure to pass the bill would affect its plans.

Alinta general manager communications David Franklyn said it would not stop the construction of its first plant at Pinjarra but could stop its further roll-out plans.

The gas utility is planning to construct power units at Alcoa’s Pinjarra, Wagerup and Kwinana refineries.

The other electricity market deregulation bill going before parliament is the Electricity Industry Bill, which will provide the heads of power to develop an electricity access code, customer protection measures and mechanisms to establish a wholesale market.

However, that bill is not considered to be as critical as the corporations bill.

The battle over the deregulation of Western Power has created some unusual political matches, with the Liberal Opposition joining the union push to stop the deregulation and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry siding with Government.

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