In a blistering attack on decades of common government practice, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims said the sale of ports and electricity infrastructure and the opening of vocational education to private companies had caused him and the public to lose faith in privatisation and deregulation.
“I’ve been a very strong advocate of privatisation for probably 30 years; I believe it enhances economic efficiency,” Mr Sims told the Melbourne Economic Forum on Tuesday. “I’m now almost at the point of opposing privatisation because it’s been done to boost proceeds, it’s been done to boost asset sales and I think it’s severely damaging our economy.”
Mr Sims said privatising ports, including Port Botany and Port Kembla in NSW, which were privatised together, and the Port of Melbourne, which came with conditions restricting competition from other ports, were examples where monopolies had been created without suitable regulation to control how much they could then charge users……
Deregulating the electricity market and selling poles and wires in Queensland and NSW, meanwhile, had seen power prices almost double there over five years, he said.
I have also been a strong advocate of privatising state assets, but Rod Sims raises some important concerns that need to be addressed.
There is a strong trend in capitalist economies away from free enterprise and towards privatised “monopolies”. Investors place a great deal of emphasis when evaluating stocks on a company’s “economic moat” or competitive advantage. Both of which imply the ability to restrict competition. While this may maximize revenue for the individual economic unit, it is harmful for the economy as a whole.
Which brings me back to Mr Sims’ point. Higher prices paid for infrastructure services destroy the competitiveness of the economy as a whole, with profound implications for exports and productivity.