Guest post on the Victorian power industry

This is a comment by Nighthawk the Elder late in the thread on the David Bidstrup post. I think it deserves to be read by everyone and it probably had limited readership in the comments.

#2917672, posted on January 26, 2019 at 12:11 am

What is with this obsession over the ownership of power assets? The usual trolls are over in the comments section of the major daily’s blaming Kennett for the blackouts. And then I see Wil above as well. Is there this magical belief that somehow government ownership provides a more effective operation of the asset and would have prevented the rolling blackouts? There is almost an analogy to Orwell’s “four legs good, two legs bad”.

I’ve spent almost 35 years in the power industry, both during the SECV days and after privatisation. To say the way we operated were chalk and cheese would be an understatement. The productivity of the SECV was absolutely piss poor. You did battle with a bureaucratic bloody mind set if you tried to get anything done. Not that anyone had any idea what the real costs of any jobs were.

Rorting was rife. Staff didn’t come to work, they attended their place of employment for the purposes of being paid, just so they could then piss off to the pub or spend the afternoon playing golf. The main stores were like a personnel Bunnings, only no check outs to worry about.

Contrary to the the bullshit from leftists, the private owners pumped a lot of money into the power assets. The key difference was they expected the money to be spend prudently and not pissed up against the wall. They expected a return on investment.

The government owned SECV was a joke! Monash would have been spinning in his grave (and if we wrapped him in copper wire we could have used the generated power). If the SECV were still around, we would have been having this conversation about power shortages about 15 years ago. And we would still be waiting for a new power station all these years later.

One more argument that does not fly either is that governments would have planned for replacement power stations prior to closing an old one. Private companies also plan for replacement of their assets. (I know, it was some of the work I did). Government’s role is to create the environment to allow the private owners to undertake these replacements and then to get out of the way. Instead we have governments that actively place regulatory and bureaucratic road blocks to stifle investment. The private companies may still replace their assets, just in a more business friendly jurisdiction, such as overseas if they are a multi national.

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16 Responses to Guest post on the Victorian power industry

  1. Big_Nambas

    Having contracted to various government departments over my working life I can say with certain knowledge that private enterprise can do any project far cheaper and more effectively.
    The reason I retired at 60 and stopped employing 40 or so people? Government regulation and red tape just got so bad that I gave up. What the government were doing was trying to legislate me into being as inefficient as them!

  2. Dan Dare

    Slow Easy & Comfortable

  3. Dr Fred Lenin

    Well done Nighthawk ,finally the truth about SECV ,I knew sexeral people who were employed there,one claimed he was sacked for working, the union bruvas didnt like him setting a bad example. Another guy was a painter said it was the most boring bludge ever ,and if you left your brush and paint pot to go somewhere it would be stolen . They even had “do not disturb men sleeping “ on on doors during the night shift . I was in building in Gippsland ,no one would employ former apprentices of SECV they were too lazy .
    Typical lefty government too it was a monopoly of an important service and made no profit as the alp mob continually looted profits to keep their career in politics going . We should have had the finest power system in the world if the pollies had kept out of it,I mean what would a bunch of shifty conveyancing lawyers and corrupt union gangsters know about anything but lining their own nest.

  4. Rossini

    Australia day once again and as a country it is “rooted”

  5. Bruce of Newcastle

    One of the entertaining things to watch at the time was the ALP in NSW agonising about privatizing the government electricity kolkhoz.

    It brought down two Premiers and the ALP government itself.

    The problem was they even then believed in the holy gas of Gaia and were terrified of the political consequence of having to own the electricity industry through the necessary changes (they thought). But at the same time they were ideologically committed to state ownership of everything, and the unions were howling. It was a wonderful soap opera.

    Now that they have privatized the electricity industry they’ve shifted the blame to ebil capitalists whilst hamstringing them with stupid stuff like RET and priority for wind electricity over steady baseload, thereby getting the worst of both worlds.

    It would be fitting to strap our politicians to the ends of wind turbine blades. Safely and sensitively of course, the only real danger being to be unluckily hit in the face by a mangled bird at 200 km/h.

  6. Nighthawk the Elder

    Thank Rafe for flagging this. (And apologies if it came over as a bit of a rant.)

    I’d been following the running commentary on the power shortages in Vic over on the MSM, and kept seeing the same ridiculous comments about Kennett selling the SECV by all the usual Getup trolls as the reason for no power. I came late in the evening to read the updated comments on David’s post and saw the same comments from Wil, here on the Cat. I’d had enough.

    Liebour had 20 years to reverse it if they genuinely believed in state ownership and even had several opportunities to do a Kerry Packer and buy back the (now upgraded) power stations for half price. Truth is they were also glad to have removed the mill stone from around their neck and are happy for the LNP to take the heat.

    I guarantee we will still be having this conversation next summer.

  7. Rafe Champion

    Thank you Nighthawk! It came across to me as a heartfelt commentary from the inside. If people who know about these things don’t speak up how will other people ever know? Like the trade union sabotage of the war effort on the docks at the start of WW2. Fortunately Hal Colebatch Jnr collected enough stories to publish a book about that.

    Thankfully the Cat provides a small loudspeaker to be heard beyond your mates in the pub, not a megaphone like the ABC but still we make the best of it.

  8. Nighthawk the Elder

    Thanks Dr Fred.

    What you were told about the SECV, I saw with my own eyes, including the “Men Sleeping” signs. We found makeshift bedrooms in the cable tunnels (which are supposed to be a strictly controlled access area due to the high risks) under the power station. A lot of magicians worked there as they were really good at disappearing. Where were the supervisors one may ask? In their offices watching daytime television (true story).

    Tell you who were the most productive and that was the boiler maker’s workshop at the back of the site. They could turn around a custom built trailer or 6 burner barbecue made to order in quick time. Cash only of course. The guy making fishing lures in the machine shop also did a roaring trade.

  9. jock

    Totally agree. I recall my md meeting some of the staff of solaris when it was privatised. This was a guy who worked his way up from the ranks. But he was gobsmacked at this meeting. They had a pool table in their canteen. Company owned. As he said i have neverxseen one in a workplace till now. Everything was gold plated. Overcapitalisation. Ridiculous levelscof capital redundancy. And the whole thing was like the bureacracy today. It was merely a welfare syatem for tradies. When lya was privatised nearly two thirds of the staff were found to be unnecessary. Dont say but jobs jobs jobs. They were in these jobs as a job creation role by the state. Much as qld is doing at the moment.

  10. Dr Fred Lenin

    Nighthawk we outside the SECV found some of the stories unbelievable being private sector worker , but my big mate who was thretened by the comrades led by the Pommy who was deported from Scotland for communist plotting ,got too hot Special Branch had visited ,so he left Scotland came to the SEC and carried on the red work . My mate had an altercation in a Traralgon pub with three heavies from the unionthug pool ,he ironed the three of them out and got barred from the pub ,no charges were laid ,we had real coppers then
    You have confirmed those outragous stories were true ..

  11. Robbo

    The SECV was a sick joke that spent a lot of the taxpayers money but delivered very little. The fairy tale that is being spread by lefty morons that we would not be having blackouts if the power supply was still being run by the government is a lie that ignores all the facts behind the privatisation. Those clowns who continue to circulate the lie adhere to the maxim that if you ignore reality and just continue to peddle the lie eventually people will start to believe it.

  12. John Barr

    Robbo: The SECV was a sick joke that spent a lot of the taxpayers money but delivered very little.

    Unfortunately this bit is true.

    Robbo: The fairy tale that is being spread by lefty morons that we would not be having blackouts if the power supply was still being run by the government is a lie that ignores all the facts behind the privatisation.

    I don’t think it’s a fairy tail. We all know that the Public Service is bloody lazy. Decisions that take months to years can be made in a week by the Private Sector. We all know that.

    Still. I don’t think Essential Utilities such as Power, Water, Wharfs & Airfields should be in the hands of Foreigners. Especially China, as China believes that anything they own belongs to & is a part of the Chinese mainland. This was explained to me by a Chinese Party Member many years ago.

    Anywhere in the World China owns Property they usually staff that facility with their own people,, most of them Military.

  13. David Bidstrup

    The situation we have now is a mess. The issue is how to “fix” it. I have no bias toward public or private ownership, all I want to see is a system that does not rip people off and can stay on without resorting to load shedding or turning off industry.
    The idea that a ceiling of $14,500.00 per MWh is seen as realistic is absurd and the figures I posted yesterday show the extent of the rort. The “market” exists in name only.
    It should not be too hard to construct a “market” where renewables do not have first dibs at supply to the detriment of reliable suppliers but it would take some large reversals of ideology to get there and with idiots like the Greens and Labor screaming their “belief” in climate change it is a big ask.
    I see nothing wrong with private ownership but suggest the system would be better if there were bulk “take or pay” contracts so reliable suppliers could run their businesses in some controlled manner. The destruction of Port Augusta and closure of Hazelwood were driven by the lousy market structure and green/left ideology.
    Wind and solar are jokes. So is pumped hydro. Only coal, gas or nuclear will provide us a cheap and reliable power supply.

  14. Squirrel

    Also in the days of government ownership, industrial action was often wielded as a weapon against the State Government (Labor, not just Liberal) at strategic times – blackouts around the time most people would have been preparing, or sitting down to, the evening meal in winter were a memorable favourite.

  15. John A

    Indeed, the main theme, upon which we all seem to be agreed is that government interference only makes things (EVERYTHING) worse.

    It is like the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (book 2 Restaurant at the End of the Universe): leave the controls of the spaceship alone and it will fly itself quite happily. If you don’t like the destination, teleport off the ship.

    At least here we have the theoretical possibility of taking control of the controls.

  16. Linden

    The old SECV in the Latrobe Valley was the rorters p utopia. I knew one fella who ‘worked’ in the maintenance workshops the time, who spent most of his time rigging up his Toyota 4WD. At the time nobody else had one like it was. Apprentices were told to sleep the afternoon away. A welder would use a few rods from a new box and take the rest home for himself and so it went on. If I remember right the SEC was $nine billion in debt. Another scam was the conveyor belt roller bearing were meant to be of a specific standard but they were substitued for an inferior brand and re stamped to disguise the fact. Some of these rollers were examined that S.F.S Laboratories Victoria Police to prove to the false stamping. The rorting was massive.

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