Energy leaders debate the subject of privatisation

When it comes to Australia's electricity supply, much debate has been focused on whether or not states should privatise assets or keep the utility public. Both sides argue that their method will allow for better pricing for consumers and that their course of action will keep Australia competitive in the global energy sector. Here's what both advocates for and critics of privatized energy have to say about the topic.

Arguments for privatised energy

A number of leading chief executive officers from Australia are advocating for energy privatization. Though this point of view is often not popular, they cite economic concerns at the top of their list of reasons why privatization should be considered.

"We need a clear, long-term energy vision for the nation, which contributes to the efficient ­development of our energy markets, promotes economic prosperity and encourages the development of ­Australia as an exporter of ­abundant, affordable and lower-emissions energy," Origin Energy chief Grant King told the Financial Review.

King, as well as ANZ CEO Mike Smith, stated that the plan they have in mind would prioritise reducing energy costs for consumers. The proposed focus on lower-emissions technologies is projected to create new jobs as the country invests more in green projects.

Arguments against privatised energy

Many people remain skeptical about the benefits of privatisation. A recent report commissioned by the Electrical Trades Union found that the highest electricity prices were confined to states in which power had been privatised.

The report also cited increased consumer dissatisfaction in Victoria and South Australia, both of which have these kinds of power schemes. 

"We have seen for example, some elements of consumer choice in the reforms but really the assumption was that consumer choice would drive prices down, when in fact prices have risen very substantially," professor and economist John Quiggin told the Brisbane Times. "So overall the outcomes have been very negative."

However, Professor Quiggin was quick to add that energy costs have gone up across all regions, regardless of privatisation.

"That has been true with or without privatisation," he said of price increases. "But one of the claims made by advocates of privatisation is that markets work better with instances of privatisation – I haven't found that to be the case at all."

It remains to be seen which states will continue on the path toward private energy assets, but one thing's for sure: the debate doesn't stand to be resolved anytime soon.