Tim Blair cites my recent observation that privatisation in Australia is political poison and goes on to ask for further advice on the issue
Take the next step, Quiggler; tell us which industries or businesses should be nationalised. People will like it, apparently.
I’m happy to oblige. The best case for (re)nationalisation is undoubtedly Telstra, minus peripheral bits like BigPond which should be wholly privatised. I’ve been making this argument for years.
Although Tim correctly points out the logical symmetry – if people hate privatisation, and clearly they do, then they should welcome nationalisation – he seems to be in some doubt about the politics. There are overseas examples to help here. Helen Clark’s government renationalised both accident compensation and Air New Zealand and didn’t seem to suffer any political damage, but of course, that’s New Zealand. More interestingly, the government led by Tim’s UK namesake renationalised Railtrack, to widespread applause, a couple of years ago.
What these examples have in common is that the privatisation was badly bungled, so that renationalisation was easy to sell. Although it isn’t, like Railtrack and Air NZ, on the verge of bankruptcy, Telstra is also a prime example of a bungled privatisation.
As Tim notes, given the deep public opposition to privatisation, exhibited recently over Snowy Hydro, there’s no reason to suppose that renationalisation would be unpopular. The problem is that the elite (not the people who drink cafe lattes, but those in both parties, banks and big business who actually run the show) benefit from privatisation and have no desire to stop it.
Update Tim liked this suggestion, and now he wants more. Next cab off the rank, in my view, should be airports. The privatisation of these monopolies was followed by massive increases in navigation charges, as well as a whole string of petty imposts on travellers. Another large part of the attraction, in Brisbane at least, was the ability to (mis)use the power of the Commonwealth to evade state and local controls on land development. And the involvement of politically well-connected types like Max Moore-Wilton only made the whole thing worse in every respect.