I once read a remark about the kind of bank advertisement that shows a proud young couple outside their first home, to the effect that it would be better to show them middle-aged, making the final payment on their 25-year mortgage, at which point the home would truly be theirs.
I have the same kind of reaction to the Queensland government’s (publicly funded, I believe) ads showing “ordinary Queenslanders” celebrating the fact that our public assets are going to be leased rather than sold under the government’s plan. Most of those in the ads are young (20s and 30s, I’d say). Even so, many of them will have passed on by the time the lease first comes up for renewal in 2064.
And of course, that’s just the start of it. There’s a 49-year renewal option, which means that, if electricity distribution networks are still valuable assets in 50 years time, the public won’t get them back. The only case under which the assets will return to public ownership is if the private party wants to get rid of them. In this case, we will be obliged to pay for all the investment undertaken over the term of the lease, even though (given the non-renewal) the economic value will be less than this cost.
When making the point that a 99-year lease isn’t exactly the same as a sale, people often point to Hong Kong. But imagine if the lease specified that all the public infrastructure in Hong Kong (roads, the international airport, schools, hospitals and so on) belonged to Britain and had to be repurchased before China resumed sovereignty. Perhaps national pride would have prevailed, but it would have been a very expensive end to the lease.