Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Is it a sin to sell a government asset?

By Everald Compton - posted Thursday, 4 April 2013

More emotion is generated by the debate on Government Asset Sales than most issues that are littered around the political playground. Most of the comments are generated by the thought that there are votes to be won by perpetuating this battle - far more so than the remote possibility that there may be deep political convictions involved.

This means it’s time to try to take the discussion out of the hands of political opportunists and elevate it to a rational plane, as the balanced development of the nation will depend heavily the creation of many more new assets.

A good start will be to look at some history.


For most of the time since the arrival of the First Fleet, the establishment and management of public facilities and infrastructure were the unquestioned province of governments. In general terms, it is safe to say that it was only in the era after World War II that the sale of public assets arrived on the political agenda.

It is also valid to comment that the idea of selling assets only arises when governments run out of money. There has been little concern that most public assets were run inefficiently and could have provided better service at lesser cost if run privately.

The issue became firmly on the table when the Loans Affair destroyed the reputation of the Whitlam Government in 1975. The Mines Minister at the time was Rex Connor, a dyed-in-the-wool socialist and nationalist, who wanted the expansion of Australia’s mining capacity to be firmly in government hands. He tried to raise billions to make this possible by using the services of a doubtful financial trader named Kemlani. He almost succeeded, but finally crashed spectacularly.

Had he obtained that money, he intended to open half a dozen major mines, all of them owned and run by government. This generated a passionate furore about whether or not mines should be developed by private capital (which they eventually were), or whether the nation should own them, thereby finally benefiting taxpayers directly.

The controversy also generated a new debate on what to do with existing government assets. Were they untouchable Australian institutions or could they be a source of cash and a means of greater productivity if managed privately?

Eventually, the debate led to the sale of the Commonwealth Bank and Qantas during the Hawke/Keating era, but this caused little controversy at the time, and now most voters would not recall that they were once government assets.


The passion revived when John Howard announced that he would sell Telstra in three tranches. He succeeded in getting the hotly-disputed Bills through the Senate only by offering Tasmanian Independent Senator Brian Harradine some enormous benefits for his State that no other State received.

He was helped also by Queensland ALP Senator Mal Coulston, who ratted on his party by accepting Howard’s offer of the position of Deputy President of the Senate in exchange for his vote. This eventually provided a sterling example for Peter Slipper to use in participating in a similar scenario with Julia Gillard some years later so as to become Speaker of the House of Representatives.

But, the controversy was compounded by the extravagant sale price of Telstra shares. It was a long way in excess of real value, causing many thousands of ‘mum and dad’ investors to lose an important part of their savings when the price subsequently dropped rapidly. This put them off participating in further sales of government assets, even to the extent of opposing the concept with very real fervour as they felt they had been robbed by the government.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

4 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Everald Compton is Chairman of The Longevity Forum, a not for profit entity which is implementing The Blueprint for an Ageing Australia. He was a Founding Director of National Seniors Australia and served as its Chairman for 25 years. Subsequently , he was Chairman for three years of the Federal Government's Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Everald Compton

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Everald Compton
Article Tools
Comment 4 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy