Public First Program
The Public First Program was
an award winning current affairs program
Gippsland FM in the Victorian region of Gippsland
and the Latrobe Valley.
The program ended in
In June 1995 the Public First
Program was born. It grew out of the desire by the local Public First Campaign
to fight for the right of public ownership of essential services.
spent the first two years of its life fighting for the right of the public to
retain ownership of the assets they had paid for. However, in realising the power of radio and
the fact that public support had swung behind the Kennett plan a new strategy
for the Public First Program was developed.
This strategy was to begin a
process of public education by taking a dissenting and critical view of the
local situation as part of the wider process commonly, but erroneously known as
"globalisation". The program broadened out its coverage of events and
commentary to include a vast array of topics.
leading up to this began in late 1992 when the Liberal and
National party coalition won government in Victoria. In the lead up to that
election the then opposition leader, Jeff Kennett, declared that there was a
fiscal crisis in Victoria. He promised to repay the 'debts' of the state by
introducing a raft of policies designed to reshape the state's economy and
therefore social structure.
This policy agenda led to the
largest privatisations of public owned property in Australia. The State
Electricity Commission (SEC), was sold off. Prior to Kennett's ascension to
power, the then ruling Labor party had laid the ground work for these privatisations
by 'restructuring' the SEC and beginning the process of 'downsizing' the
workforce. This involved carving up the once single entity and
creating 'business enterprises' that were to manage distinct areas such as
generation, distribution and retailing.
Each of these 'enterprises' was to
become 'competitive' and 'customer focused'. The absurdity of these proposals
were, obviously, lost on the proponents of the sell offs. Nonetheless, the carve
up and sale of the SEC proceeded almost unhindered, despite massive public
The Latrobe Valley in
Gippsland was to bear the brunt of this 'restructuring' as it was home to the
four major generating plants, three of which were up for sale. The fourth was
already privately controlled with contracts to protect that company's profits
for the next 30 years. Not only were the generators sold off, so to were the poles
and wires that feed electricity to homes and businesses.
The upshot of the government
program was that the Latrobe Valley workforce was 'downsized' from about
12,000 workers in the early 1990's to about 5,000 by the middle of the decade. Union estimates (which were much later on adopted
by government and academic researchers) of the flow on effect were that up to
three times that many workers were indirectly impacted as their jobs were lost
due to the privatisation process and the winding back of support businesses.
The public response to the
privatisation was overwhelming. Even before the 1992 election there were
demonstrations against the Kennett plan. The largest of these saw over 100,000
people take over the streets of Melbourne. The public did not acquiesce easily
but, as is the case where power, money and influence are concerned, the battle
was lost by 1996 and the SEC was no more.
The lawyers, 'consultants' and
privateers were the only true winners gathering up millions in fees for their
'advice' and 'expertise'. The price of electricity was, Kennett
told us, going to fall. It hasn't. Businesses would come flooding into the state
to take advantage of the cheap electricity, we were told. They haven't. What did occur is that
in less than ten years most of the original owners of the assets have had to
sell out as they cant turn the huge debts incurred in buying the businesses into the substantial profits they were promised.
The privatisation battle in Victoria might be lost,
but there are many other battles still being fought. In it's quests to support
the public in their battles the Public First Program has
been privileged to win numerous awards including two national community radio awards for Excellence
in Spoken Word and Radio Documentary.