Labor says Perrottet will privatise Sydney Water, but is that fact or fiction?

On the home stretch to polling day, Labor leader Chris Minns is not bypassing any chance to peddle his central campaign pitch: that Premier Dominic Perrottet will sell off the last of the state’s public assets, specifically Sydney Water.

The agency that controls the state’s essential drinking-water supply will be privatised, Minns claims, if a future Coalition government is to pay for $50 billion in unfunded infrastructure promises.

NSW Labor leader Chris Minns in front of Labor’s billboard truck on Monday.

James Brickwood

“Sydney Water is on the ballot paper on March 25,” Minns warned on the campaign trail on Monday.

The potential privatisation of Sydney Water has dominated the election campaign for Labor and the Coalition, with Perrottet finally ruling out any future sale of the agency last month after previously insisting asset recycling would remain a pillar of his government’s strategy to fund infrastructure.

With just five days until the NSW electorate casts its vote, the premier-hopeful took his red Labor-branded, zero emissions bus to Sydney’s desalination plant to fire the missive Perrottet has branded a bald-faced Labor “scare campaign.”

The premier has repeatedly said he has “no plans” to privatise the state asset, but Minns says the claim cannot be trusted, urging voters to recall the Coalition’s 2019 election promise not to sell WestConnex.

‘At the last election, when it came to the sale of toll roads … the [then-]NSW treasurer [Perrottet] said it was fake news. Just after the election was over, he sold it all off.’

Labor leader Chris Minns

An eight-page, colour-printed dossier handed out on Minns’ campaign bus on Monday, titled “Dominic Perrottet plans to privatise Sydney Water. It’s a matter of fact”, left no doubt about the focus of Labor’s final push towards March 25.

The booklet highlights a tweet sent by then-treasurer Perrottet in December 2018, labelling Labor warnings of a WestConnex sell-off as “recycled fake news”. The same tweet is emblazoned on a new Labor billboard truck contracted to travel around Sydney this week.

“At the last election, when it came to the sale of toll roads … the NSW treasurer said it was fake news. Just after the election was over, he sold it all off,” Minns said on Monday. “It’s the same record played at the same time before the next election.”

In a personal dig at the premier, Minns added: “Why should the people of this state trust you in relation to privatisation, when you unambiguously misled them in the run-up to the 2019 election?”

Labor is also basing its anti-privatisation campaign on documents released under parliamentary order that show scoping studies and tax advice were sought to explore a new public-private partnership model to fund critical water services and an Ausgrid-style privatisation.

A confidential Sydney Water board discussion paper dated February 24, 2021, cited “active discussion on debt levels and asset recycling with Treasury”, noting that the government has a “publicly stated preference for asset recycling”.

It said a “partial or full sale of Sydney Water shareholding through an offer to buy shares” was among options analysed to fund future investments in critical water infrastructure.

While Labor will say the three-year-old documents are the smoking gun that proves the Coalition government has actively considered privatisation, Perrottet has resolutely denied it.

Dominic Perrottet said Chris Minns’ privatisation claim was a “Labor lie” during the debate.

James Brickwood

Last week he told the and leaders debate: “No one has spoken about privatising Sydney Water except Labor,” he said. “We are not selling Sydney Water. This is a Labor lie.”

Sydney Water has also firmly rejected the suggestion that any plans for privatisation are afoot, telling the the board discussion paper was prepared by KPMG in 2021 to assess a range of procurement options, including a new public-private partnership model.

“This paper was not endorsed,” a spokeswoman said.

Flanked by shadow ministers Ryan Park, Jo Haylen and Rose Jackson outside the desalination plant on Monday, Minns denied that he was peddling a Labor lie.

He called on the premier to back Labor’s plan to write Sydney Water and Hunter Water into the NSW Constitution to protect it from any future sell-off.

“My challenge to the premier is: put your money where your mouth … [Stop] this government and future governments from making a terrible mistake.”

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