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No More Privatisation!

It’s always disappointing – although perhaps not very surprising – when people, especially politicians, act based on ideology rather than practicality. The current New Zealand government has certainly moderated this behaviour quite considerably but the old neoliberal agenda we have all suffered from since 1984 is still a factor, although it has to be admitted it is a far weaker factor than it has been in the past.

One of the key articles of faith of neoliberalism is that privatisation is a great thing and will ensure better, cheaper, more flexible, and more innovative services. Well I call bullshit on this because the evidence seems to indicate the exact opposite.

The latest example of privatisation gone wrong is prison operator Serco who have made a total mess of running the Mount Eden facility, but I could have told them this would turn out badly before they even started.

How? Well let’s look at the record of privatisation in New Zealand…

Railways was sold to overseas owners who ran it into the ground, did no maintenance, and almost destroyed the whole system, then accepted a payment far more than what it was worth (the government’s fault for offering it, I agree) to sell it back to the state so that it could be rescued. Assessment of this privatisation: a total disaster.

Air New Zealand, our state airline, was privatised and run so incompetently had it had to be re-nationalised, because if it hadn’t the company would have been bankrupt. After this rescue it has done quite well but that didn’t stop the current government from selling part of it’s share again. Luckily this time they are a little bit more sensible and still own more than 50%. Assessment: utter incompetence.

Telecom was privatised after a huge amount was spent on modernising our national telecommunications system so it could be sold for a fraction of what it was worth. Since then it has provided a mediocre service at best. Our broadband is terrible by international standards and the duopoly with Vodafone continues to rip-off every mobile phone user in the country. Assessment: a blatant rip-off.

And so it goes on for case after case. There are problems with government ownership for sure – I am not a rabid socialist who wants everything under state control – but privatisation is not the answer. In every case the average citizen has been hugely worse off as a result. But, of course the rich robber barons of this country – people who are probably great friends with the prime minster – love it because they can exploit our resources for their own greedy needs.

So given that sort of result what chance was there that private prisons would have worked? About zero, I would say, and now we see that is true. The utter nonsense of the reports which rated the new prison management highly now becomes clear. Those reports must have been based on either bureaucratic meaningless nonsense or on a series of lies by management – most likely both.

But what sort of piece of scum would you have to be to want to run a prison anyway? Why would you want to make money out of taking away another person’s liberty? I know there are a lot of extremely unpleasant and dangerous people in prisons and they probably deserve just abut everything they get, but there are also a proportion (probably about 5% to 10%) of inmates who are innocent and another significant percentage who are there for essentially arbitrary reasons.

So I’m sorry if I sound like a “bleeding-heart liberal” when I defend prisoners, but not caring about them because “they deserve whatever they get” just doesn’t match reality. There are probably some who have done such heinous things that they almost do deserve anything bad that happens to them, but that doesn’t apply to the majority.

The government can’t admit that private prisons are just fundamentally a bad idea of course, but they can’t ignore the facts any more either, so something will have to happen. Unfortunately the only real answer is to send Serco back to where they came from. In what wild fantasy world would anybody even entertain the notion that a company like that is the right choice to run a prison here? Only on Planet Key, I guess.

But the PM is increasingly being exposed as being totally out of touch with reality, and as the country sinks, Titanic-like, beneath the waves of economic disaster John (I’m right mate, I’m rich) Key, Stephen (Mr F***-It) Joyce, Billy (Country Bumpkin) English, and all the other sorry misfits will still be telling us how great everything is, from the safety of the fancy life-boats they have bought for themselves.

As I complete this post the news has just arrived that ministry staff are going to take over the running of the prison. Surely now not even the government can deny this is yet another privatisation failure. But will it stop them from making the same mistake again? History tells us probably not.

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  1. July 24, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    I’m from the US and we have a mix of private and government prisons. Our entire criminal justice system needs a massive overhaul. The private prisons are clearly in it for profits, which is a very scary thought, and that’s currently feeding our mass incarceration (especially of minorities) problem along with an unnecessary war on drugs and scumbag, racist cops. I don’t think all things need to be government-run, but certain things just don’t work well with pure capitalism, and prisons and healthcare definitely fall into that category.

  2. OJB
    July 25, 2015 at 4:47 am

    I totally agree with you. From a distance the system in the US looks very broken yet our government seems to be determined to follow it and create a similar system. Why? Purely for ideological reasons. They really believe privatisation is the answer. How stupid can you get!

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