September 2021

SA Unions is opposed to the privatisation of public services and assets believing that a strong and effective public sector is vital to the SA economy and social health and wellbeing.

This policy is adopted based on the following beliefs and evidence.

SA Unions believes that a strong public sector is vital to the South Australian economy and community.  Equitable access to well-resourced, high-quality public services, that are comprehensive and affordable, is a democratic right for all South Australians.

We believe publicly owned assets and public services are funded by South Australians to meet the needs of the community not to generate profits for corporations.  Services that are publicly owned are transparent in their operations and accountable through the checks and balances of democratic government.

We note that ‘privatisation’ is a term that covers a multitude of policies from the outright sale of government enterprises like the Electricity Trust of South Australia to the transfer, in whole or in part, of public assets and/or service provision from government to an entity outside government. It includes the outsourcing of service delivery, sale of public assets, ‘user choice’, voucher systems, public-private partnerships, commissioning, social impact investment, and mutualisation.

The experience in South Australia and internationally is that privatisation of services nearly always results in one or more of the following impacts: reduced/inferior services; higher costs; reductions in worker’s rights, pay and conditions, monopoly practices; increased inequalities; and the diminished capacity of government to respond to emergencies and changing societal/economic need.

We are concerned that decisions to privatise services are often made with no prior consultation or warning and are often proceeded by outright denials that there is any intention to privatise. Decisions pander to vested interests and are ‘justified’ by private sector firms and consultants/contractors advocating the primacy of the private sector in providing advice, consultation, research, reviews, evaluations and undertaking policy and planning work previously delivered by state authorities/public agencies.

We are also concerned that privatisations undermine confidence in the capability of the public service and ‘hollow out’ the capacity of the public sector to undertake its role or take on new services.

We believe that the government must properly resource high quality public services and look at every opportunity to expand the role of the public sector to meet the existing and emerging needs of the South Australian community.  We consider that the public service must be strengthened so it can respond rapidly and effectively when threats to public safety and health arise.

We do not envisage circumstances where there is a need to privatise existing government services but if government proposes a privatisation, we consider there should be a legislative framework in place to:

  • ensure a public interest test is applied before any privatisation is considered.
  • maintain pay and conditions of employment for any privatised jobs; and
  • guarantee ongoing public accountability and transparency for any privatised services.

Comprehensive alternatives to privatisation and measures to ensure that any proposed privatisation is properly scrutinised are addressed in detailed submissions to the Select Committee on the Privatisation of Public Services in South Australia. We endorse and adopt the recommendations (attached) made to the Committee by the Public Services International (PSI) – Oceania and by Dexter Whitfield (Adjunct Associate Professor, Australian Industrial Transformation Unit, Flinders University).

Those recommendations are attached to this policy statement.


Attachment 2: Recommendations to the Select Committee on the Privatisation of Public Services in South Australia.