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NSW Opposition energy spokesman retreats to b -

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NSW Opposition energy spokesman retreats to backbench

The World Today - Monday, 12 May , 2008 13:22:00

Reporter: Karen Barlow

ELEANOR HALL: With the New South Wales Labor Party still divided over the Government's plans to
privatise the electricity sector, you'd think the Opposition would be in the box seat.

Today the Premier Morris Iemma was still attempting to soften up an electorate widely distrustful
of privatisation.

But the NSW Liberal Party is now reeling from the news that it has lost its energy spokesman, Peter
Debnam, because of the Coalition's decision to support the Government's reform proposal.

Karen Barlow has our report.

KAREN BARLOW: The man who led the Coalition to a crushing defeat in last year's state election has
never supported electricity privatisation.

So Peter Debnam says he can't go back on his word now.

PETER DEBNAM: Look, the electricity privatisation debate actually started before the election. We
went to the election reassuring the community that we would not privatise electricity. Morris Iemma
did exactly the same thing.

My view is that we should strongly oppose the privatisation, even though we don't have the numbers
to stop it in Parliament, we should make the community's feelings known, and we should also do
whatever we can to change the industry towards clean, renewable energy.

KAREN BARLOW: The trouble is that is not the position the Liberal-National Coalition announced last
Thursday.

The Liberal leader Barry O'Farrell and Nationals leader Andrew Stoner announced a Cabinet decision
to support the Labor Government's privatisation plans with community safeguards.

Today, Mr O'Farrell was announcing a Cabinet reshuffle as Peter Debnam went to the backbench.

BARRY O'FARRELL: Peter Debnam is entitled to his view. At the party rooms, both the Liberal and
National party rooms made their view clear last Thursday. That was a decision announced by Andrew
Stoner and I in this room last Thursday afternoon.

KAREN BARLOW: Barry O'Farrell says he doesn't believe there are others in the Coalition that feel
the same as Mr Debnam, but he is still calling for unity regardless.

BARRY O'FARRELL: The party acknowledges and appreciates the effort Peter put in, particularly as
leader, in the lead up to the last year election campaign. It's obviously been hard for him. One
minute he's leader, another minute he's a member of the team.

At the end of day, when you are part of the team, you abide by the team decision, and last
Thursday, shadow Cabinet in the Liberal-National Parties took a decision, Peter's now made his
decision, that's allowed within our party, it's not allowed within the Labor Party, that's one of
the big differences between the two.

REPORTER: So you think he's still harbouring sort of unhappiness over being ejected as...

BARRY O'FARRELL: Look, I'll leave that to the commentators. Our point is, the decision was made
last Thursday, a decision endorsed by shadow Cabinet, the decision endorsed by both party rooms,
and a decision that for the first time seeks to put the public interest first in Morris Iemma's
proposal to sell the state's electricity assets.

KAREN BARLOW: Peter Debnam stands by his decision to quit the frontbench.

PETER DEBNAM: When you are the shadow Minister for a portfolio and you disagree with a decision,
well it's simply untenable to continue as the spokesman for that portfolio. So what I aid to Barry
last week was that he'd be better off putting someone else into the position that can argue his
case. I feel very strongly on it and obviously you shouldn't continue in a portfolio when you
disagree with the policy position.

KAREN BARLOW: With the Labor Party eating itself alive over the privatisation of the electricity
sector, shouldn't the Opposition appear combined and be in the box seat?

PETER DEBNAM: I think it's more important than sort of focusing on the politics of it within a
party or between the parties, to actually talk about the issues, and that's what's been lacking in
the last year is a real debate on privatisation. That's what I think is important.

KAREN BARLOW: Is there any element of you being disgruntled about losing the leadership in this?

PETER DEBNAM: As I've said, what I've done is step down from a portfolio position where I disagree
with the position taken. It's as simple as that. Barry can now put someone else into that role who
can actually argue his case.

KAREN BARLOW: No matter how voluntary, it is the first political scalp of the contentious
electricity sale issue.

The Premier Morris Iemma has told a Future Summit in Sydney that he expects to pay a price for his
decision.

MORRIS IEMMA: Put simply, reform is hard, real reform stirs emotions, it discomforts and disrupts,
it breaks old habits, it provokes old fears, it spurs selfishness among lobby groups and vested
interests. And it comes at a price, a price exacted in the short and medium-term, long before the
fruits of reform become evident.

KAREN BARLOW: Peter Debnam says he will probably stay as a backbencher until the next state
election which he intends to contest.

ELEANOR HALL: Karen Barlow reporting.