NSW premier grilled over poles and wires leases

New South Wales Premier Mike Baird has been grilled at a parliamentary inquiry into the planned lease of the electricity network about contact his staff had with investment bank UBS before it favourably altered its report into the power sale.

Mr Baird told the inquiry his chief of staff and director of policy raised concerns with the head of UBS after it issued a report during the election campaign that said the sale was “bad for the budget, good for the state”.

The Premier said he was briefed on the matter, but his staff did not ask for the report to be reissued with the words “bad for the budget” removed.

Mr Baird rejected a suggestion he was not providing enough detail for the inquiry to hand down sensible findings.

He told the inquiry strict licence conditions would be imposed on potential buyers, with the Energy Minister set to receive new powers to assume control of the licence under certain circumstances.

He has previously said there would be job guarantees for affected power workers, but the terms were yet to be negotiated.

Ahead of the opening on the inquiry on May 11, Mr Baird announced he would introduce a licence for private operators who want to lease parts of the electricity network.

In a bid to reassure the people of NSW, Mr Baird said potentially lessees of the “poles and wires” would need to have a licence, which would impose conditions on the electricity network businesses over and above the terms of the leases.

He said it would allow the State Government to control the suitability and capability of network operators and it would also require them to have an operational presence in Australia and ensure the network reliability, performance and safety.

Upper House Christian Democrat Fred Nile demanded the inquiry as a condition of his support for the Government’s plan to sell off 49 per cent of the state’s poles and wires on a 99-year lease.