Prime minister John Howard said late last week that the decision to withdraw the shares was in response to strong public opposition and ‘the need to safeguard the interests of all those dependent on Australia’s iconic water resources’. Howard’s decision prompted the project’s other shareholders – the New South Wales and Victoria state governments – to cancel the sale of their shares.

In December last year the New South Wales Government announced it would sell its majority shareholding of 58% in the company, which owns and operates the 3756MW Snowy Mountains scheme consisting of seven power plants and 16 dams. In February, the Federal and Victorian Governments announced that they would also put their shares up for sale.

However news of the sale was met with fierce opposition from farmers, community groups and politicians who feared that new owners might divert water from the Snowy river. According to local news reports, Howard said he had been surprised by the level of public disquiet, which had been greater than he expected.

‘The government has listened to the immense community reaction on this matter,’ Howard said in a statement. ‘The privatisation of Snowy Hydro Limited has not been a policy or election commitment.’

The New South Wales government had pushed for the sale of the company to release funds of at lease $1.5B for public spending – in particular to build schools, hospitals and infrastructure. However, along with the Victoria government, it said the sale had now become impractical.

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