Queensland’s entire electricity network could be in private hands for up to 50 or even 99 years if the state government leases public assets.

Queensland could lease its entire electricity network for up to 99 years to pay down state debt.

The Newman government wants to sell or lease most state assets under its plan to deal with $80 billion in debt it says Labor lumped on the state.

Treasurer Tim Nicholls says public feedback on the plan indicates a strong preference for 50 or 99-year leases.

“Certainly leasing is something that I’ve favoured for a long time, and certainly that seems to be something that is very popular with Queenslanders,” he told a business breakfast in Brisbane on Wednesday.

The Liberal National Party government had been open to selling off power generators, but said it wanted to keep control of transmission and distribution lines.

Mr Nicholls’ announcement paves the way for the government to lease the entire power network – from generators to poles and wires – to investors for up to 99 years.

He insisted Queenslanders would retain underlying ownership because it was a lease, not a sale.

But Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk said a long-term lease was the same as a sale and it would push power prices up to “nightmare” levels for families.

The union-backed Not4Sale campaign said leasing the power network would drive up prices and cut jobs, and could lead to an eventual foreign takeover.

Last week the Newman government changed the laws to deregulate the retail power sectors from July next year.