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MR CONNOLLY (4.04): Mr Speaker, I rise to support my colleague Andrew Whitecross in expressing Labor's support for just standing back, taking a deep breath, and thinking out all the issues. As Mr Whitecross has indicated, Labor takes no black-and-white, ideological stance on this issue, despite the desperate efforts by the Liberals to portray our thinking in that way. Instead, we are saying that we need to consider the case for corporatisation of any agency very carefully. In government we proceeded with the corporatisation of Totalcare and decided that it was not in the public interest to proceed with the corporatisation of ACTEW. That is our thinking at the moment; but the time to make the decision is when all the information is before us, after a committee process, as Ms Tucker indicated.
The decision about the future of ACTEW is probably one of the most important decisions that this Assembly has ever been asked to make. In many ways ACTEW is the most important agency of the ACT Government. It impacts on all of our lives every day. The first thing you do when you wake up in the morning is to consume, in one way or another, an ACTEW product; the last thing you do as you go to bed at night is to consume, in one way or another, an ACTEW product; and at every stage in between we are consuming, using or taking advantage of an ACTEW product.
In simple dollar terms, its turnover of some $300m a year makes it the largest single economic entity of the ACT Government. Its asset base is valued at about $1.5 billion. There are arguments that the replacement value of the entire hydraulic system could even push that out further. That is its book asset value. It is an absolutely massive asset of this Government. We are in a unique position in this Territory, in that our urban area is absolutely 100 per cent sewered. There is no other State or Territory in Australia that can make that boast. Not only is it 100 per cent sewered, but that sewage is treated to tertiary level. Yes, in some cases ACTEW may show up, in the dry jargon of the economic rationalist, as less efficient than some New South Wales sewage treatment agencies because it may cost more to treat sewage in the ACT. It costs less to treat sewage in some areas of New South Wales; therefore, on the altar of economic rationalism, ACTEW is less efficient. It costs quite a bit to deal with sewage here because it is all treated to that absolute tertiary level. We have the highest standard of sewage treatment in Australia. No-one exceeds ACTEW’s level of sewage treatment, and we meet that level for every drop of sewage that goes through the plant.
Mr De Domenico: Very environmentally responsible.
MR CONNOLLY: We do not pour it out into the ocean, as does New South Wales, or into the Murrumbidgee-Murray-Darling river system, as do most rural areas of New South Wales. It was always of great annoyance to me, as Minister responsible for ACTEW for nearly three years, to get many diatribes from people downriver about what a dreadful job ACTEW was doing, when we knew that their material was going pretty much straight into the creek and ACTEW was focusing very hard on meeting high environmental standards.