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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 1 Hansard (28 April) . . Page.. 72 ..

Ecowise - Proposed Staff Buyout

MR HARGREAVES: Mr Speaker, I was tempted to ask a question of Mr Moore in his new capacity and of Mr Smyth in his new capacity; but, in the interests of non-adversarial politics, I will pay credit to the brevity of the experience of both of them and direct my question to the Chief Minister. The question is: What discussions has the Chief Minister or her staff had with ACTEW management over the proposed privatisation of Ecowise - surprise, surprise; it is not ACTTAB - including proposals for a staff buyout?

MS CARNELL: Mr Speaker, with regard to the possible staff buyout of Ecowise, the discussions that have been had with me - and, I assume, with my staff, as well - were when the executive director of ACTEW and the chairman of the board told me that they were going to do it.

MR HARGREAVES: I have a supplementary question, Mr Speaker. Given that there have been discussions between the exalted leadership of that department and the Chief Minister, the question I ask is: What criteria is the Government proposing as the basis for an acceptable staff buyout? For example, what is the minimum number of staff that have to express an interest in a buyout for it to be acceptable to the Government?

MS CARNELL: Mr Speaker, ACTEW is a corporatised entity. It has a board. The board makes decisions on the actual organising and operations of ACTEW. Mr Speaker, as I said, the chairman of the board and the chief executive of ACTEW did inform me that they planned to go down this path - obviously, asking whether I had any particular problem with this. On that basis, Mr Speaker, I have to say that I believe that, if you have a board and you have a chief executive of a very large company, basically, you let them run the show. My understanding, Mr Speaker, from discussions that I have had with them is that, if the employees are unhappy or do not want to go down that path, then the deal is off, basically. If they would like to do it, that is fine.

Mr Speaker, the other thing that I was interested in in regard to Ecowise and that I assume other members were interested in too is what Ecowise actually does. I assumed that members would be quite interested in that; but nobody seems to have asked that question. Mr Speaker, as I understand it, Ecowise is a small subsidiary of ACTEW that actually competes directly with the private sector for small electrical jobs. It is quite that simple. Mr Speaker, I understand that the view of the board and ACTEW management was that this was a good opportunity for employees - if that was what they wanted to do - to be part of the growth of that small entity. It is not involved in the core business of ACTEW, but is involved in providing small electrical jobs - predominantly in the area of fixing stoves, as I understand it - in direct competition with the private sector. I find it very difficult to understand why those opposite would not think that the board of ACTEW, with all of the corporate responsibility that goes with that board, and the senior management of ACTEW should actually run this process.

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