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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 2 Hansard (21 May) . . Page.. 512 ..

MR CORBELL (continuing):

Mr Deputy Speaker, I agreed with that. I looked at what was in the report; I saw that mentioned; and I said, "That is right. There are opportunities for ACTEW to grow. There are opportunities for ACTEW to compete in better ways". I went on to read in the report that ACTEW had some real strengths that enabled it to compete in the marketplace. These included the fact that it was one of Australia's first multi-utilities. Mr Deputy Speaker, that means that it was not just an electricity provider; it was also a provider of water and sewerage services. This gave it some inherent strengths compared to some of its competitors, who were purely electricity providers.

Mr Deputy Speaker, what is concerning again, when you look at that quote, is the direction the current Government has set in relation to one aspect of ACTEW's business enterprises - Ecowise Services. We have already had an indication in this place that the Government believes that there should be the opportunity for the sale of Ecowise Services. It argues that it is not core business. But what Fay Richwhite underscores again and again is that a diversity of services within ACTEW is actually what gives ACTEW its strength. For that reason, Mr Deputy Speaker, I must question why the Government has already taken the decision basically to proceed with the sale of one aspect of ACTEW, when it has yet to even consider fully the implications of the Fay Richwhite report and, further, when it has not even received the report of the body which is following on from Fay Richwhite. Why make that decision when they themselves are saying that these issues are still up for review? It does not make sense, Mr Deputy Speaker. It certainly does not make sense when you see in the Fay Richwhite report that diversity is ACTEW's strength.

Mr Deputy Speaker, what is certainly concerning - and my colleague Mr Quinlan will, I think, elaborate on this point when he has an opportunity to speak in this debate - is that the Government seems to be pursuing a course which, I think, a lot of people in the Territory would be concerned is going to lead to the privatisation of one of the Territory's most valuable assets. What is concerning is that it is pursuing this course when the area which is identified by Fay Richwhite as the area of greatest risk is the retail electricity market. The retail electricity market, as identified in the Fay Richwhite report, is less than 3 per cent of ACTEW's total business. That says a lot about the sorts of issues we are dealing with here. I will allow my colleague Mr Quinlan to address those issues in a little more detail.

Mr Deputy Speaker, we believe quite strongly that there is the capacity for ACTEW to operate effectively. This is an issue that we want the Government to have in the front of its mind when it continues to consider these issues. We recognise that there are concerns and new challenges to be faced in the era of competition that is now upon us; that ACTEW must learn to work better; that ACTEW must learn to be more effective in what is an increasingly predatory market and a market which has a real possibility of becoming again a monopolistic market, except that instead of being in public hands it will be in private hands, without many of the safety checks that were in place when the electricity provider was a public monopoly.

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