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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 2 Hansard (21 May) . . Page.. 516 ..

MR QUINLAN (continuing):

But, meanwhile, we have to face the report squarely. I have some concerns. If we do privatise ACTEW completely and we head towards market-based pricing, which is the term Fay Richwhite used, if we are absorbed into a larger utility, it is inevitable that electricity prices in the ACT will increase. It is particularly inevitable that prices in the retail domestic market will increase substantially, impacting upon families, impacting upon people on low incomes and impacting upon the frail aged, who, unfortunately, have an inability to pay large energy bills and who, because they do not leave home much, have a particularly high dependence upon electricity supply.

I am also concerned about the reliability of service. The engineering of ACTEW was created in a conservative manner - over the years, engineers have tended to be conservative and have made us accountants look fairly good - but there is a high degree of redundancy in this system. That is why it is so reliable. That is why it can sustain blackouts. That is why it can sustain faulty substations. There is a history emerging now across the world that public utilities that have been privatised have, in fact, had their assets stripped - stripped largely by stealth, stripped by neglect, stripped through the owner relying on the current system even though the market might grow, and stripped by minimising the maintenance on it so that it is not kept in shipshape order and so that investment by the new owner is minimised.

I am also concerned about the environmental impacts, which Ms Tucker pointed out. The pricing structures in an open market are virtually the inverse of pricing structures that protect the environment and protect us. We, as a nation, are not stumping up in terms of our particular responsibilities in that regard. I will make a fearless prediction that, at some time in the future, erudite commentators will denounce the current headlong rush towards privatisation and will denounce the placement of essential services in the hands of risk takers, who tend to have shorter-term horizons than do the providers or the operators within the public sector.

While we are on the subject of risk, I would like to make some observations in relation to what really is at risk. Firstly, our water and sewerage supplies, in terms of the risks identified by Fay Richwhite, are not at risk, and should be quite clearly segmented and separated from the electricity supply in any evaluation as to whether they should be privatised or not. Secondly, the electricity supply hardware - the transmission mains, the substations, the distribution network - also is not at risk. Fay Richwhite passes over that and uses the term "at risk for network bypass"; but in the ACT that risk would be - - -

Debate interrupted.


MR SPEAKER: Order! It being 5.00 pm, I propose the question:

That the Assembly do now adjourn.

Ms Carnell: I require the question to be put forthwith without debate.

Question resolved in the negative.

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