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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 2 Hansard (21 May) . . Page.. 517 ..

Final Report

Debate resumed.

MR QUINLAN: What is at risk? The hardware is not at risk, because it is very unlikely - improbable in the extreme - that anybody would come in and duplicate it. The national grid provisions allow that network to be operated as a common carrier. Therefore, if we performed reasonably well, we would be able to operate that asset and maintain that asset until that great day when we find out that privatisation does not serve us well.

So, we are left with the retail marketing arm of ACTEW. That is what is at risk. But, then again, not a lot of that is at risk either, because it has already gone. The industrial market and the commercial market are contestable. They are on the open market. They are no longer ours to sell. I believe that that is the basis for Fay Richwhite's calculation of 3 per cent of the value of the business being at risk, because all that is at risk, that has not already passed into the completely contestable market, is the residual domestic market. That market could, I guess, be described as goodwill for ACTEW's relationship with its customers or as customer apathy. A lot of us still use Telecom because we never read the Optus brochures.

So, there is not a lot of ACTEW really at risk. Most of it is on the open market anyway. To bundle it up as one item for sale, to bundle it up under the risk mantle that Fay Richwhite has placed across it, would be misleading. I believe that we have to take note of what Fay Richwhite has said; but we have to be damned certain that we realise that it is only a very small part of ACTEW that is at risk in the open market. We can retain water, we can retain sewerage and we can retain all of the hardware used to distribute electricity. In terms of exclusive ownership, we have lost most of the electricity market already. It is not ours to sell. The last point I would leave you with is that, if we do consider selling that bit of ACTEW, then we would like to know, and the people have a right to know, where the money is going to go.

MR SMYTH (Minister for Urban Services) (5.04): Mr Speaker, ending up owning something that is worthless is not a good investment. The key issue facing the ACT in the asset that it has created in ACTEW is, as this Government has stated so many times: How do we protect the value of the asset that the ACT has accumulated, and how do we use that asset? We should use that asset to create jobs - new employment opportunities - Mr Speaker. The key issue that faces ACTEW into the next decade, into the next century, through the millennium, is whether it can enhance its viability as a business and therefore provide new jobs and employment opportunities for Canberrans. This Government and the community generally - with the Assembly, hopefully - need to decide how best we do that. What is the best structure for such an organisation in a rapidly changing marketplace? How can we make it as competitive as possible so as to create those jobs that it should create for all Canberrans? What can we do to save and protect its value, which ACT residents have worked very hard to accrue?

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