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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 2 Hansard (21 May) . . Page.. 519 ..

MR SMYTH (continuing):

its productivity much faster than its competitors. This is the way that we will protect the value of the assets. Mr Speaker, it is not enough to put our heads in the sand and say, "We wish that we did not have an open market". It has started. The open market is here.

I heard Mr Quinlan say that those who are less well off will be disadvantaged. Yet what we have seen in Victoria is that electricity bills have gone down. Why is he afraid of cheaper electricity for ACT residents? I am not sure why, Mr Speaker. But it seems to me that, if we can protect the value of the asset of ACTEW; if we can provide better services in a more competitive market; more importantly, if we can, as this Liberal Government was elected to do, create more jobs for ACT residents - if we can do all of that and protect the value of our investment in ACTEW, then we should do that. It is not enough to put our heads in the sand and say, "It will go away if we ignore it for long enough". If we follow the approach that the Opposition is dictating that we should, what we will do is lose the value of the ACT's most valuable asset. We will end up owning a white elephant that is worthless to us, that will leave us at the mercy of outside competitors and that will not give those that Mr Quinlan spoke of the cheaper electricity that they deserve.

MS CARNELL (Chief Minister and Treasurer) (5.11), in reply: Let me say very briefly, Mr Speaker, that I think that this debate showed that those opposite are not open-minded at all. In fact, they are not willing to look at the very real problems and possible opportunities that exist for ACTEW. We are. The Fay Richwhite report suggests that we go into a scoping study. That is already under way. The tendering process is out there. In fact, I understand that some 20 organisations have put in tenders - and they are some of the biggest and most impressive organisations around. Mr Speaker, I am sure that that approach will bear fruit for all of us here in the Assembly, ensuring that all of the information is on the table when we finally make a decision on which way to go with ACTEW in the future.

Mr Speaker, there were a number of things in the Opposition speeches that, I suppose, made me cringe. One of them, and one of the most important ones, was the fact that they do not seem to understand risk from a Government perspective; yet in this house we are responsible for that risk. In the electricity market now, there are no guaranteed profits. If there were, then everybody would be in the market. The fact is that it is a competitive market. People are losing significant dollars. In fact, you just have to look at the Victorian situation to see companies that have got into that market and that are very close to bankruptcy. Other companies are making huge amounts of money.

The problem for us, as a Government, is: Can we trade in that environment? Do we have the expertise? But, also, are we willing to risk taxpayers' money? When we say "risk", we mean risk losing it. From my perspective, that is a very real decision we have to take. If we are to compete in the external market and compete with some of the biggest multinationals in the world, so be it; but we have to understand that there are obviously no guarantees, and we could lose big-time. That is what we are talking about. Mr Corbell seemed to believe that there was some sort of guarantee, that this is the amount you would get back every year. I am sorry; it does not work that way.

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