Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 3 Hansard (26 May) . . Page.. 591 ..
MS CARNELL (continuing):
The pool proposal has not been shelved. Maybe it is a good idea to say that again: The pool proposal has not been shelved. It is merely at a stage of its assessment that requires the public benefits associated with the proposition to be established clearly and comprehensively. Without the benefit of a study as to whether there is a community benefit and what the full range of costs of the pool will be to the general community, the Government is not about to spend $15m. I am amazed that those opposite think we would.
The competitive neutrality complaint lodged in respect of the pool raised in a timely fashion the need for the full financial impacts of the pool development on the economy to be considered - that is, all of the costs. The engineering studies and the geotechnical studies undertaken as part of the development of the proposal were inadequate tools to address the matter of the economic impacts of the pool and the impact of the development in our obligations under competition policy. Those obligations are not intended to prevent the Government from delivering benefits to the community, but are tools to ensure that the benefits do not come at too high a price, that the Government is not subsidising one small section of the community at the expense of all others, and that the development and operating costs of the pool are transparent. Again, Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker, I would have thought all members would have thought that was a good idea. They ensure that the Government is investing in infrastructure that has an economic benefit and that provides services and facilities that are needed. Not to respond to the complaint would be to risk investing money in what really could not be effectively guaranteed to be in the overall public benefit. There are other services in the area.
I may add here that the question about competitive neutrality being confined to significant businesses is appropriate. The ACT has determined to extract maximum value from the reform processes and, therefore, will subject all of its major activities to scrutiny, to ensure that decisions are based soundly on robust processes that have the highest value community benefit as their objective. Again, I cannot understand why anybody would have a problem with that. "Significant" in the ACT is based on a lower threshold than might be the case in bigger States with bigger value assets. Our measures of significance are more modest but just as crucial to our economic wellbeing. The Belconnen pool would have been classed as a significant asset in any jurisdiction, based on its asset value and particularly its value in the ACT.
The Government would have failed the community if we had invested in assets that may be a drain on future resources and impose increasing cost burdens on the broad community; that is, if there is not a demonstrated community benefit. The complaint was lodged by people who have invested in the ACT, live in Canberra and provide Canberrans with jobs. The Government would have failed them if it had not considered their position seriously and determined whether they had a case that needed to be addressed. It appears again that those opposite think that case should be simply thrown out. In the end, the Competitive Neutrality Complaints Unit recommended that the pool be subjected to a financial feasibility study, including a public benefits test. Again, Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker, what the complaints unit recommended was a financial feasibility study, including a public benefits test. The Government considered the recommendation as both measured and sensible. No, the pool has not been thrown out; but there will be a proper financial study, a full financial study, and also a public benefits test. Guess what, Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker: The community will be able to have an input.