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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 7 Hansard (24 September) . . Page.. 2157 ..

MS CARNELL (continuing):

Mr Speaker, why did we not put it out to tender if that was the case? Why did the Government not say, "Ecowise Services is not doing core business. There may be some problems with the way that the organisation operates in the future if some contracts are lost. Why not just put it out to the market"? The answer, quite simply, is that the staff of Ecowise Services have shown the initiative, have shown the guts, to come to the Government with a proposal that we believe will do two most important things - it will produce a good return for the ACT taxpayer and, most importantly, it will ensure that the ownership and the jobs stay in the ACT, something very important to this Government. Mr Speaker, I think we would also have to say that, in view of the small size of the business, the marginal returns generated in the past and the cost of going out to the marketplace, the cost of going to a tender process, the actual outcome could be the worst result of all. It could end up with significant costs and, potentially, the business being bought by somebody who is not ACT based.

Mr Speaker, comments have been made or questions have been asked about the Trade Practices Act and competition policy principle implications. Yesterday I answered a question on that from Mr Kaine. I reiterate, Mr Speaker, from a competition policy perspective the benefit of having Ecowise actually out in the private sector without any of the negatives and the positives of being under a government umbrella. In my view and, certainly, in the view of our legal advice, there are no competition policy implications. In fact, potentially it increases the level of competition in the marketplace and therefore, from a competition policy perspective, could be a positive.

Mr Speaker, there are no legal impediments to this proposal. It is a proposal from the staff. It does ensure that jobs stay in the ACT. It gives the business an opportunity to be owned by its staff and to grow on that basis - the potential to produce more jobs in the future - and the ACT taxpayers get a good return on their investment. Mr Speaker, how could anybody oppose that? It escapes me. This has got to be a good deal for everyone.

The only basis on which you could oppose it would be on some strange ideology that every government asset, each single thing that a government ever owned, has to be kept in government ownership even if it means potential job losses. Mr Speaker, we simply will not wear that. This is a proposal from the staff and from ACTEW to take a sensible approach and give the staff of Ecowise a real chance to maintain and grow their business. I urge every member of this Assembly to put ideology aside today - to put ideology right in the bin - and look at what is best for those staff of Ecowise, for the ACT taxpayer and for business in this city. Let us, for a change, make a decision that is not based upon ideology or politics. Let us look at the people involved and let us react to a letter to all of the members of this Assembly, signed by the majority of the members of Ecowise, asking this Assembly to make a sensible, sound decision, keeping the future of Ecowise clearly in mind, that is, to allow the staff of Ecowise to buy their company.

MR CORBELL (11.42): Mr Speaker, to begin with in this debate, I am grateful for the assistance that has been provided by officers of the Chief Minister's Department and employees of Ecowise Services itself, particularly the general manager, Mr John Wells. Mr Speaker, Labor wants to see Ecowise Services continue to grow. Labor wants to see Ecowise Services continue to employ Canberrans. Labor wants to see Ecowise Services continue to return to the Canberra community the investment which our community has made in it. For all of those reasons, Labor will not be supporting this motion today.

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