Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 7 Hansard (24 September) . . Page.. 2203 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
My reading of industrial democracy certainly supports having this kind of structure in private enterprise. It does work really well. It is a way of involving all employees in not only the benefits but also the responsibilities of the business. It is very good for morale and it is very good generally for the business's productivity, according to the reading that I have done. I certainly do not have any objection to that model. In fact, it is one that I would like to see used a lot more in private enterprise.
Another issue that is used in argument here is the local ownership of business, which the Greens also support. However, this is not just about local jobs and employee ownership of businesses; this is about part of a public utility being sold. Those arguments, while strong in their own way, are very complicated in this context. It is interesting, though, how the arguments are used by the Government when it suits them, particularly the local jobs aspect, coming from a government which has continually supported an economic approach based on the Holy Grail of competition and the assumption that value for dollar or consumer benefit through lower prices is the most important factor in deciding who should be providing goods and services.
Whilst we have seen from this Government some attempts to protect local business, such as in IT outsourcing, generally the philosophy is exactly the same as the Federal Liberal Government's philosophy, which is about competition, and we know very well that the big players benefit there. There is not a level playing field and we will see local jobs continually getting lost whilst we have Liberal governments in power. It is also interesting that yesterday Ms Carnell said that there would be problems for competition if government owned this business. This came as quite a surprise to those of us who have listened to the Liberal Government for the last three or so years support competition policy requirements to ensure that all government businesses operate in an environment of competitive neutrality, so that there would not be problems with competition principles.
Ms Carnell was answering a question from Mr Kaine in which she pointed out that some business members of the community felt that, in fact, this employee buyout was very inappropriate because it did not allow the rest of the community to have equal opportunity to bid for this business. Ms Carnell did address that to some extent here, but I do not think she did so satisfactorily. I found it interesting, in fact, that she said that the Government had set a price that it thought was fair and it did not need to go out to tender and then said, "In fact, it is a better price than we would get if it went out to tender". That makes me wonder how great the employees who are buying out the business are feeling right now and whether they have been ripped off, because it would have been cheaper if it had been put out to tender. It is an interesting argument indeed.
I do not necessarily support that argument from the business community, but it is interesting that it has come up in relation to this buyout. It does, of course, highlight once again the inconsistency of this Government's approach. It also adds to the concern about what is the real agenda of this Government in this move. Is it just about selling off whatever it can? Whilst there are good arguments for having employee-controlled businesses, there is no guarantee that this situation will remain. There is no guarantee that, once purchased, the company will not be sold again. The only thing we really have a guarantee on is that, if this section of ACTEW is sold, we have lost it. We definitely have a guarantee of that.