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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 7 Hansard (24 September) . . Page.. 2206 ..

MR KAINE (4.20): I begin by saying that I support this proposal. There are many points of view. The Labor Party has very strongly put one which, to some degree, is quite persuasive. I do not know, frankly, that the Government has really solved their case. In fact, Mr Humphries put me off more than anything. He very nearly talked me out of supporting this proposal. My support for it is pretty straightforward. You can argue the toss about whether Ecowise is a viable operation and whether in future it will maintain the contracts that it has or get new ones. Mr Humphries seemed to think it was going to go out of business tomorrow, particularly if it stayed in public hands. I cannot see the basis of that argument, because there are obviously a lot of employees who do not believe that that is the case. They would not be putting their money into it if they thought that that would be the case. I do not accept that, either. So, it is not a question of whether Ecowise, in itself, is a viable business operation.

There is a broader debate, that is, the future of ACTEW, of which Ecowise is a subsidiary. There is no question, in my view, that in the longer term ACTEW will be sold. In the new world order of competition in the generation, transmission and sale, wholesale and retail, of electrical energy in particular, I think that ACTEW is vulnerable. The question is: If ACTEW goes, if it is sold, what then happens to a subsidiary like Ecowise that is not core business, because the purchaser may not be interested in maintaining that business?

We have a group of employees who are prepared to put their money on the line. They believe that they are employed by a viable business entity and they are prepared to become owners of that entity and put not only their energy, their skills and their professionalism, but also their money and perhaps other assets into it. Somebody said that some families had gone into debt. That is a business risk that people are entitled to take. I am sure that they would not take it if they did not think that there was going to be a reasonable return on that investment. Some representatives of the employees came to see me some time ago. I indicated that I would support them, and I still do. I think that it is an enterprise that can be kept afloat. My view is that in the short term the jobs, whether it remains in private hands or public hands, would be guaranteed anyway, but you cannot guarantee the longer term in today's world. So, I support them.

As I said, some of the argument, particularly from the Deputy Chief Minister, left me quite cold - first of all, that almost assertion that it was not a viable business enterprise and that it would simply disappear and the people would become redundant if they attempted to continue to make the business run as a public enterprise. I do not buy that, because it would put a big question mark over the future viability of it anyway. I was singularly unimpressed by the assertion that the Government has not attempted to privatise or has not privatised anything. There is no question that almost every enterprise that the Government owns is under threat from sale.

We have the example of the Minister for Urban Services, who only recently went to public tender, without public consultation, to privatise the activities of ACTION. If there had not been a violent reaction from this place, I guarantee that before Christmas there would have been a private company running the buses. That is not going to happen, I would submit, although the Minister still seems to think that it is, because this place, by and large, will not see it happen. We have seen the Milk Authority under threat.

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