Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 7 Hansard (24 September) . . Page.. 2207 ..
MR KAINE (continuing):
Talking about public benefit, the Milk Authority has done an enormous amount for this Territory over decades; yet this Government places no value at all on the Milk Authority. It virtually has deliberately set about to undermine it. When the real threat came on the scene, the Government did nothing and would happily have seen the Milk Authority go out of existence.
ACTTAB would have been sold by now if this place and others had not made it quite clear that that was not acceptable. It was on the skids. The "For sale" sign was up. That has not happened because there are people in this city who have enough sense to look at the long-term implications of those things. We have already flogged off our motor vehicle fleet. We privatised it a long time ago. We have flogged off half the buildings we owned. There is not much left. In fact, about the only thing left that has not been really threatened is Totalcare. I know some people would like to see it sold off, too, but it is the only government-owned business enterprise that has not had some threat put about it in terms of sale. So, when the Deputy Chief Minister gets up and says that the Government has not sold anything, has not privatised anything, he does not convince me. Much of his argument was as tenuous and as unconvincing as that.
To come back to the point, I indicated to representatives of the employees of Ecowise some time ago that I would support them in their bid to purchase the business that they work for. I asked the Chief Minister about it yesterday, because it had been put to me recently that there might be problems in terms of national competition policy. The Chief Minister assures me that that is not the case. I accept her assurance on that point. There are also indications that we should have gone to public tender. The basis for that is that we might have got more for it had we done so. The Chief Minister assures us that an evaluation has been done and the amount of money that is being paid for this business is a reasonable amount under the circumstances. Again, I accept the Chief Minister's assurance on that matter. So, if it is public interest we are talking about, if you talk about public interest in terms of revenue to the public purse, if you talk about it in terms of continuing employment, if you talk about it in terms of a business operation that can in the future continue to make contributions through the taxation that it will pay and in other ways in which it will contribute to the wellbeing of this society, I think the proposal, on balance, is a good one, and I support it.
MR OSBORNE (4.27): I suppose my view on this issue is academic, because it appears that the Government does have the numbers, but I, too, will be supporting the Government on it. I just want to make a few brief points on the reasons why. I agree with Mr Rugendyke that this is a unique situation. I would probably use the word "strange". I do not recall any time in the 31/2 or four years that I have been here that I have actually seen members of a union in the chamber supporting the Government on something. It is certainly very interesting to experience it. I do not recall any time when members of a union have supported privatisation of a government asset. So, it certainly has been a real eye-opener.
I, like Mr Kaine, do not really buy the Government's arguments on this issue. What I think happened here is that the workers were left with no alternative. I would suggest that, if they had not taken this option, there would have been real problems with them keeping their jobs. I think that they would have been pushed sidewards.