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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 8 Hansard (27 October) . . Page.. 2279 ..

MR STEFANIAK (continuing):

a department view that this should not happen. This is something that we were considering in the course of your inquiry. There is a very real possibility that this may well be quite a suitable arrangement for some preschool communities and preschool teachers. I think it is worth a trial. I think that is a good idea, and I am quite happy to see a trial go ahead.

ACTEW - Sale

MR WOOD: Mr Speaker, my question is to the Acting Chief Minister. In a media release issued on 15 October, the Chief Minister stated that it was "business as usual for ACTEW" and, further, that "ACTEW was not prevented from bidding" for contracts. My question is: Do you regard a corporatised organisation like ACTEW being placed in caretaker mode, as it is, for the last several months as "business as usual"?

MR HUMPHRIES: Mr Speaker, I think Mr Wood misunderstands what "caretaker mode" means. What it means is not that ACTEW cannot go out and bid for business. It means that major decisions, as I understand it, about ACTEW which might influence the debate which is being had about ACTEW's future in this place and in the broader community should be made in consultation with the shareholders - that is, the ACT Government. It does not prejudice ACTEW seeking new customers at all. In fact, I am quite certain that ACTEW is still aggressively competing in the marketplace for new customers and attempting to retain the ones it already has. Mr Speaker, I do not think there is anything that one can read into the concept of "caretaker" that in any way prevents it from being an active player in the marketplace. Indeed, that is what we expect of ACTEW.

MR WOOD: I have a supplementary question, Mr Speaker. Given that the Chief Minister has said on a number of occasions that ACTEW operates at arm's length from government, do you believe a "caretaker period" placed on a big business, which this is, is consistent with "arm's length"? Do you anticipate in the near future that ACTEW will be taken out of the imposed caretaker period?

MR HUMPHRIES: Regarding the first part of the question, Mr Speaker, I do think it is consistent to have that in these circumstances because at the moment it remains a government asset. If the Government and in turn the Assembly are considering its future - for example, as an asset which may be sold into the marketplace - it is appropriate for the shareholders, the Government, to act to protect that asset in the course of that period. Nothing that ACTEW might do is being precluded. It is simply a matter of discussion with the Government before major decisions are made about its future.

Regarding the other question that Mr Wood raised - when is this likely to end? - it is a matter for the Chief Minister, but I think it will end when the decision of the Assembly is made on the proposal by the Government for the electricity under ACTEW to be sold and the water arm given a concession.

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