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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 8 Hansard (27 October) . . Page.. 2294 ..

Discussion of Matter of Public Importance

MR SPEAKER: I have received a letter from Mr Corbell proposing that a matter of public importance be submitted to the Assembly for discussion, namely:

The Liberal Government's decision to privatise ACTEW Corporation and the consequences privatisation will have for the provision of effective, efficient and reliable electricity, water and sewerage services and the Government's breach of faith with the people of Canberra for failing to openly address the question of privatisation of ACTEW during the 1998 ACT election.

MR CORBELL (4.04): Mr Speaker, this is an issue which is dominating the debate in ACT politics at the moment. It is a significant issue. Indeed, it is probably the most significant issue since self-government. I think that parties on both sides of this house recognise the enormous change that we are contemplating if we do go down the path of privatising ACTEW Corporation.

Mr Speaker, as I have stood at stalls around Canberra in the past few weeks, I have been struck by the strength of genuine community concern about the Government's proposal. It is not a concern born of ignorance; it is not a concern born of fear; it is not a concern born of a simple ideological position. It is a concern born of the fact that the citizens of Canberra have seen in other jurisdictions around Australia and overseas what it means when essential services are privatised. It is for that reason, Mr Speaker, that we are proposing for discussion the matter of public importance that appears on the notice paper today.

I hope that during this debate there will be the opportunity for the Government to present its view, but more importantly the opportunity for members of the crossbenches to present their views - not necessarily on what their final vote will be, but perhaps just on what concerns they are aware of, what issues are in their minds and what is influencing their decision in relation to the privatisation of ACTEW.

Mr Speaker, this side of the house has taken an in-principle position that ACTEW should not be privatised. Again, in doing that, we have decided that it is important to reflect the strength of community opposition to the privatisation of essential services and the fact that that privatisation process has resulted in a reduction of services where it has occurred. Earlier today in question time, we heard the Government claim that services were improved, that we had greater efficiency, that we had greater service and that we did not have to own it. That seems to be the basis of the Government's arguments in relation to privatising ACTEW.

But have they really considered what the consequences are, Mr Speaker? Have they really thought about what privatisation means, and have they openly and honestly looked at the experience in other States? Mr Speaker, the Labor Party says that they have not. The Labor Party says that they have ignored those issues, because the bottom line has been that they want to sell an asset so that they can deal with the budget problem which they have decided to blow out of proportion.

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