Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 8 Hansard (27 October) . . Page.. 2301 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
Mr Speaker, either you have to accept that there is some credibility behind those concerns or you have to explain why you think, notwithstanding all this evidence, that ACTEW somehow magically is capable, as a very small player in a very large marketplace, of retaining its value and retaining the level of its return to the ACT community. Again, Mr Speaker, the explanation for this magic pudding view of things is not forthcoming from the Opposition. We need to see what they would do to ACTEW's operation to somehow provide us with this bright outlook - this sunny, rosy outlook. I do not know where that is. Unless we see that from the Labor Party, the claims that they are making and the scare campaign that they are running in this community do not deserve to be taken seriously.
I come back to the simple equation I started with - an asset worth a billion dollars and superannuation liability of $700m. If we do nothing, in just a few years' time, that asset will, according to all the expert evidence available to us, be worth half - $500m - and the superannuation liability will be approaching $1 billion. The time for action is now. That asset is deteriorating, and we have to defend it, Mr Speaker.
MR STANHOPE (Leader of the Opposition) (4.34): Mr Speaker, I will be brief. I know there are other members who are keen to speak in this debate. I simply wish to reinforce the points which my colleague Mr Corbell has made. I will talk briefly on two aspects of the matter, and I think they are both important. I think we need to go to the process which the Government has adopted in relation to its proposal to sell ACTEW. I think it is very important that we do that in order that we can put the debate that we are having into a better framework and a better context.
As stated by Mr Corbell and as has been constantly stated by those of us opposed to the Government's position on this, this Government does not have a mandate to sell ACTEW. It actually went to the last election with a statement that it would not do so; that it had no plans to do so; that the sale of ACTEW was not on its agenda. It was language designed to allay concerns that may have been abroad within the community. Those opposite said that, if elected, a Liberal government would not sell ACTEW. The language was designed to create that impression. This is not a question of later seeking to conjure a mandate from the air. The situation is the reverse. The Government, in its election campaigning, in the language which it used in the election campaign, led the people of Canberra to believe that if they chose to elect a Liberal government the sale of ACTEW would not be one of the things that they would do as a government. To go from that position to a position, within a number of months, of forcing the sale of ACTEW down the throats of the people of Canberra without reasonable opportunities for public consultation on that proposal is simply untenable and unacceptable.
I reinforce the point that Mr Corbell made. Those of us who have been seeking to talk to the community about this issue, those of us who have been involved with members of the community that are engaged in collecting signatures to a petition, are very well aware of the significant level of concern and anxiety within the community about this proposal. There is no doubt that the polling which the Canberra Times reported earlier this year is correct. The Canberra Times reported in February of this year, at the time of the election, at the time that the Liberal Party was saying they had no intention of selling ACTEW, that 74 per cent of the people, according to a Canberra Times poll,