Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 8 Hansard (27 October) . . Page.. 2302 ..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
were against the sale of ACTEW. Seventy-four per cent were against the sale of the electricity side of ACTEW, and 83 per cent were against the sale of the water and sewerage side. I think, if anything, that the level of opposition has increased. I think everybody in this place taking part in this debate must take account of what this community wants, and this community does not want to see this asset sold.
So we go from the position of a promise not to sell to flawed claims of a mandate. Polling conducted earlier this year showed that an enormous number of Canberrans do not want this asset sold. To the knowledge of those of us who are involved in consulting with the community, the community are rigorously opposed to this proposal. We come to the situation today where the Acting Chief Minister, in defence of the Government's decision to sell, is forced to rely on a conjured-up scare campaign that our superannuation liability forces this action on us. There is no attempt to justify the sale of ACTEW other than on the basis of another issue.
I think it is relevant that in the last annual report of the Chief Minister's Department the head of the Chief Minister's Department was prepared to report to the Chief Minister, and through the Chief Minister to this Assembly, that initiatives taken in relation to the superannuation liability were well in hand; that significant progress had been made in dealing with this problem. We all acknowledge that it is a big debt. It does seem frightening at times if taken out of context, but it is not outrageous. It is actually less than what almost every other jurisdiction in Australia has in terms of an unfunded superannuation liability. The Acting Chief Minister's arguments about why we cannot manage it are simply spurious. They are actually an acknowledgment of failure. They are, to use a word I always hesitate to use, disingenuous in the extreme, as are so many of the Liberal Party's arguments in relation to this.
One other argument that is just so flawed, is just so shallow, is the intergenerational argument, the emotional argument which the Acting Chief Minister seems to put, that for the sake of his children and children of that age - I guess he is saying all our children - we need to sell ACTEW now so as not to burden them with the debt. But what about those generations who actually established and built up ACTEW, and who thought they were making a contribution to all generations in the future? What about those generations? What about the fact that those very children that the Acting Chief Minister is seeking to protect will not have an ACTEW? They will not have a publicly-owned electricity distributor or supplier, they will not have a publicly-owned water system, and they will not have a publicly-owned sewerage system. Let us talk about the generational inequity in relation to that.
As to those authorities that the Acting Chief Minister seeks to rely on, we need go no further than Saturday's paper and Professor Bob Douglas's absolutely scathing condemnation of the Government's approach to this. We have seen the very serious suggestions from eminent academics such as Professor Neutze in relation to the implications for our infrastructure and our capital of privatisation of all these assets; the indisputable fact that, under privatisation, infrastructure always runs down in pursuit of the bottom line and the holy dollar.