Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 11 Hansard (8 December) . . Page.. 3185 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General, Minister for Justice and Community Safety and Minister Assisting the Treasurer) (11.05): Mr Speaker, the Government has put this legislation forward with one very clear intention in mind, absolutely clear intention in mind. It is not to satisfy some burning desire to sacrifice itself on the altar of public opinion, not to be able to appease or provide succour to rich mates who are out there ready to snap up this public asset of the Territory, and not because we have a fixed view about public ownership or non-public ownership of a major asset like ACTEW. It is not for any of those reasons, Mr Speaker. The Government's decision to put forward legislation today for the sale of ACTEW is based simply on our conviction that this is the only proper and right thing to do to protect a valuable Territory asset and, moreover, the value of that Territory asset in the face of a serious threat to it.
Mr Speaker, as I have said before in this place, I do not pretend for one instant that the sale of ACTEW is a popular decision. I have no doubt at all that members of the Opposition would have some ease in going out into the public places of this Territory and getting people to sign petitions to oppose the sale of ACTEW. It is made somewhat easier by the fact that they have misled the people of the Territory on a number of occasions with respect to the outcomes of a sale. They have misrepresented, for example, that the reliability of services is at risk under privatisation when, in fact, the experience of other places in Australia is that the opposite is true. They have misrepresented that there is likely to be an increase in the cost of electricity and water under privatisation when experience in other places says that the opposite is true.
They have misrepresented on a whole series of areas and issues and it is not surprising that they should have some ease in obtaining signatures in those circumstances. Even if those things were not being said by the Opposition, I would concede that the inherent position people take when they are told, "We want to sell a major public asset in order to meet a major debt" is, understandably, one of concern and caution, even opposition.
Mr Speaker, there is a fundamental rule about politics that you cannot change a deeply ingrained opinion held by the electorate, and that is true. But the Government does not resile from its course of action notwithstanding that fact. Why? Because the Government knows, on the basis of all reasonable assessment of the evidence before it and before this community, that not to make the sale of this asset is grossly irresponsible and an act for which we, in the Fourth Assembly of the ACT, will be blamed if we do not proceed.
Mr Speaker, I have a vested interest in this. I have two small children who, in 20 years' time or thereabouts, will be going out into the work force and obtaining mortgages, starting to pay taxes, raising families and otherwise incurring the responsibilities of life that we in this Assembly are incurring at the moment. They are free of those things at this time, but they will face them in about 20 years' time, or even less.
Mr Speaker, in 20 years' time the huge, at present inadequately funded superannuation liability of the Territory will, if nothing is done about it, hit the Territory and its taxpayers and ratepayers with enormous force. At that point the full effect of that liability will be felt. If this Territory Assembly and those of our age do not face up to the need to address that liability, then those citizens of the Territory who will be paying taxes and rates in 20 years' time will be shouldering the bill. They will be shouldering the bill for our inability to make the hard decisions.