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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 11 Hansard (8 December) . . Page.. 3188 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

The Opposition of this Territory, the alternative government of this Territory, says, "We want to stop the sale of ACTEW", but they cannot or will not tell us how they would protect the position of ACTEW as a trading enterprise in the Territory and how they would fund the unfunded superannuation liability. They sit there smugly, as if they were in a court of law and they were the defendants, saying, "Well, you prove your case. You prove that this is the only thing to do. If you do not prove it, then we get the benefit of the doubt and we have to reject your plan". It does not work like that, Mr Speaker.

We are in the position today where we are facing a choice, and we need to know what the alternative is in that choice. We need to know what it is that is the way to survive into the future. Even delaying by a number of weeks or months produces an exposure to risk which, in my view and the view of the Government, is unacceptable. We do not know what is going to happen to ACTEW when the market is fully or partially opened to competition. We just do not know. In those circumstances, we run a risk of exposing the Territory's asset to erosion and to loss.

Mr Speaker, I do not think that we can walk away from that responsibility. (Extension of time granted) I think we have to accept that there is a decision for us to make. No-one else is going to make this decision for us. We are not going to have a Commonwealth government bearing down on us with some sort of fiat or dictum that says, "You must make this decision", and take it out of our hands. No, there is nobody else to make this decision but us, Mr Speaker. We are the custodians of the Territory's assets, including ACTEW, and we need to put on the table how we are going to deal with what has been described to us in powerful terms as a serious approaching problem.

I have said in the past, in previous debates on similar issues, that the Territory from time to time faces situations where imminent decisions are coming towards us, where we are faced with evidence of a problem and it is the duty of a Territory government and, indeed, of a parliament to act quickly. I cited the example of what was happening with the inquest in the Magistrates Court and the question of the evidence government might have, or not have, before it about approaching problems and the way in which a particular exercise is handled.

Mr Speaker, people in this place are quick to criticise a government if it ignores warning signs, even if they are very small or faint warning signs. The signs here are neither small nor faint; they are on the top of a hill in letters 16 feet high - like "Hollywood" - blazoned over the top of Canberra, and they say, "ACTEW is facing trouble". That is what they are saying, Mr Speaker. Nobody in this debate could come to this place and say, "ACTEW is not facing any risk at all. ACTEW is actually sitting quite comfortably where it is. Just sit back and let ACTEW do its bit. Just free the reins a bit, give them a bit more room to manoeuvre, and they will be fine". Nobody with any brains is making that statement in this debate, Mr Speaker. What they do know is that we have to face this particular problem by positioning ourselves well to face it, by manoeuvring ourselves to be able to address the future.

People in this place know what is the Government's position with respect to that. Its position has been recommended to it now by a succession of reports. Those reports are expensive and comprehensive, and thoroughly canvass the issues concerned.

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