Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 11 Hansard (8 December) . . Page.. 3189 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
They have been attacked by the Opposition for a variety of reasons, ranging from the credentials of the people doing them to supposed vested interests, having conflict with vested interests, and so on and so forth. But the fact of life remains that the warnings are clear.
Mr Speaker, if you had before you a choice to make, if you could see clearly what choice is being presented by one side and on the other side there was no substance, there was no form and there was no detail to the alternative being proposed when a serious problem was coming up the track, I would say that the only responsible course of action would be to support the alternative which was clearly before you. I do not pretend that it is going to make any of us popular. I do not pretend that it will. It will not be a popular decision. It is counterintuitive to sell a major asset of this kind; there is no doubt about that. But, in the unfortunate way in which politics sometimes works, it also happens to be the right decision to make. Mr Speaker, I urge the house to make the right decision today.
MR KAINE (11.25): The decision to sell a public asset as significant as ACTEW is in our economy is a decision that we cannot take lightly. I begin from the premise that I have no philosophical objection to the sale of public assets. I do not come from the school that says that public assets are sacrosanct and cannot be sold. But I must say that I wish I had the absolute certainty, the absolute conviction, that the Government's approach is right, that Mr Humphries has on the question.
Mr Humphries made much of the risk if it stays in public ownership, although he cannot define what the risk is. So, there are some of us in this place who have to be concerned about the risk in disposing of a public asset. Mr Humphries says that it is costing us $1m a week. We are told the value of ACTEW is of the order of $1.2 billion. It might be $1.5 billion; we will not know until we put it on the market. I think that, on balance, I would rather see the loss of $1m a week for, say, 10 to 12 weeks while we satisfy ourselves that what the Government is proposing to do is the correct one, rather than risking $1.5 billion at the end of the day by making the wrong decision.
There are some things that I want to see on the table, and I have made no secret of that. The Chief Minister is well aware of my position on this issue. There are some things that I want to see on the table that will satisfy me and, hopefully, the community, especially the rest of the people in this place, that what the Government is proposing to do is clearly the best approach to take in the public interest. One thing I want to see on the table is not a discussion paper, not drafting instructions to the legislative draftsman, but legislation to impose the regulatory regime. It is not good enough, in my view, to sell off an asset worth between $1 billion and $1.5 billion, depending on what we can get for it on the day, with no regulatory regime in place when we sell it. So, the regulatory regime has to be in place - not just an idea, not just a concept; it has got to be in place.
We are told that it has to be in place whether it is sold or not. We can probably muddle along for a bit longer without it if it is going to stay in public ownership, because the Government has the obligation at the end of the day to manage it properly anyway. If we are going to allow it to pass into private ownership, we cannot do that without having a proper regulatory regime in place, and that is one that protects the