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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 11 Hansard (8 December) . . Page.. 3190 ..

MR KAINE (continuing):

public interest. It guarantees that standards of service delivery will be maintained. It guarantees that a fair price will be charged. These are things that the community cannot take at face value on the basis of somebody's promise that they will be taken care of. So, I think that there are some things that have to be done before the sale is put into effect. As I say, those are the things that ensure the public interest.

There has to be some guarantee on employment, something more than simply saying, "We will protect the interests of the employees of ACTEW". I do not know how one sells a public asset of the order of magnitude of ACTEW and the number of staff that it has and, at the same time, guarantees continued employment. You can put what you like in the contract and you can bet that the day after the contract is signed, if the purchaser wishes, he will find a lawyer who will find a loophole in the contract and the tenure of those employees will go right out the window.

Nor can I see a private buyer buying ACTEW as is, with all of the staff that it has, and maintaining that staff indefinitely. What would be the point? They would have no flexibility to make savings, to get a bigger return on their investment, if they were bound to keep all of the staff there, whether they need them in their new corporate structure or not. So, I need something more than a simple assurance from the Government that the interests of ACTEW employees will be taken care of. I want to see the means by which they are going to guarantee it. I am not too certain that that can be done.

I voted against the adjournment of the debate a little while ago because I think the in-principle debate has to take place. There are issues such as this that need to be on the table and the Government needs to know what the rest of the community needs to know to convince them that the Government's course of action is the right one. Mr Humphries may well be right and the Chief Minister may well be right. Their conclusion that the course of action they are proposing is the correct one may well be right. But, I submit, there are a lot of people in this place, let alone in the broader community, who are not so well informed.

I think that adjourning this debate after the in-principle stage so that there will be a two months' lapse of time before the debate continues and is concluded will allow the Government to inform people as to the rectitude and the veracity of what they are proposing, because there has been no public debate yet. I am told that even at meetings of professional people where the Chief Minister and others have gone along, the advice has simply been: "We have looked at the options and nothing other than the one that we have adopted is viable". So, even professional groups who have, on the face of it, been briefed as to what the Government is doing have not been briefed on what other options the Government looked at and why they were rejected. Mr Humphries said, "We have looked at all the options". If they did, what were they and why were they rejected as possible courses of action? The members of the community who own the asset are entitled to know to allow them to make a judgment about whether what the Government intends to do is the right thing.

Mr Speaker, I come back to the point I made at the beginning. I have no philosophical objection to the sale of public assets, but I do need to be convinced before I agree to it that the public interest and the interest of the employees of ACTEW have been properly safeguarded. If the Government can convince me of that, when the vote is taken they will have my support.

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