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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 11 Hansard (8 December) . . Page.. 3193 ..

MR QUINLAN (continuing):

ACTEW at this stage enjoys the lowest tariffs in Australia. If anybody buys it, quite obviously even if we average prices ours must go up. Most importantly, what we lose in this equation is the control over our resources. In water and sewerage, water is quite clearly a, if not the, defining parameter on the growth of the ACT. Our capacity to optimise water catchment, to reduce per capita consumption and to treat and discharge effluent will be, if not the primary parameter, one of the primary parameters in the size of Canberra in the future. We will have to involve ourselves in considerable and quite expensive regulation because a private operator is not going to self-regulate to the same level as a responsible current day ACTEW.

And then we come to the most bizarre of propositions. We have a proposition that we are going to sell the pipe networks for both water and sewerage in the ACT but, in the interests of responsible government, we are going to retain ownership in the dams and the treatment works. It is totally bizarre. It is an absolute loss of control anyway. Add to that the proposition that the franchising of those dams and those treatment works will be for 50 years. That means that we have virtually forfeited control. We have entered into the Spanish contract situation where the development and the real maintenance of our major systems are in the hands of the private sector and at the whim of the profit motive. As I alluded to earlier in relation to electricity, the distribution network, those assets that we own, is not facing the risk that this Government makes so much of. There is no reason to sell any of the hardware of ACTEW under the banner of risk.

We do recognise here that we have a problem with the superannuation liability of the Territory. In fact, this Assembly has responsibly moved to examine that question before we flog off assets to solve it because that, clearly, is the only standing reason to want to sell ACTEW. My experience with business is that a business with a serious financial problem generally, in the first instance, has receivers appointed. You do not go to the wall; you do not flog off the business. The first thing that is done with a business that has a particular problem is that you appoint receivers and you attempt to manage the business out of that financial problem, so that you do in fact retain the assets, you do maximise the asset value of the Territory.

That is where the whole proposition of this Government falls down. There is no evidence whatsoever of any examination of alternatives. (Extension of time granted) Even though we have spent a $1m on studies by consultants of superannuation and ACTEW, we have only an accumulation of consultants' reports where the solution seems to be a predetermined answer to the questions raised. That is quite clear. I think this Assembly owes the public of the ACT a little more public airing of the other side of those arguments.

MR STEFANIAK (Minister for Education) (11.47): Firstly, I will deal with a couple of points other members have raised. Mr Stanhope made a point in relation to ABN AMRO. ABN AMRO has not been ruled out of any further involvement. They have been ruled out of financing the transaction if they are appointed leading adviser. I think I need to make that point quite clear. Mr Kaine made some points in relation to regulatory intent and a regulatory regime. A regulatory regime will be in place before ACTEW is sold, otherwise buyers would not know what they were buying. I think that point should be made and that should be obvious.

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