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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 11 Hansard (8 December) . . Page.. 3261 ..

MR OSBORNE (continuing):

Mr Speaker, I am not making these references to events of the last election campaign simply to say that I told you so. I should, but I will not. Rather, I am doing so to remind the Assembly that this minority Liberal Government has no mandate from the people of Canberra for the Bill that is before us today. On the contrary, Mr Speaker, the mandate, such as it is, is for ACTEW to continue in public ownership. If the transfer of electricity, water and sewerage from public to private ownership was some minor matter, a matter of little concern to the majority of voters, then the absence of truthful political discussions before an election need not overly concern us. All members will agree that ACTEW is a major asset of the Australian Capital Territory, and the future of the services it provides is of major concern to people who live here.

At the very least, the people deserve an adequate explanation of why Mrs Carnell wants something that was not even on her agenda 10 months ago to be effectively off the agenda by the end of today. I do not believe that she has given such an explanation. The constituents I speak to, overwhelmingly, are confused and angry at the prospect of ACTEW being sold by this Government. They do not understand the reasoning behind it and are distrustful of a future in which their water and electricity will be delivered by an organisation with profit as its sole motive. I have no doubt that if members of this place decided today to seek the opinion of the public by way of a referendum, there would be an overwhelming majority against any form of privatisation of ACTEW. Perhaps, Mr Speaker, given the dishonesty of concealing a real Liberal agenda, such a referendum would not be a bad idea.

A good starting point for an adequate explanation by Mrs Carnell would be to spell out clearly what the consequences would be of this Assembly not approving the sale that she wants. Without the expected billion dollars in the kitty, by how much would she put up the water and sewerage rates, and electricity rates? How much more would we pay for those services? How many workers would ACTEW be forced to sack? Surely the Government has made such calculations in reaching the conclusion that ACTEW must go. The people of Canberra have a right to know the answers so that they can make an informed judgment.

Most importantly, they have a right to know, as well, whether there is an alternative solution to the problem of funding future superannuation payments to retired public servants other than by selling off ACTEW, which is why I support the inquiry by the committee. It is madness to have an inquiry into alternatives after making the decision to fund the superannuation shortfall by selling ACTEW. If there is to be an inquiry, Mr Speaker, and there is, I think it is sensible that it be held before the Assembly takes that irrevocable step of voting on Mrs Carnell's legislation. That is why I have moved the adjournment of the debate, and I hope that the committee will come back with a report that will provide members who are undecided with the information they need when deciding on this very important issue.

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