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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 1 Hansard (2 February) . . Page.. 55 ..

Mr Berry: Weasel words.

MR SMYTH: Mr Berry says "weasel words". They are the words that we put at the last election: We would protect the asset that ACTEW is. In the lead-up to the last election we made that promise several times. The issue of ACTEW was discussed in the lead-up to the last election. Clearly, the best way now to protect the value of that asset is to sell it.

Mr Speaker, this morning I heard a member of this place talk about bravery and courage, and I heard a definition of courage that I have not heard before. The essence of that definition was that major issues should be part of an election platform. By implication, by not spelling out a set view on important issues prior to the election we had somehow lacked courage.

Mr Speaker, in my view this debate on ACTEW is one of the two most important debates currently or recently before the Assembly. In that other debate, Mr Speaker, members approached with a great degree of gravity and solemnity the issue of abortion. I do not think that I am overstating the matter when I say that every one of us had to think long and hard about how we approached that issue. Mr Speaker, I voted in favour of those amendments. However, before the last election there was no indication from the sponsoring member that that Bill would be introduced; indeed, that it would be introduced so soon after the election. I do not remember that Bill being part of that member's election platform either.

Mr Speaker, the environment in which ACTEW operates has changed; therefore, ACTEW must change. It has to change. That change cannot be avoided. We have already seen the nature of change over the last few years, such as the privatisation of Telstra and the opening of the telecommunications market to firms like Optus. All those loyal Telstra customers took the best deal they could get and jumped ship as fast as they could. They jumped back when Telstra made better offers and they jumped out again. Some of them have a foot in both camps now. That is what will happen with ACTEW. It can now, but when the full market occurs and we will be able to shop around for all electrical services the value of ACTEW will suffer.

A vote against the transfer Bill today will not mean that ACTEW can go back to business as usual; in fact, quite the contrary. A no vote today will force ACTEW to make some of the most painful decisions that it will have to make. But what will be gone is the opportunity for this Government to honour our election promise to protect the value of the asset that is ACTEW. What will happen to ACTEW as one of Canberra's favourite companies is that many of the opportunities for it to grow, to prosper and to continue to be innovative will disappear. Mr Speaker, if ACTEW is to continue to return reasonable dividends to the Government or, in other words, if the value of the asset is to be maintained, a number of difficult and risky decisions would therefore need to be taken. This is not because ACTEW is not good at it. It is just that there will be a loss of customers in the ACT.

I think all of us here would be aware of what has happened to the newsagencies in this Territory. Canberra had a significant number of newsagencies, all had a set territory, and all had a guaranteed market in which they were the only newsagents allowed to operate.

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