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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 1 Hansard (2 February) . . Page.. 74 ..

MR STEFANIAK (Minister for Education) (5.20): Mr Deputy Speaker, ACTEW has a very well earned reputation in the Canberra community as a very good corporate citizen. It is a corporate citizen that buys locally and it contributes generously to community activities. Now, understandably, there is considerable community concern about how these activities would be affected under a privatised ACTEW. I suggest, Mr Deputy Speaker, that it is quite understandable to see the apparent level of public disquiet in terms of the sale of ACTEW. It is, to the vast majority of people in the public, a step into the unknown.

It is somewhat similar to the situation back in the First Assembly when the Labor Government, the Alliance Government and then the Labor Government again were faced with difficult decisions in relation to Royal Canberra Hospital. It is true that governments do have to govern. There are many issues where governments, rightly, should be very much influenced by the public, but there are some times when governments do have to make hard decisions that apparently go against what may be said to be public opinion. The hospital, I think, was a case in point, and it is not dissimilar from this. It would have cost, I think, $70m, $80m or $90m just to refurbish Royal Canberra Hospital at Acton Peninsula, as well as the cost of keeping and upgrading Woden Valley Hospital. Then there were the additional running costs. Certainly, the cost of keeping two hospitals was well over $100m extra, and there were real reasons why Woden was chosen as the principal hospital.

Mr Deputy Speaker, 40,000 people signed a petition against that. Many Canberrans, myself included, were born in that hospital. It evoked a lot of emotion, but the right decision was taken by the Alliance Government and it was continued by the then Follett Labor Government. It was not a popular one, but it was correct.

When Neville Chamberlain came back from Munich after the Munich sell-out a lot of people in Britain breathed a sigh of relief; but I do not think that two or three years later those same people would have thanked him for his appeasement of Hitler. It would have been a lot easier in 1938, as history records, if the tough decision to stop Nazi aggression had been taken then when there were only some five German divisions facing a French army of about 100 million on the Western Front, and a very strong Czech army with natural defences which the German General Staff indicated they would have trouble breaching. It was a popular decision, but later it was not popular.

I wonder whether the citizens of Canberra will thank this Assembly, which is now going to vote against this sale, if in a few years time they are paying an extra, say, $500 a year per household for basic services. I do not think so. I do not think, Mr Deputy Speaker, they would even thank this Assembly if perhaps they are only paying $250 a year extra per household for services. I think those things are very likely as a result of the decision this Assembly is going to take.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I do not think any really viable alternatives have been advanced. Looking at the report of the committee, a number of options are presented, but none of them are particularly palatable. The majority committee report would have us believe that these are better than the Government's option. But are they? Look, for example, at option 2 and option 3. Option 2 is to find an extra $300m immediately, borrow that, and bung it in now. Then, around about 2012, let us find another $200m and pay that in.

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