Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 1 Hansard (2 February) . . Page.. 82 ..
MR RUGENDYKE (continuing):
There was no hint of gloom for ACTEW when this Government had the opportunity to lay its cards on the table just prior to the election, less than 12 months ago. Then, within a couple of months of polling day, out rolled the Fay Richwhite report, which was the catalyst for setting up the sale bandwagon. If ACTEW is valued at $1.2 billion, that equates to about a $4,000 share for every Canberran, and it is evident from the dealings with my constituency that they are very protective of this share. They are extremely satisfied with the outstanding quality of service that ACTEW provides and they cannot believe that it would be suddenly worthless. There is no doubt that the overwhelming feeling in the community is that ACTEW is not worthless. I must say that I have had close to a thousand representations from constituents in one form or another, and of those only four have been in favour of the sale. I might add that two of those were from the one person.
Mr Kaine: They were from Kate, were they?
MR RUGENDYKE: No, Mr R.S. Gilbert, a regular correspondent to the Canberra Times. So, in fact, the correspondence for the sale could be said to be halved, based on Mr Gilbert's contributions. It is my duty to listen to the community; so this naturally is one of the major factors which contributed to the decision.
The Government told us that the only future for ACTEW was to sell, and to sell now. The Government told us that the only option for the unfunded superannuation debt was to sell ACTEW, and to sell it now. Yet, at the same time, safeguards to preserve the quality of service and to preserve the value of the sale are not in place. In fact, on that point, the very first question I asked was: How did the Government propose to protect the value of the sale? What I found out, although I have not been advised by the Government, was that we will not see the $765m cheque appear. We will not see a photograph of it in the Canberra Times. We will not see anyone walking into the superannuation board with a cheque. My best guess is that it will be invested somehow in, among other things, the stock market, and that is what I call risk, a topic that has been high in this debate. I would not be impressed if the value of ACTEW was frittered away by either future government mismanagement or poor investment, as we have seen not long ago.
I think it is a bit rich for this Government to expect us to trust them when they told us that this proposal was not on the agenda less than a year ago. I am certainly not prepared to leave the door open for something to go wrong. It is only fair for the community to see exactly what the ground rules would be before relinquishing control to the private sector. This still does not support the Government's argument for them to have more time. In December I supported an adjournment on the basis of allowing the superannuation committee's inquiry to go ahead. The Government opposed this vigorously and threw a tantrum when the matter was not dealt with there and then. They also pushed for today's special sitting to have the issue resolved here today. Now it seems that the Government would like an adjournment. What has happened to the need for urgency? The urgency has snowballed into a panic approach from the Government and it is simply not appropriate.
I am not prepared to give up on ACTEW so hastily when it is serving the community with such a healthy pulse. I am mindful that competition in the energy market presents challenges for ACTEW to preserve its standing as an outstanding utility within the