Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 1 Hansard (2 February) . . Page.. 84 ..
MS CARNELL (Chief Minister and Treasurer) (5.59), in reply: Thank you very much, members of the Assembly. Fairly obviously, and I suppose fairly obviously for a time now, this debate will be lost by the Government. I think we have to look at what that actually means. Yes, I could argue again for the sale of ACTEW on the basis of risk and on the basis of what it means to the future of the Territory; but, taking into account that the debate is lost, let us look at what it means.
Mr Rugendyke made some comments about vindictive approaches. No, Mr Speaker. It is all in this document, Mr Rugendyke. It is the Auditor-General's report entitled "Territory Operating Losses and Financial Position". The Auditor-General, as we know, is appointed by the Government, and Mr Quinlan approved that appointment not terribly long ago. Mr Speaker, this Auditor-General was first appointed by a Labor government, so he is not somebody who is on our side. He is somebody who is totally independent. What the Auditor-General says in this report is very clear. First, the operating loss is unsustainable. That is backed up by Mr Quinlan, Mr Stanhope and, by the way, Mr Osborne as well. The operating loss is unsustainable. Do you agree with that, Mr Rugendyke? Yes, you do, because you have before. You are on record as well.
Mr Speaker, the operating loss is unsustainable. We all agree with that. The Auditor-General then goes on to say that there are three ways to address that. One of them is to increase revenue, one of them is to decrease expenditure, and the other is to sell assets. The Auditor-General suggests in this report that he perceives from the general approach this Assembly has taken, probably since self-government, that the chances of reducing expenditure significantly are not terribly high. He suggests that the Assembly in the past has not shown the capacity to make some of the very hard decisions needed. Maybe that is what he is saying. He goes on to say that, if we cannot address revenue and expenditure to the extent that we have to, asset sales are the way to go, and he says that ACTEW is the most obvious way to go. If the Assembly believes that ACTEW is not the way to go, that asset sales generally are not the way to go, as those opposite have said, that leaves us with revenue and expenditure. That leaves us with taxes and cuts in staff and services. These are not scare tactics, Mr Speaker; that is just the reality.
The only other person who has come up with any solutions at all is Mr Berry. Mr Berry said in his speech just before that his solution was working capital. Mr Berry believes that the approach is to spend the cash line in the operating statement or in the balance sheet, Mr Speaker. We know that that is seriously stupid. Even Mr Quinlan, I have to say, gets extraordinarily worried every time he mentions it. You can see him literally wincing.
Mr Speaker, we have to understand what this decision means. This decision is a decision that this Assembly has every right to make, but we have to understand that that means pressure on the budget, as the Auditor-General has said. Probably half an hour ago, or in the last hour, Mr Quinlan said it too. Mr Quinlan said he agrees with me. He agrees with the Government that the difficulty for the Government in addressing the operating loss would be significant if we did not sell ACTEW. Mr Quinlan said that in this debate in the last hour or so.
So Mr Quinlan agrees as well that the difficulty of addressing the operating loss that we all accept is unacceptable and difficult will be significantly harder as a result of this decision. That means that we as an Assembly, we as a community, have to decide what