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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 2 Hansard (11 March) . . Page.. 582 ..


ACTEW - Merger Discussions

MR STANHOPE: My question is to the Chief Minister. In this morning's Financial Review the Chief Minister is reported as having had discussions with the New South Wales Government about the possible merger of ACTEW and Great Southern Energy. Will the Chief Minister inform the Assembly of the status of the discussions she referred to and when they took place? Can the Chief Minister tell us whether she has had any other such discussions with any other organisations? Can the Chief Minister inform the Assembly whether there is any commercial interest involved in the nature of the deal discussed?

MS CARNELL: Mr Speaker, I can guarantee that no deal on a merger arrangement with the New South Wales Government or anybody else has been done. I think we made it very clear after the ACTEW debate, and I hope before that as well, that this Government was not in the business of sitting on its hands. The Assembly has made it clear that ACTEW must stay in public ownership. We respect the Assembly's perspective, and that is what will happen. But we did make it very clear at the time, and I think Mr Quinlan also in a number of his comments, and certainly the Australia Institute, indicated that in areas such as electricity retailing we simply had no capacity to do nothing, because the risks involved, as pointed to by Mr Quinlan and the Australia Institute, were too large.

My Government, Mr Speaker, has had many discussions with numerous organisations, both government and non-government, about ACTEW's future in public ownership. These discussions have included meetings with various State governments, private and publicly owned power utilities from around Australia and, I have to say, even overseas operators. Mr Speaker, what we plan to do, though, by going to the media next month, is to seek expressions of interest from the community and from the business sector as part of strategies that are being developed by the board, and of course by the Government as well, to improve ACTEW's viability under public ownership.

There are lots of ideas out there, Mr Speaker. I spoke at a conference in Sydney recently about the need to come up with innovative approaches for power entities in public ownership, to minimise the risk, to maximise access to capital, to improve return on investment, all the things that any good government would do, Mr Speaker - I stress, in public ownership. We plan to go to the market to see what ideas are out there - many people have come to us already - and to assess those to determine what is the best way forward for ACTEW to ensure its viability, to ensure its future and to ensure that we do the best possible job we can with the major asset that the people of Canberra have, Mr Speaker. If we were not doing that, we would not be doing our job.

MR STANHOPE: Mr Speaker, I have a supplementary question. Can the Chief Minister tell the Assembly what are the terms of reference underscoring the expressions of interest that she will be calling for, and will she make a copy of the terms of reference available to the Assembly?

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