Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 4 Hansard (20 April) . . Page.. 1002 ..
MR CORBELL (continuing):
The fact that it has changed, the fact that this Government is, in a pre-emptive way, pursuing a merger option, does underscore the fundamental lack of trust that this Assembly and this community have in this Government when it comes to the management of one our most significant assets.
Mr Deputy Speaker, a number of members of this place previously, but not in this debate, have outlined the questions of process - how the Government is managing the merger process and the examination of options process. For the benefit of the debate, I would like to emphasise some of those today. The first is in relation to the setting up of the examination of a merger between Great Southern Energy and ACTEW Corporation. Mr Deputy Speaker, this occurred less than two days, according to my understanding, before the Government released in the newspapers a call for expressions of interest. It would seem, Mr Deputy Speaker, to be a strange way to do things. Surely you would have all the ideas coming to you through the expressions of interest process. Instead, this Government has chosen to do one thing and another parallel - parallel and potentially conflicting.
Mr Deputy Speaker, that is not an appropriate way to manage it. How would a firm that saw the expressions of interest advertisement react if, at the same time, it was aware that this Government had already entered into an arrangement with the New South Wales Government? Would you not think, "Well, it seems to me like it is all sewn up, really, and they are just going through the motions."? Whether or not that is actually the case, the Government must avoid that perception. The Government must avoid the perception that its process is in some way flawed. For that reason, Mr Deputy Speaker, it is right that members of this place, including Ms Tucker, Mr Kaine and the Labor Party, have raised those concerns.
Perhaps the more worrying prospect about the way the Government has managed the investigation of ACTEW's future has been through the tender process, or lack of it, between ACTEW Corporation and ABN AMRO. ACTEW Corporation engaged ABN AMRO to examine the replies to the expressions of interest process. That was done, the Chief Minister would have us believe, completely without her knowledge and completely without any responsibility accruing to her. Mr Deputy Speaker, I think the community of Canberra have a right to know why a Territory owned corporation, a company owned by residents of the ACT, decides to award a contract worth a quarter of a million dollars to one company without any tender process whatsoever. We have had the chairman of ACTEW coming out and saying, "It is the cheapest possible way". How do you know when you do not have a tender process? How do you know whether there is someone else who can do it at a better price when you do not even ask? The logic of the statement astounds me and it concerns me deeply that a quarter of a million dollars can be spent on a contract awarded to a particular firm without any open competitive process. If we are interested in getting value for money, you would think that a tender process would be the way to go; but not, it seems, when it comes to the Government's requirements and the Government's interests in ACTEW.
Mr Quinlan, in his comments earlier in the debate, raised the issue of loss of control over ACTEW in any potential merger arrangement. It is interesting that an article published in the Financial Review of 16 April 1999, reinforces this point. I quote from it: