Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 4 Hansard (20 April) . . Page.. 1004 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
I think it was a rather shabby thing for Mrs Carnell to do to quote statements in the speech that I made regarding the sale of ACTEW as if I was supporting a total merger of ACTEW, because I recall saying very strongly that the Greens have grave concerns about handing over control of water and sewerage. It is totally clear, if you look at it in the context of the whole speech, that I was never suggesting that the whole thing should be handed over in some way to the private sector or to another State government. If that was not clear then, let me make it clear now. I do have concerns about handing over control of water and sewerage, whether it be to another State government or to the private sector, because, as members have already said quite clearly, not only the Greens but also other members of this Assembly and the broader community that we are representing have concerns about that.
I also have concerns about the use of ABN AMRO. I found it a little ironic to hear Mrs Carnell say that the benefits of that were that they were experienced in the area and had already gained knowledge in the area. The fact that their performance has been challenged by the Assembly and by the Assembly committee on superannuation obviously is a factor in this regard. Another irony for me is that when we had chief executives in the ACT Public Service being swapped around in a most peculiar manner the justification from the Chief Minister was that it created a dynamic Public Service. Maybe we could have a dynamic system for employing consultants as well. You cannot have one argument one day and totally contradict it the next. This Government does claim to be supportive of the tendering out of contracts to ensure that the best deal is got for the ACT taxpayers, so there is a contradiction there as well.
As members have said, there has been a willingness in the Assembly to look at taking money out of ACTEW, whether it be $300m or $500m. Obviously, that decision has to be made in a considered way, but you have to look at the costs and benefits of getting that extra money, if that is what you need to do, before you decide to do it. Mrs Carnell did acknowledge that I have said publicly that I wanted to see the detail of this proposal before the Greens would make any decision about it. As I have already expressed some concerns about the process, I do not think that that is a very good start.
We are definitely concerned that the ACT would lose significant control over ACTEW if it went into a fifty-fifty partnership with Great Southern Energy. Maintaining our control over the merged corporation against the bigger New South Wales Government would be fraught with difficulty. For example, how would we stop the New South Wales Government from then selling off its share to the private sector? There would be tensions within the organisation that would have to be dealt with if either partner chose to take that path. While at present it is very clear that the ACT community and its representatives do not support that, there are obvious examples of what happens in such a situation when you look at what is happening in Telstra now.
We are absolutely opposed to any proposal that reduces the ACT Government's ownership and control of those parts of ACTEW which are monopoly operations - water supply, sewerage operations and electricity transmission. We would not want the management of the water aspects of ACTEW's business given over to Great Southern Energy, which is primarily an electricity utility and does not have expertise in the provision of water infrastructure. However, we are prepared to consider merger proposals of other types of partnership arrangements related to electricity retailing.