Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 4 Hansard (20 April) . . Page.. 1005 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
We are not opposed to ACTEW expanding its operations interstate, such as taking over Queanbeyan's sewerage infrastructure, provided there is minimal commercial risk and high environmental standards are maintained. There are other ways by which ACTEW can expand its business, increase its financial viability and minimise risk. Mechanisms include joint mergers, strategic alliances and joint contracting arrangements. These mechanisms would allow ACTEW Corporation to remain as a single entity and not be dissolved into a larger organisation. We believe that the Government should be pursuing all these options before considering a complete merger in the way that they have proposed at the moment.
We are interested in looking at other alternatives to deal with electricity retailing, particularly in the deregulated market. Mrs Carnell has made a commitment today, I believe, to provide details to members of the Assembly and not to push ahead with this matter in a hasty way, and I welcome that statement from the Chief Minister. I hope that, in fact, we will see a change of approach from the Government in regard to process so that we can have a more cooperative debate.
MR RUGENDYKE (4.36): Mr Deputy Speaker, I would just like to put on the record my support for the working party investigating the possibility of a merger between ACTEW and Great Southern Energy. At the time of the ACTEW debate earlier this year I made the following quote, and it is interesting to note that the Chief Minister plucked it out of my speech for use:
... private ownership is not the answer at this time. However, I am prepared to consider other options that could enhance ACTEW if they were to arise in the future.
This is one of the opportunities that I would like to see more detail on. I would obviously need to examine this detail before deciding whether this is the best option for ACTEW, but I would certainly like to see the case presented to the Assembly. The one non-negotiable factor would be retaining control by maintaining ACTEW in public ownership. If this Assembly were to consider allowing ACTEW to enter into a joint venture, it would have to be fifty-fifty with Great Southern Energy and with safeguards in place to ensure that the partnership could not subsequently privatise the operation without the Territory's approval.
MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General, Minister for Justice and Community Safety and Minister Assisting the Treasurer) (4.37): Mr Deputy Speaker, it is refreshing to see that at least one member of the Assembly is prepared to be open-minded about the process to be pursued here. I have to say that the Assembly, a couple of months ago, voted very clearly about what it did not want to see happen to ACTEW. It said, "We do not want to see a loss of ACTEW to the ACT public estate or preserve". The Government has accepted that result and has gone away to explore options to produce a result which is acceptable to the terms laid down by the Assembly. As a result, we have begun a process of talking with New South Wales about a merger with Great Southern Energy and of discussing other options with other possible partners through the process of inviting expressions of interest, yet we still have this litany of criticism from those opposite about the way in which it is going.