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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 4 Hansard (20 April) . . Page.. 995 ..

MR QUINLAN (3.49): Never was the title "matter of public importance" more appropriate. I have introduced this subject today in the hope of receiving outside the cut and thrust and the repartee of question time some perspective on what is happening. Going back to the ACTEW debate - the sell ACTEW debate - although complex questions should have been debated, in the main the Government dined out on some simplistic messages. It is quite clearly their stock-in-trade - not necessarily through a particular skill, I have to say, because sometimes some dreadful press releases emerge.

Now and then I have been mystified as to why the print media does not flog the Government mercilessly. However, recently the Canberra Times has nailed its colours to the mast. The editorial last Saturday is the prime example. Worse, it has joined the propagandist-type process. It has reverted to the idiotic proposition or implied proposition in all of this debate since it first emerged that we would somehow cede control over our water and sewerage, for example, because there is competition in the electrical retail business. While criticising the Canberra Times, I will give credit to the Assembly reporters, the two that I have met, who did try to distil some facts out of it. Last Saturday's Forum article, aside from a couple of swipes at the ALP, contained a considerable amount of quite logical, clearly stated fact. It is unfortunate that this type of fact and information does not emerge, does not float to the surface.

I am confident that, if an objective history is compiled one day, this Carnell Government will be recorded as successful propagandists rather than achievers. They have gotten away with, at least in my time, the glib rather than the rational so very often. Through the course of the sell ACTEW debate, it took weeks and weeks to point up the gargantuan flaw in the logic and to get it into the media in any way - that flaw being that the risk to the electrical retail business does not necessarily infect the other activities of ACTEW, electricity distribution and water and sewerage.

All in this place accept that there could be risk in the electrical retail business and that steps ought to be taken to address that and to minimise it. However, we must all also accept that the people of Canberra have shown their feeling clearly, and their feeling is: "Don't flog off our assets". So how far have we come? Not very far, I have to say; a bit of recidivism is going on. The people of Canberra are entitled to know that the Carnell Government no longer has as its primary objective a heap of cash, the ultimate sale of ACTEW. But so far the Government has not been very convincing.

We do need reassurance. ABN AMRO, the million dollar consultants, included merger followed by sale as sale option No. 6 in their report. We are concerned, I am concerned particularly, that the manic desire for cash out of this - not just cash for superannuation purposes, but the old balancing the budget cash that we have seen - will weaken our resolve in the negotiation of any merger. At this stage ACTEW Corporation is about three times the size of Great Southern in terms of equity. Are we contemplating handing over 50 per cent control even though we would bring much more to the merged enterprise or are we contemplating selling down through the new organisation borrowing to the hilt and passing those funds back to the ACT to compensate, which is starting to look like an asset sale again? If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it just might be a duck.

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