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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 11 Hansard (20 October) . . Page.. 3364 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

Of course, the reaction of the New South Wales Government to the proposition is well known to you. That Government particularly had a problem with the political uncertainties that were inherent in the idea of a deal between the ACT and the New South Wales governments which entailed necessarily, on the ACT's part, some oversight and involvement by the ACT Legislative Assembly.

Mr Speaker, we on this side of the house have made it very clear that we believe it is important for government businesses, particularly major businesses such as the Territory owned corporations, particularly ACTEW, to operate in a commercial environment. It is very clear that the commercial environment which they might have been able to operate in was compromised, particularly as a merged entity, given the nature of the involvement which some members of the Assembly believe the Assembly itself ought to have in that process.

My involvement, as I have indicated, was based on my role as the successor of one of the parties that commissioned the report. I read the report with interest. I did not have a particularly large involvement in its formulation, Mr Speaker, and, like other members of the Government, I am disappointed that this major opportunity which was there for the ACT to deal with the unresolved question of ACTEW's future was missed out through matters outside the control of this Government.

MR QUINLAN: I want to ask a supplementary question. Given that the immediate past Treasurer assured this Assembly that expressions of interest called in respect of the future of ACTEW would be weighed up against the merger proposal to determine which was best for the Territory, can you inform this Assembly how that weighing up process was conducted, your own involvement in that process, and, in general, the conclusions reached? Surely we did not pass the report straight from the consultants to New South Wales without rigorous evaluation of alternative proposals. Where do we now stand in relation to those expressions of interest?

MR HUMPHRIES: Mr Speaker, I think I see the problem with Mr Quinlan's question. He has some confusion about the expression of interest process, which was initiated at much the same time as the joint working party but with a slightly different set of objectives in mind and was designed to offer a possible alternative solution to the problem which the Government has articulated in this place and in the community that relates to ACTEW; namely, we had a particular proposal before us to merge ACTEW and GSE and that proposal went off to a joint working party. At much the same time - I forget the exact sequence - we also initiated a process of seeking expressions of interest from the commercial sector to see who would be interested in commercial arrangements involving ACTEW that might somehow provide a further alternative to the situation that we described ACTEW as being in.

This is about having other strings to your bow. In fact, I think we have had lectures from the Opposition at various stages about not having a fall-back position. You asked us at the time that the ACTEW sale was knocked off, "What is your fall-back position?", if I recall correctly, and I will put that in very cautious terms. I think that is what you said. "Where's your fall-back position?", you asked. Well, our call for expressions of interest was about developing fall-back positions.

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