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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 8 Hansard (9 August) . . Page.. 2744 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

To allow ACTION to fit within this new framework, the ACTION Corporation Bill will transform ACTION from a business unit within the Department of Urban Services into a separate statutory authority managed by a board of directors. While the government is amending the bill to change its name to an authority, for all intents and purposes it will be acting like a corporation. Under its statutory functions it will be required to run on a commercial basis and maximise its return to the territory. It will have to have a business plan and pay tax equivalents back to the government.

While I can agree with the idea that all public bus services should be accredited and meet minimum standards in terms of passenger safety and the quality of service, this package goes way beyond this to establish a commercial framework for the provision of public transport in the ACT in line with national competition policy.

In the couple of briefings I have had from officials on these bills I have been assured there is no intention to privatise ACTION or any of the routes it operates. This may be correct in the short term, but this framework is the first step in this direction. ACTION has been guaranteed a five-year service agreement, but I am very worried about what will happen after this. I do not want a repeat of what happened with Totalcare when it lost its contract with ACT Housing to a private operator or what happened to CityScape Services when the government put out its horticultural services to tender.

The Liberal government showed that it was prepared to contract out the public transport system in the ACT when it was in dispute with the TWU a few years ago. It even put advertisements in the paper seeking expressions of interest. This new framework will facilitate such a move in the future. That is why Mr Kaine, Mr Osborne and I are a little bit cynical and suspicious.

Mr Kaine: Have faith.

MS TUCKER: It would take a great deal of faith, Mr Kaine. I think it would be unrealistic. It was interesting that in the briefing from officials that I received on these bills they made the point in defence of ACTION that ACTION currently has a natural monopoly on public transport in the ACT and therefore is not under threat. If this is the case, why do we need to have this competitive framework? The only reason I can see is a desire by this Liberal government to get more private sector involvement in bus services in the ACT. This may not necessarily involve privatising ACTION but is more likely to come from the transfer of particular routes from ACTION to private operators and allowing ACTION to wither away.

The Greens believe that the existence of an extensive, efficient and affordable public transport system is a basic and fundamental community service which government has an obligation to provide. Public transport should not be reduced to a business activity. Many people who cannot drive or do not have access to private vehicles rely on ACTION for their transport needs. For equity reasons the government should ensure that a good public transport service exists for these people even though in straight accounting terms the service may not cover its costs.

I have said many times in this Assembly that I find it amazing that spending on roads is always regarded as an investment by this government, and also, it appears, by the opposition, but spending on public transport is regarded as a cost or a terrible weight

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