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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 2 Hansard (21 February) . . Page.. 514 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

producing a return to its shareholders in the short-term future, and perhaps longer than that.

Mr Speaker, let me say at the outset that I am very sad to hear that. A very strong case was made for the Williamsdale quarry when it was first put to the ACT government back in 1999. It was a very compelling case, a case for something to be done, an involvement by an ACT government utility in something which had not previously been done in the ACT. It was a quite new venture, but one which held potential promise, we were told, to produce very substantial dividends for the ACT community.

I believe the fact that the Williamsdale quarry has experienced difficulties is a salutary lesson to the members of this house about the kind of approach that should be taken by the government towards the involvement of government in businesses generally, particularly businesses which cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as businesses which are central to the delivery of service to this community.

The record will show that there was a great difference of views between the then government and the then opposition as to whether or not it was appropriate for government to be getting involved in this particular venture. I will quote from an article in the Canberra Times in the early part of 2000 which gives your own views, Mr Speaker. In May 2001 you said:

The ACT government has been accused of blowing the chance to make millions of dollars for Canberra taxpayers by sharing the proceeds of a newly established quarry at Williamsdale in NSW.

The article goes on-this is Mr Berry:

He said an analysis prepared for Totalcare by Access Economics estimated the value of the quarry at "close to $50 million" and concluded it would contribute to the ACT's financial position either by lowering the territory's deficit or increasing its surplus, which Mr Berry said "could lead to the lowering of taxes for Canberrans".

Mr Speaker, the view of the then government was that such good intentions were not necessarily easy to translate into reality, and that it was safer and more appropriate for the ACT to be protected and for its risk to be minimised, by going into this venture with a joint venture partner.

That caution, that desire not to be so heavily involved in the venture as to expose the territory to serious risk, I think has been vindicated by events since then. As I say, I do not particularly like to see Totalcare or the quarry in these difficulties. However, the fact is that that possibility was always there, and in those circumstances it was always appropriate, as the Liberal Party maintained very firmly, to minimise that exposure and that risk by not being a 100 per cent shareholder of the venture. No doubt we will be told by Mr Quinlan that, if we had handled the whole thing better, there would not have been a loss, and that the great potential of the venture was squandered by our handling of the matter.

Just as we heard earlier this week that the Chief Minister is not going to do the work of public servants, so it was not the intention of the ACT government in the past couple of years to do the work of the Totalcare board it brought the joint venture proposal forward.

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