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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 13 Hansard (20 November) . . Page.. 3789 ..

MS DUNDAS (continuing):

Having this report prepared and a proposal put to the Assembly in the first sitting week in February hopefully will allow some community involvement in this debate and some ideas to be discussed about how we can support those who will suffer under full retail contestability.

I hope this motion finally gets the government to release its proposal for compensation, if they already have one, so that it can be scrutinised in detail by the affected people and by those who represent them.

MR QUINLAN (Treasurer, Minister for Economic Development, Business and Tourism, Minister for Sport, Racing and Gaming and Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Corrections) (11.04): Mr Cornwell has included self-funded retirees in his motion. I wonder whether he is planning to become one soon. In general, the government would treat people according to their means, not their classification. We have already made statements in public regarding what might need to happen with the Essential Services Review Committee and the support that is necessary.

I have stated a number of times in this place that there is a high probability that the structure of electricity charges will change, and it will affect people. Electricity is one of the essential commodities households receive. There is a fundamental question as to how far the government can go. I think Ms Dundas was talking about a subsidy. At this stage we are not in large part involved in subsidy. Certainly there are budget-funded concessions that are applied. There is no question but that this issue would impact upon the provision of those government-funded concessions. They are going to be more difficult to administer when and if full retail contestability takes off, when there is churn in the market and when there are multiple suppliers in the territory. That will create a distinct problem.

You have to remember that this stage is the final stage of the electricity industry deregulation. That is not something I have every supported personally, but it has gone past the point of no return. Within the electricity supply industry, considerable savings have been wrought in operational costs. What that means in the long term for the degree of maintenance and reliability of our electricity supply I guess only time will tell. There is always a tendency for a profit-driven process to use up the fat in the organisation. "Fat" becomes a bad word. "Redundancy" becomes an abhorrent term, and industries such as the electricity supply industry would run as close as is possible at the margin.

Electricity is an essential service. In the past there was considerable redundancy across Australia, at a cost. Nevertheless, you do not miss your water until your well runs dry. Electricity is one of those things we take for granted until it is unreliable. You can garnish this debate today with the prospect of terrorist attacks aimed at core infrastructure of the community. It might be that we will wish for days of yore when we did have redundancy. Nevertheless, this is the last stage in the deregulation of the electricity industry. This is the stage which in the longer term promises the benefits of competition to the consumer.

I am not prepared to guarantee that electricity deregulation will work. I have always harboured my doubts. But to try to stop the creek at this stage would be futile, and in all probability-and that is all I can give the Assembly-in the longer term the consumer

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