Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 1 Hansard (19 February) . . Page.. 201 ..
MR CORNWELL (continuing):
There has been some difficulty in obtaining information in the past. I note that Ms Dundas put a question on notice last year seeking information on public/private contracts for each of the three business segments and that the Treasurer responded that this information could not be supplied because it was commercial-in-confidence. I had the same difficulty. In question No 339 I sought a copy of the ACT Treasury report on Totalcare Industries. Again, I was refused that information on the ground that, effectively, it would not be appropriate for the report to be placed in the public domain as it contains highly-sensitive commercial information.
Rumours abound about the use of public subsidies to undercut private competitors, about high wages and handsome redundancy payments being paid to the work force, and about current sections of Totalcare losing money. One of them at the moment is about the linen area. These rumours need to be clarified, killed off or confirmed and any suspicion that the government is propping up Totalcare needs to be addressed. I refer to the government propping up Totalcare because, in paragraph (6) of the answer to my question No 247, the government responded:
While the Government is committed to maintaining and growing a healthy private sector, it needs to be recognised that both Totalcare and ActewAGL are significant entities operating within the ACT markets and have been for a considerable number of years. The employment and economic impact of these entities on the ACT economy is very substantial.
You bet it is, because the economic impact in relation to Totalcare is a loss of $21 million. That is quite an economic impact. Totalcare's future is clouded. I refer to the chief executive officer's report:
The viability of two businesses, Facilities Management and Roads, remains a matter of ongoing concern. Both are largely dependent on contracts from ACT departments and agencies for their future business, particularly Roads where the business is foreshadowing a significant reduction in revenue from the Department of Urban Services in 2002-03.
The difficulty of competing with the private sector has been recognised by other people, such as the Canberra Business Council in its submission to the Public Accounts Committee of August 2002, when, as one of its six key messages, it said, "Government should not take on risk on behalf of taxpayers that is more appropriately taken and managed by private investors."I say amen to that.
No better example of that, I would suggest, was Totalcare's quarry venture, which the Auditor-General raised in report No 7 of 2002. Totalcare had a 50 per cent share of the joint venture that was established to operate the quarry; yet, the Auditor-General noted, Totalcare's share of the expenses of running the quarry was 87 per cent. Why was this so? All I can possibly state is that somebody got a good deal out of it.