Page 226 - Week 01 - Thursday, 16 February 2006

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I will close, Mrs Dunne, by saying that if the government does the same thing in its reporting for this financial year as it did last year—and it will because we have a very sizeable adjustment of $300; we have been talking about that in the midyear report—the auditor will not qualify it. She will believe us this time.

Water—Snowy Mountains

DR FOSKEY: My question is to the Minister for the Environment and concerns the sale of the Snowy hydro-electric scheme. Since privatisation means that the focus of the Snowy hydro will shift to private shareholder profits and there will no longer be a need to answer broader environmental and economic responsibilities or to be answerable to the public via commonwealth and state governments, could the minister please advise the Assembly whether he has argued against the sale in the light of its potential impact on environmental flows in the Murrumbidgee and other impacts on the ACT?

MR STANHOPE: I thank Dr Foskey for the question on a very important issue, having regard to the history of the establishment of the Australian Capital Territory as the national capital of Australia and decisions that were taken in the early part of the last century in relation to the administrative arrangements that should be put in place and the legal arrangements that were required to assure the future of the Australian Capital Territory as the national capital.

Many of those legal agreements and arrangements that were made as long ago as 1909 involved the need to secure a water source for the national capital and to secure the catchments that would ensure a secure supply of water. Decisions were made at that time, for instance, to secure paramount rights over the Queanbeyan River and all of the catchments within the territory’s border and catchments in New South Wales, including those involving the Queanbeyan River and, indeed, the Snowy River. There were paramount rights vested in the commonwealth wholly and solely as a result of the decision to excise some New South Wales land to establish the Australian Capital Territory.

That background actually leads us to the position in which we find ourselves today. I am one of those that believe that, simply as a result almost of an accident of history, an oversight, slackness or sheer bastardry, in the negotiations for self-government in 1988 and 1989, acknowledging that there was a Labor government in power federally at the time—

Mr Mulcahy: It was your mates.

MR STANHOPE: Absolutely. It was still bastardry. The 13 per cent which the commonwealth retained of ownership in the Snowy Mountains scheme was retained by the commonwealth for and on behalf of the Australian Capital Territory. I think that there is no doubt or dispute that, as a matter of straight moral position, we have a right as a territory, the inheritors of the rights which the commonwealth held on our behalf until 1989, to that 13 per cent. I think that the position can be put strongly, cogently, that the Australian Capital Territory has been denied its rightful ownership of a 13 per cent stake in the Snowy Mountains scheme. We have been. It is a matter of fact and it is irrefutable. The commonwealth, of course, will not budge on the issue.

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