Cohen report: end the confusion over ACTEW and ActewAGL

THE ACT Government has been advised to put clear space between its wholly taxpayer-owned water and sewerage utility ACTEW, and ActewAGL, the electricity and gas joint venture which is 50 per cent owned by ACTEW.

Treasurer Andrew Barr

Treasurer Andrew Barr

The suggestion is among 22 recommendations made by Dr Bruce Cohen in a 241-page report released today, following a six-month review of the complex arrangements between various arms of the Territory-Owned Corporation, ACTEW, and its private-sector partners AGL and Jemena.

“Specifically, the Review considers it would be beneficial if ACTEW’s water and sewerage business was established in an entity separate from that which holds the interests in the ActewAGL joint venture,” the report says.

“Such a change would reduce any confusion that exists in the community as to the roles and responsibilities of ACTEW relative to that of the ActewAGL joint venture.

“More importantly, it would enable management given responsibility for water and sewerage to focus firmly upon these activities. For this reason, this Review also does not regard it as beneficial for management responsibilities across the two new entities to be undertaken by the same people.”

Dr Cohen also notes that the terms of reference for the inquiry did not allow a review of the structure of the ActewAGL joint venture itself, making it difficult to assess how the joint venture would be affected by his key recommendation.

ACT Treasurer Andrew Barr was pleased to announce that the report “found that ACTEW has performed well and generally fulfilled its role” and said the Government would consider the proposals over the coming months.

ACTEW chair Michael Easson also interpreted the report as a vindication of the utility’s operations, pointing out in a statement today that Dr Cohen had found “no crisis or pressing problem needing an urgent remedy”.

He also acknowledged that mulling over the lengthy report would take time.

“It is a 241 page report,” Mr Easson said. “The ACTEW Directors and Management will be studying it over the Christmas-New Year break. We intend to provided our feedback to the Government in the New Year.

“It is up to the Government now to consider its reaction to the Cohen Report. It is healthy after such a major review that the public and all stakeholders be given the opportunity to chew on it.”

Dr Cohen also suggests the water utility should transition from being a Territory-Owned Corporation to being a Statutory Authority, “following a suggested review of the Territory-owned Corporations Act (TOC Act) to establish a common framework covering all Territory public owned companies and statutory authorities”.

The Cohen report is available online: http://www.cwd.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/535572/ACTEW-Review-Report.pdf

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