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ACT government mulls options to sell Canberra's street lights

The ACT government is considering negotiation, the open market or expression of interest to sell Canberra's street lights and take advantage of the federal government's $5 billion asset recycling payment scheme.

On Tuesday, Treasurer Joe Hockey confirmed the ACT was the first jurisdiction to sign up for program.  States and territories will receive a 15 per cent bonus on top of the sale price if all the proceeds go to new infrastructure investment.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the $105 million sale of ACTTAB was the first proposal put forward by the territory and plans for the sale of street lights, surplus government land, ageing office buildings and the Northbourne Avenue visitor information centre would follow. 

The Abbott government will pay bonuses of about $15.75 million for the betting agency sale in two tranches once the agreement is signed. Money from the first-come, first-served scheme will support the government's infrastructure program, including the light rail line to Gungahlin, a new public hospital at the University of Canberra and new road projects. 

Outlined in the 2014-15 ACT budget, the sale of more than 75,000 street lights will be a more complicated process.

Officials will consider a negotiated sale to ActewAGL or another power utility, a tender process or selling the lights on the open market. 


Power for street lights is the government's largest ongoing bill and the network contributes about 20 per cent of the ACT's greenhouse gas emissions. 

Mr Barr said any approach to the market would require significant improvements in technology and operation and could take until the 2016 budget to be finalised.

Savings from electricity bills would cover some of the cost of upgrading the lights. 

Globally, governments and municipalities are increasing the use of power-saving LED street lighting and other improvements including smart lights that are activated when movement is detected in the area or at peak times. 

Days after asset sales contributed heavily to the Queensland Liberal National government's drubbing, Mr Barr said voters would only support considered asset privatisation and "government fire sales" were unwise.

"I think there is community support if the right sort of asset is sold for the right infrastructure outcome and that's the difference in the ACT from what was being proposed in Queensland," he said. 

"What I am ruling out is the wholesale privatisation of public assets that generate significant income for the territory or provide essential services. I think that's the key difference." 

As sections of last year's federal budget continued to prove politically challenging, Mr Hockey said state and territory governments wanted to be part of the asset recycling program, despite voters in Queensland rejecting asset sales or long-term leases proposed by the former Newman government.

The asset recycling scheme was, in part, championed by NSW Premier Mike Baird. The sale of assets must be completed and the construction of the new infrastructure must begin by June 30, 2019.

It is expected to bring about $40 billion in new infrastructure spending nationally. 

"We have been approached by the ACT Labor government to be the first signatory to our asset recycling program, and why? Because governments haven't got the discretionary money to be able to build the infrastructure that Australia really needs," Mr Hockey told ABC Radio on Tuesday. 

"What we are focused on is how we can get the best out of taxpayers' money and build more. Our asset recycling program does that." 

Ageing public housing stock and surface car parks could also be sold in Canberra. The 2014-15 budget included provisions for roads spending and black spot removal using funds from the asset recycling program.