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It was very frustrating for the consumer movement to see this delay. It is a worry that it takes a process of cooperative federalism something like 12 years to deal with an issue like this. If, as new challenges appear on the consumer affairs agenda - issues like telemarketing and the smart card, the credit card that contains the in-built computer chip - it takes Federal, State and Territory Ministers 12 years to deal with new technology, it will be old technology by the time the laws are in place.
It is, nonetheless, a significant achievement that uniform credit laws have been reached. It will bring widespread benefit to consumers in the sense that for most of Australia consumer rights are significantly enhanced. Certainly, in those States that had more positive laws the extent of the benefit is lessened. But even in the ACT, where we have fairly strong consumer protection laws, there will be benefit from the economies of scale that these new laws will bring in. It will no longer be necessary for credit providers to engage teams of lawyers and accountants, no doubt at vast cost, to prepare a credit contract for the ACT that may differ in fundamental respects from a credit contract for New South Wales, for South Australia, for Western Australia and so on. Simply by allowing businesses to achieve that efficiency, the code will benefit consumers through decreased costs. One would presume that those decreased costs would be passed on. Certainly, consumer advocates will be watching closely to ensure that that is the case.
Normally the ACT, given its size, is not a major player in major pieces of cooperative law reform; but in the case of the uniform credit legislation I think it is fair to say that the ACT did play a quite key role, particularly in the latter stages of the exercise, when strong views were being expressed in some sectors of the consumer movement that perhaps the exercise was no longer worth the bother and that the process of weakening the original exposure draft had gone so far that perhaps it would be better to abandon uniformity. Senior officers of the ACT Attorney-General's Department, and Consumer Affairs in particular - Len Sorbello of the department and Tony Charge of Consumer Affairs - played a very important role through 1994 in bringing together a number of the key and peak consumer organisations and other State Ministers, in particular those of the Liberal governments of New South Wales and Victoria, to reach some common ground. In passing this legislation, which enacts for the ACT this national legislation, it is appropriate to note that some officers in the ACT in fact played a very important role in brokering final compromises that allowed Ministers of diverse backgrounds to come to a final agreement on uniform credit legislation. This is a significant piece of legislation. It will bring real benefits, and the Opposition is very pleased to wish it a speedy passage through this house.
MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General and Minister for Consumer Affairs) (4.02), in reply: Mr Speaker, I thank the Opposition for its support for this package of Bills, of which one more component is yet to arrive. I share Mr Connolly's confidence that this is an important step forward in the protection of people who take out consumer credit contracts in this country and his relief that after a very long period of time we have achieved a degree of agreement on issues of great complexity and contention. I think that is a remarkable achievement. I would share his views about the limitations of the federal system. I would agree with him that the question of States rights or Territories rights has not been a particularly strong theme in statements or debates in this chamber, and that is an appropriate thing.