Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 8 Hansard (24 October) . . Page.. 1916 ..
MR WOOD (continuing):
What did ACTEW do? It passed it back to the Government. This is exactly the sort of circumstance that could develop and the sort of circumstance we have to ensure does not develop. I want to make it clear that the confusion generated in that letter has nothing to do with the competition policy, with this legislation; it has everything to do with Liberal policy. This letter was received after ACTEW was corporatised. It was not received after this legislation came into effect, so it is not an outcome of this legislation, but it could well be. This sort of circumstance could well develop further. It is that sort of confusion - perhaps "evasion" is a better word - that we must avoid.
In response to those sorts of concerns, Federal Minister Jeannette McHugh has released a series of discussion papers. The outcome of those papers is not clear. They have raised the issues, but effective action may rely on decisions from this Government or, if necessary, this Assembly. The concern for consumers has led to a name change for the commission that will oversight the new policy. Rather than the Australian Competition Commission, it is now to be the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. That, however, does no more than signify an interest in the matter. It does not ensure any outcome. This Assembly must scrutinise all these changes very carefully. The McHugh discussion papers have also brought the advice that public utilities must accept their basic consumer obligations. It identified them as service standards and consumer charters; consumer service advocacy models; corporate compliance programs; redress mechanisms; and information disclosure. Once again, there are not specific provisions in any legislation to ensure that such measures are operative. That will need to be examined by this Assembly to ensure that consumers are appropriately protected. I indicated earlier that, through the mechanism of the Minter Ellison report, the Government is examining the ramifications of this legislation.
I thank Mr De Domenico for his cooperation in providing information that I have sought as I examine this issue on behalf of the Opposition. I am sure that he will acknowledge, as I have indicated in this speech, that we are not yet in a position to state with a sufficient degree of confidence what the outcome may be for the wide range of government activity now being scrutinised. For that reason, the Opposition believes that it is preferable to refer the Bill to an appropriate committee for its further examination and report. It is better that we fully understand what the impact of this legislation may be. Accordingly, the Opposition will give support to the Bill at the in-principle stage and then seek to refer it to an appropriate select committee.
MS TUCKER (10.51): This is a Bill with implications that have not been debated sufficiently, either inside this chamber or, more importantly, in the wider community. Many in our community, certainly those involved in delivery of services in government and the private sector, have heard about the Hilmer reforms; yet very few people have any idea of how much the competitive reforms proposed by the Competition Policy Reform Bill could affect our lives. This is a Bill with implications that I do not think have received sufficient debate in this Assembly or in the community.
In the name of economic efficiency, this legislation has the potential to curtail severely State, Territory and local government capacity to promote and protect social justice and environmental objectives. The 17 people in this Assembly are elected to represent the interests of the ACT. The members of this Assembly have a responsibility to their constituents to find out how legislation before them will affect the lives of