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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 3 Hansard (26 May) . . Page.. 578 ..

Discussion of Matter of Public Importance

MR SPEAKER: I have received a letter from Ms Tucker proposing that a matter of public importance be submitted to the Assembly for discussion, namely:

Competition policy and the public interest in the ACT.

MS TUCKER (3.45): I rise today to speak on this matter of public importance - competition policy and the public interest. I believe the debate on this matter has been lacking over the last couple of years and I am delighted to see that, finally, it has become something that has stirred up the concerns of the community and members of this place, as we start to see the consequences of it. I have been following the issue with great interest since the Competition Policy Reform Bill, which gives force to Part IV of the Trade Practices Act, was tabled in this Assembly.

As members of the last Assembly will recall, the Greens initiated a select committee to look at the implications of that legislation and associated competition policy reform. At that time, I was concerned at the breadth of the likely impact of competition policy on the activity of government, particularly the implications of the competition principles agreement, which sets out the framework for competition policy reforms in areas such as legislation review, structural reform of public monopolies and competitive neutrality. I was also concerned at how little public awareness there was about competition policy and its implications.

Competition policy was all signed, sealed and delivered by the Council of Australian Governments process, with virtually no public debate and little media interest. What has been even more concerning is the way that Hilmer reforms are being used to justify a sweeping micro-economic reform agenda. Even Hilmer has stated that the competition principles should not be used for human service delivery. While the horse has indeed bolted, and had already bolted at the time of that committee inquiry, we still have an opportunity to challenge the way that competition policy is implemented.

The committee report focused on the processes of implementing competition policy, trying to ensure that reforms were not just swept through secretly by government departments. The committee's report was a unanimous report, with the committee having a Green, a Liberal and a Labor member. The report states:

The Committee considers that the implementation of competition policy may provide some economic benefits to the ACT and consumers, although this has not been shown conclusively, and the costs and negative impacts have not been adequately investigated. The Committee notes there is little choice but to enact the Bill but believes there must be serious consideration given to developing mechanisms for the protection of social and environmental concerns.

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