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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 3 Hansard (26 May) . . Page.. 580 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

ACT Government, entitled "application of competitive neutrality in the ACT", where it is also stated quite clearly that the principles of competitive neutrality will be applied wherever it is considered to be in the public interest. I seek leave to table those documents and to have them incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

Documents incorporated at Appendix 1.

MS TUCKER: Obviously, questions have to be asked about how these broad decisions are made. I have not heard any public debate on this issue. It was obviously decided on at some point by the Government, even though the Chief Minister was not aware of it to begin with. This is another example of competition policy being used to justify any number of market reforms.

I am not quite sure how the Government managed to assess the public interest in the Belconnen pool matter if the Competitive Neutrality Complaints Unit received evidence only from the complainants and the proponent department. There was no attempt to find out what any other persons or bodies had to say; nor was any evidence obtained on general user perspectives. Despite the approach taken, the complaints unit was able to recommend, through its market analysis, that:

... the potential cost to existing and potential competitors in the market due to the proposed facility is not outweighed by any apparent public benefit which would exclude the proposed Belconnen aquatic and fitness facility from application of the principles of competitive neutrality.

Despite all the claims to the contrary by the Chief Minister, there certainly is not a perception that this unit is independent. It is in the Chief Minister's Department. This report certainly does not inspire confidence in the Government's ability to assess public benefit. I think that future work on the Belconnen pool should not be using the report of the complaints unit as a starting point, because the public interest has not been assessed adequately or fairly.

A quick flip through the ACT Government's latest annual progress report on competition policy provides further insight into just how far-reaching competition policy is and how much of the assessment of public benefit is not transparent. For example, I have not heard of any transparent process for determining what are the public benefits of CityScape Services. According to the Government, CityScape Services is being "sufficiently restructured to reflect the need to be competitive". I am sure there are significant employment benefits from CityScape Services, such as providing employment to people who might otherwise be marginalised in the labour market. But there has never been, to my knowledge, any public or transparent debate on these sorts of issues, although they have certainly been raised with me by concerned members of the community.

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