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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 3 Hansard (26 May) . . Page.. 581 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

The ACT Government appears to have chosen to define the public interest primarily in economic terms. To quote from their annual progress report:

... in general, reform of government businesses is expected to promote the public interest by increasing cost awareness and improving cost management in the public sector.

In terms of the scope of competition policy, we know about the Milk Authority, ACTTAB and ACTEW - and ACTION is bound to be next - with the annual progress report reporting that the Government has a commitment to phased commercialisation. Mr Speaker, the reforms to government trading enterprises are just the tip of the iceberg. Despite the fact that human services were supposed to be exempt from the application of the competition principles agreement, the Government has cited the fact that competition tendering contracts have been developed for schools to contract out cleaning, furniture, et cetera. Obviously, the reforms to vocational training are also directly linked to competition policy, and many concerns have been raised by the education community about how those reforms are being handled.

I would like to conclude by talking about the role of the Competition Policy Forum in all of this. Mrs Carnell has chosen to score cheap political points about the forum's performance. I do not think it is appropriate at all for her publicly to undermine the credibility of the forum or the individual members, who, besides being very busy people, are all doing this work unpaid. I concur with the members of the forum that I have spoken to that an independent mechanism to review and monitor competition policy - in particular, the public benefit - is absolutely essential. As members may be aware, I will be preparing legislation to establish the Competition Policy Forum as a statutory board. I believe this is very important to increase the status of this work, increase the transparency and independence of the forum, and ensure the implementation of competition policy is not driven solely by the Executive. The central and fundamentally important issue in competition policy is the public benefit. What is the point of competition policy if the public benefit is not there? An open and transparent assessment of where the public benefit lies is essential if we are to ensure competition policy does not actually cause greater harm than good.

MR SMYTH (Minister for Urban Services) (3.57): This issue provides a timely opportunity to remind ourselves about the benefits and disciplines of competition policy. It is a balancing act for government, as we strive to deliver benefits in an environment which is constantly evolving. Members are probably aware that the national competition policy arose from an inquiry undertaken by a committee of a Federal government under the chairmanship of Professor Hilmer. It was a process undertaken under a Federal Labor government and it was agreed to by the previous Follett Labor Government in the ACT.

National competition policy is aimed at improving the performance of the national economy, including: The creation of jobs; more efficient use of infrastructure assets to lower domestic prices for energy and commodities and to improve the cost-effectiveness of our exports; reforming public monopolies; providing economically efficient access to significant infrastructure; and extending the coverage of the Trade Practices Act 1974 to significant government business activities and to private sector businesses previously outside the ambit of that legislation.

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