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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 3 Hansard (26 May) . . Page.. 584 ..

MR SMYTH (continuing):

But government is able to provide services that are beneficial but uneconomical for private enterprise to deliver. Government can also assist private enterprise to deliver services by financing market entry for new businesses, creating opportunities in our economy that did not exist previously, and subsidising long-term projects that will bring jobs and economic growth to the ACT in the future.

Pursuit of these agendas and decisions about the speed and direction of progress are subject to an assessment of public benefit. Public benefit is undefined, but is taken to include a broad range of issues reflecting impacts on employment, the environment, welfare, the economy in a broad sense, the national economy, export potential, and so on. It is a concept that is intentionally elastic, to enable the fullest assessment of all the costs and benefits to the community. As Graeme Samuel, president of the National Competition Council, indicated on radio in Canberra recently, public benefit is not about satisfying the needs of a section of the community, no matter that that group has a loud voice or large numbers, but the needs of the community as a whole. In many cases, that requires an extensive process of analysis and consultation. In other cases, the process is less extensive but no less profound, detailed and laborious.

In conclusion, Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker, I would like to draw members' attention to what I believe are the key issues. They are: Competition reform is nationally consistent and uniformly agreed, and we in this Assembly previously have signed up to that; the ACT participates in the reform process to ensure that our interests are protected and our voices heard, but our focus is on providing benefits to the ACT community; competition policy offers significant present and future benefits, which involve balancing benefits and constraints; the ACT must determine its own agenda, reflecting our needs and not the needs of others; the costs of failing to reform are very high, particularly for the ACT; and reform is not imposed by government but evolves from a debate between government and the community.

MR STANHOPE (Leader of the Opposition) (4.09): I am pleased to participate in this debate today. I think recent events in Canberra, specifically the use of the ACT's commitment to national competition policy as the basis for overturning an important election promise, bring very much into focus the importance of national competition policy and its application to a whole range of circumstances that I think the community probably does not fully understand. To put the debate about national competition policy into some context, we need to look at the situation that we find ourselves in today, and the catalyst for this debate today is certainly the Government's decision to put the Belconnen pool development on hold. I think we need to look at some of the history of that.

The circumstances are quite public and quite clear. In the lead-up to the last election both the Liberal Party and the Labor Party made a commitment to the development of an aquatic centre in Belconnen. It was a development that was advocated by the then Minister for Sport and Recreation, who is continuing as the Minister responsible for sport. It was a position which was advocated by a section of his department - the Bureau of Sport, Recreation and Racing - on the basis of a couple of significant consultancies funded by the people of Canberra in relation to the need for aquatic facilities or swimming pools in Canberra. Both of those studies recommended the construction of a swimming pool in Belconnen.

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