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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 3 Hansard (26 May) . . Page.. 586 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

The Competitive Neutrality Complaints Unit actually developed its own definition of public benefit. I think that is why this debate today is really important. It is because we - this Assembly and the people of Canberra - have no idea of the definition of public benefit that is actually being applied by the Competitive Neutrality Complaints Unit or this Government and that is then used to effect the application of national competition policies to the business of government.

The really worrying aspect of the situation that we find ourselves in is that we are actually being asked to believe, and the Competitive Neutrality Complaints Unit is actually telling us, that, on its definition of public benefit, the construction of a facility which the Bureau of Sport, Recreation and Racing determined would attract 600,000 visits a year by the people of Belconnen does not constitute or indicate a public benefit of any sort. The real problem with that sort of determination by the Competitive Neutrality Complaints Unit is that it actually indicates that the Government has taken to its bosom a definition of the public benefit which I do not think anybody else within this community accepts; and not only that, a definition which nobody else in this community has had an opportunity to challenge.

I think it is of concern when one actually looks at the Government's response to the report of the select committee inquiry into the Competition Policy Reform Bill and the great play which the Government at the time made about its commitment to community service obligations and how the Government would ensure that community service obligations were recognised and taken into account in the application of competition principles to business enterprises in Canberra. There is just one comment in the report that I would very much like to note for the amazingly prophetic nature of the comment in terms of some of the evidence that was given to the select committee at the time. There was a discussion about the obligation of the Government to deliver services and, in doing so, how it would determine the public interest. A comment that ACTCOSS made on that is included in the report of that select committee. It is just so prophetic, as we stand here today, in the context of this debate and the use of these principles to knock out a vital community facility delivering public benefit to the entire community, to read this comment. This was the comment of ACTCOSS two years ago:

Our fear is, and our experience would suggest this, that we may find that those decisions -

in relation to public benefit and public interest -

are being made internally within government without reference to the public. The public interest cannot by definition be determined by Government; we must be crystal clear about that. Government is not the only decider or arbitrator of the public interest and to take on that role, in many respects, would fly in the face of the competition principles agreement because they have explicitly indicated the range of interests that ought to be canvassed. I fail to see how they could canvass them but not communicate with the players who hold those interests.

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