Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 3 Hansard (26 May) . . Page.. 590 ..
MR OSBORNE (continuing):
competition policy stretches from cow to carton. New South Wales has found an element of its industry which it believes is important enough to defend, and it will argue public benefit to do so. What we are saying is that there are elements of our milk industry worth defending, too, and maybe the Government would like to put up a bit of a fight to save it, or at least pretend to.
Finally, I would like to return briefly to the Trade Practices Act, as the wording of the public benefit test shines a light on the minds of the competition policy wonks. I am glad that is spelt with an "o", not an "a", Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker. Remember that the Act said that an exemption may be made where "the conduct will result, or is likely to result, in a benefit to the public" and "that public benefit outweighs, or will outweigh, the detriment to the public constituted by any lessening of competition".
There is an assumption there, Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker. That is not surprising because economics is based on assumptions about how humans will behave and is therefore fatally flawed, because people do not follow any regular set of rules. One of the wonders of our age is how often economists are allowed to be wrong and still be considered wise. Certainly, I have some concerns about competition policy, as I watch the clock wind down, and I will be following the actions of the Government, and also the Labor Party, in the next few months to see how they handle this very important issue.
MS CARNELL (Chief Minister and Treasurer) (4.30): Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker, I think it is important to start by quoting from an interview between Mr Samuel and Cathy Van Extel yesterday. Cathy Van Extel said:
Do you think that some governments are using competition policy to justify unpalatable decisions? Is there that flexibility there?
Mr Samuel said:
No, I don't think they are ... I think what's happening is that there are decisions that governments have to make under these arrangements that are causing some pain to those groups that have been protected from competition.
I think that is a pretty fair statement.
Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker, the Minister for Urban Services, Mr Smyth, addressed the general framework in respect of the application of competition policy in the ACT; so I will turn to several of the issues that appear to be exercising the minds of some members at the moment. There has been a lot of talk in the media about our decision to shelve - and I put that advisedly - the proposed Belconnen pool project and the operation of the Competition Policy Forum. The reports in the Canberra Times, one might say, were a little bit disingenuous, in that the language used to report decisions about the pool falsely created an aura of confusion amongst members of the Government on this issue. That is certainly not the case, Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker.