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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 3 Hansard (26 May) . . Page.. 592 ..

MS CARNELL (continuing):

The pool is to be subjected in the next financial year to a final assessment process, which will allow the Government to determine whether the community as a whole will benefit from a pool built in Belconnen. The Minister has already drawn attention to the view of the president of the National Competition Council about what the public benefit means in these circumstances. The Government agrees with his view and will not be browbeaten into dancing to the tune of a few loud voices pursuing their own private interests at the community's expense.

At the moment the pool is in the final part of the process which will determine whether the Government will invest in that infrastructure proposal or, for that matter, in others. It needs to represent a higher value asset and be in the greater good of the community. Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker, the bottom line here for the Canberra community is to ensure that we know exactly what the Belconnen pool is going to cost, what the cost of running it will be, what the entrance costs would be if they were not subsidised, and then what sorts of community service obligations would be provided. That is all information that I would have thought this Assembly would need to have. Once that full financial study is done, a community benefit analysis can be run; but, for the life of me, I do not know how those opposite think we can do that without that information.

I turn briefly to the second issue, that is, the role of the Competition Policy Forum. The forum was established in response to a motion of the Legislative Assembly in 1996. The terms of reference provided by the motion were large in intent but fell short on practical application. As I understand it, the forum has met increasingly infrequently and has produced no body of advice to the Minister, or anybody, about any substantive matters, has been unable to attract a quorum for a couple of the proposed meetings, and has specifically requested to manage its own agenda without either the assistance or the support of public servants. This is not, in my view, a vision for a productive, engaged body acting in the community interest. The forum seems to have lacked an understanding of its potential to contribute to the reform process, the resources with which it might have sought to contribute, the processes to facilitate contribution and the processes from which it should be justifiably excluded.

The operation of the complaints unit is one such area. There should be no intermediary between the Chief Minister and the independent adviser on complaints. The recommendations do not bind the Government, which may decide on an alternative approach, subject to some principles of public accountability. The forum has an opportunity to consider issues arising from the Minister's decision after it has been made, in the same way as the Assembly could. Remember that the forum is not a watchdog, but a forum in which community views and concerns may be brought together with reform plans and policies by advocates with experience and sound judgment. I believe that the forum can be very useful; but, first and foremost, it should take some input from public servants, it should be willing to be part of a process, and it should and, hopefully, will be willing in the future to give government advice on such important things as the public interest with regard to such processes as the Belconnen pool.

MR TEMPORARY DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The discussion of the matter of public importance is concluded.

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