Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 4 Hansard (25 June) . . Page.. 1031 ..
MR HARGREAVES (11.09): Mr Speaker, the Gas Pipelines Access Bill 1998 has much to recommend it. It shows a commitment on the part of all States and Territories to uniform legislation regarding the supply of gas to consumers. It has the potential to open up the market for consumers and hopefully result in lower gas prices, higher quality service, greater industry certainty in investment risks and yet another feather in the ACT's cap for compliance with the national competition policy. It provides for assistance to industry when assets are transferred because of the need for "ring fencing" to ensure the separation of related gas businesses, through the exemption from stamp duty.
It is because of these good news items that the Bill is supported. The Bill is not supported by the threat or implicit threat of sanction from the National Competition Council if the ACT does not comply by 30 June this year. To use this possible sanction as a reason to support any Bill is a sign of weakness on the part of the Government, a sign that the Government will use such a threat to cloud any issue, good or bad, and a sign that the Government is capable of being bullied by the Commonwealth into complying with competition policy.
It is a reality that most of the States and Territories have not complied in toto with the demands from the NCC and that the Commonwealth will be hard-pressed to apply the threatened sanctions, particularly at this time in its political career. This threat is a paper tiger and one which should be ignored. The validity of each issue ought to be the only reason for embracing competition policy. If it has no validity, it should be fought. The Government should not just cave in.
Further, Mr Speaker, the Government should not rush through legislation just because the Commonwealth says, "Get a move on". This Assembly has many new members and it is unreasonable to expect them to be instant legislators. Issues such as this are complicated ones. The Government is to be congratulated on the extent to which briefings have been provided, but also it should be chided for the shortness of time it allowed for passage of the legislation.
Mr Speaker, the Opposition has other concerns with this legislation and those concerns have been shared by the Justice and Community Safety Committee, sitting as a scrutiny of Bills and subordinate legislation committee. Those concerns centre around the abrogation of powers of this Assembly to other jurisdictions. Subclause 3(1) of the Bill refers to the gas pipeline access law. This subclause means that Schedule 1 of the Gas Pipelines Access (South Australia) Act 1997, as amended, will be the law of the Territory. This also means that, when changes are made to the South Australian Act, the changes are automatically adopted here. All that is required is the agreement of relevant Ministers from jurisdictions from time to time - with no reference to this Assembly.
Further, the national third party access code for natural gas pipeline systems is adopted in the same manner. It can be changed without reference to this Assembly. This concern was shared by the legal adviser to the scrutiny of Bills and subordinate legislation committee, sometimes masquerading as the Justice and Community Safety Committee, when he said: