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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 4 Hansard (25 June) . . Page.. 1038 ..

MR HIRD (continuing):

Mr Speaker, the proposal to harmonise regulations which affect the installation and servicing industries that work in the cross-border region is a commonsense step towards making the smaller gas businesses more effective and competitive - in other words, a positive move for the region. These lesser known changes have been undertaken as a precursor to large-scale market competition and are already passing on benefits to small business. On a wider scale, Mr Speaker, competition in the retail sector will see other energy businesses establishing themselves, or at least offices, in the Territory, and that also should be encouraged. I support the package of gas reform Bills and I commend the Minister for bringing them forward.

MR OSBORNE (11.39): Mr Speaker, I foreshadow an amendment, which I will move at the detail stage. I will be supporting this legislation. I always get nervous whenever I see pieces of legislation coming from COAG. I get especially nervous when the first thing that people want to do is try to play silly games with our Independent Pricing Commissioner. I recall the interesting debate we had on the corporatisation of ACTEW, when I established the office of Pricing Commissioner, and how interested I was that the Government had not done that in the legislation. I think most people in this place will acknowledge that the Independent Pricing Commissioner, Mr Baxter, has done a tremendous job. It is regrettable that the Government is attempting to block him out because, as I have said, I have tremendous faith in the job that he has done. What my amendment does, Mr Speaker, is ensure that that does not happen. I will move the amendment at the detail stage.

MR SMYTH (Minister for Urban Services) (11.41), in reply: Mr Speaker, before I conclude the debate, I present page 2 of the explanatory memorandum for the Gas Supply Bill 1998, which was unfortunately left out of the explanatory memorandum. Mr Speaker, on 28 May, the gas reform legislation was presented to the Legislative Assembly. This package includes the Gas Pipelines Access Bill 1998 and the Gas Supply Bill 1998. One of the key features of reforming the gas industry in the ACT is that there is only one industry provider and that the incumbent monopoly provider is AGL. At this stage, AGL is already preparing for competition in the gas market and has announced through various media that, from 1 July 1998, it will be a player in the contestable electricity market, as a combined energy provider.

Mr Speaker, members of the Legislative Assembly will agree that competition in the ACT gas market is principally a matter of exposing AGL to competition from businesses such as ACTEW Corporation, Great Southern Energy, Boral and other players. The timetable for the introduction of reform in the contestable contract sector is 1 July 1998. Contract customers are those whose annual usage exceeds 10 terajoules of gas and who can negotiate their own contract price for gas. The Canberra Hospital is, for example, a contract customer. The next stage will be full competition in the tariff sector, for those smaller customers in the commercial and industrial sector, and those in the residential sector - the mums and dads - who pay a tariff or preset price for gas, based on a regulated pricing formula. The timetable proposed in the ACT will match the timetable for our cross-border neighbours in the Queanbeyan and Yarrowlumla local government areas.

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