Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 4 Hansard (23 June) . . Page.. 803 ..
MS TUCKER (10.50): I rise briefly to say that I am really pleased to see that the debate about competition policy is so strong at the moment. In 1995 the Greens instigated a select committee in this place to look at issues around competition policy. There was not a great deal of interest at that point because, as Mr Osborne pointed out, everyone was pretty well convinced by the rhetoric that we had no choice and that this would definitely enhance community benefit in Australia.
The consequences are now being seen as we see competition policy applied to matters that affect people in the ACT and as we see the illogical nature of some of the way that competition policy has been implemented. We are told, "Because of competition policy we have to deregulate milk. That will mean that the consumer will pay more for milk, but it is still a really good idea because it is in line with competition policy". There are questions that really need to be addressed by the Government. I am delighted to see everyone in this Assembly, apart from the Government, questioning how we implement competition policy, acknowledging that we do have a choice, and acknowledging that we have to test what the public interest is.
The issue of community service obligations also has to be brought into this discussion. That issue was a very high priority in the recommendations of our select committee, recommendations which basically have been ignored by the Government. That debate needs to occur at the same time.
MR SMYTH (Minister for Urban Services) (10.52), in reply: These amendments have not been made lightly. I thank all members for their support. I also thank members for raising their concerns here. National competition policy obviously affects us all across the nation, and it should not be taken lightly. I suspect that the entire milk industry, whether it be before the farm gate or after the farm gate, is something that competition policy could be applied to. It would be interesting to see what effect a truly deregulated entire milk market had on prices.
As I have already indicated, the Milk Authority currently engages in conduct which, come 21 July, will potentially be in breach of the Trade Practices Act. It is important that we protect the authority from such actions. The six-month extension to the authorisation will give the Government and the Assembly time to properly consider the outcome of the Milk Authority review. It is important that we all have time to look at the issues that are raised.
The issues relating to the Milk Authority have raised a significant amount of public interest. We will obviously be consulting widely with the community on the future of the milk regulation regime in Canberra. When I release that report later this week, I will be happy to engage in discussion. I am sure that we will have discussion in this place about process, about the suitability of the review and about the whole issue of national competition policy. As an Assembly, we can address those issues. I am certainly willing to discuss them with members. I thank members for their support for this Bill.