Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 4 Hansard (24 June) . . Page.. 913 ..
MR KAINE (4.40): I can only say that I totally support the position adopted by Mr Hargreaves on this matter. Only yesterday we amended the appropriate Act to protect the position of the Milk Authority through till the end of this year. It would be an absurdity then to allow people to act unlawfully, starting from 1 July or on any other day after it, and do nothing about it. I can only assume that when the Government amended the Act they meant what they said and that their intention was to protect the current position of the Milk Authority until a proper review of that authority is conducted and decisions made at the end of that time. Until such time as a decision is made by the Government after due consultation and made with or without the endorsement of the Assembly - it certainly is a Government decision that has to be made - the Government has a responsibility to enforce the law. I think that is all that Mr Hargreaves is saying in support of this motion.
I indicated yesterday in the debate that I had no sympathy for the proposition that the Milk Authority should be done away with. I do not think that there is any justification, or I have not been persuaded that there is any justification, under the guise of competition policy to do away with the Milk Authority. The Milk Authority can continue, provided we can satisfy the ACCC that there is public benefit. I do not think it could be argued that there is no public benefit. There has demonstrably been a clear public benefit arising from the operations of the ACT Milk Authority over decades. That public benefit has been reflected in such things as the provision of jobs locally and the provision of a guaranteed high-standard supply of dairy products to this Territory - much better than you would find in other parts of Australia. Those products are guaranteed to the ACT community at prices that have generally been better than one would expect to find anywhere else in Australia. If they are not clearly demonstrable public benefit, I do not know what constitutes demonstrable public benefit.
I have indicated that I will not support the arbitrary disestablishment of the Milk Authority. It is not good enough for the Government simply to argue that if we do not do that we place payments under the uniform competition policy law in jeopardy. As I said yesterday, if that is the case, then it needs to be tested. I do not think that we should simply abandon the arrangements that are in place, which are clearly to the benefit of this community, under threat, under duress, of the Commonwealth not making payments that are due to us. If the Commonwealth did undertake such a course of action, then the proper course of action for this Government to take would be to challenge it, to test it in a court of law to see whether they can legitimately force us to do away with an organisation and an arrangement which clearly bring public benefit.
I thoroughly support the motion put forward by Mr Osborne to set up an organisation, an independent body, to advise the Government on matters of competition policy, and I support the amendment, which originally was a separate motion from Mr Hargreaves, to ensure that the Government takes appropriate action should certain people, as they have indicated they intend to do, set about testing our law on 1 July. The Government has to have in place a strategy for a quick response to that, to establish quite clearly that our law is law and that we will not tolerate people coming from outside and deliberately setting about breaking that law, particularly when it is to the detriment of the public that they be allowed to do so.