Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 4 Hansard (24 June) . . Page.. 925 ..
MS TUCKER (5.21): Mr Speaker, I rise to support this motion. I wish that there had been more interest in competition policy when it was being formulated and first implemented in the ACT. In 1995, I raised many of the same concerns that are being raised in debates this year, now that the full implications of competition policy are coming to light. It is becoming more and more obvious that employment, social and environmental considerations can become secondary to a narrow definition of economic efficiency. When the Greens established a select committee in 1995, the concerns that were raised by that committee were paid little attention. One outcome of that inquiry, though, was through the motion that I successfully put later in the house to have the Competition Policy Forum established. Obviously, there has been discussion on this subject. Mr Osborne said that, in fact, his motion was referring to the drafting instructions that we had given to the Parliamentary Counsel to develop this body. Basically, our idea was that it would be a competition policy forum, but beefed up, if you like, and given greater powers and responsibilities. I will speak about this in more detail when we address the amendments put by Mrs Carnell and Mr Kaine. I acknowledge, as Mrs Carnell did, that there are a number of quite complicated issues to be addressed.
Given the importance of this issue to the community and given, I believe, the disrespect being shown by the Government to the work of the forum, I believe that it does need to be given greater power and that we do need this kind of body. The functions of the council, as we envisaged it, would be to monitor, review and make recommendations to the Assembly on the implementation of national competition policy principles and agreements, including legislation review, structural reform of government monopolies, public benefit assessments, application of competitive neutrality principles, community service obligations, and competitive tendering and outsourcing. I am by no means wedded to a particular model. My objective was to give this council independence, broad membership and an ability to report directly to the Assembly.
Mr Speaker, while the horse has bolted, in terms of the ACT being locked into competition policy, we do have a choice about how we implement it. We also have a choice to challenge the basic assumptions of that policy. On two occasions now, Mr Osborne has quoted a Federal report - I do not know that I have actually heard the Government respond to it - where it was shown that there is a lot more discretion available than we have been led to believe in how it is implemented. If these reforms really are about social benefit, then let us challenge the reformers to ensure that this happens. That means that local industry, local jobs, the environment, social welfare programs and anything else that is under the eye of the economic "irrationalists" must be defended, in the public interest. I do not have faith in the Government ensuring that adequate processes are in place to ensure that this happens and to challenge reforms that are clearly not in the public interest.
Something else that makes me concerned is that the advocates of efficiency, accountability and transparency do not always live up to their own rhetoric. There are countless examples of open tendering processes being shafted, independent reviews not being in place and completely untransparent processes being adopted. This just reinforces my view that so many of these reforms are completely ideologically driven and have very little to do with efficiency or effectiveness. We never see any cost-benefit analysis of the effectiveness of the reforms; we are just told that they will benefit the community.