Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 4 Hansard (24 June) . . Page.. 928 ..
MR CORBELL (continuing):
This Government decided that significant government business enterprises were not enough, and that it was going to apply competition policy to the lot. It did not have to do it; but it did. That is why we are in the absurd position where competition policy is used to knock off the Belconnen pool. So, before Government members stand up and say, "Competition policy has nothing to do with us", they should think about their own activities in deciding to apply competition policy to every facet of government activity, even though they themselves knew that they did not have to do that.
Mr Speaker, obviously, the issue of milk is the central issue in the debate today. I challenge this Government to be proactive on this issue. We have seen a lot of bumbling. We have heard a lot of measly words from the Minister, such as, "Oh, gee; we will do our best". But, when it comes down to it, Mr Speaker, the Government has options. The Government can choose to be wholehearted in its defence of the milk industry in the ACT or not to be wholehearted in its defence of the milk industry in the ACT.
One option it has, Mr Speaker, is in relation to licences for people selling and distributing milk in the ACT. I challenge the Government to say that, in the public interest, it will not issue licences to Davids Holdings or National Foods. That is a very simple challenge. If they are serious about protecting the interests of vendors, if they are serious about protecting the interests of the Canberra community when it comes to the supply of milk in the Territory, they can make a decision not to allow the authority to provide a licence to National Foods or Davids Holdings. Mr Speaker, I have a concern that, when this Assembly next sits, in two months' time, the Minister will rise to his feet and will say, "They applied for a licence, and we had to give it to them". That is the sort of measly approach from this Government that we are concerned about. That really comes down to the fundamental issue: Are they wholeheartedly going to defend the interests of vendors and consumers when it comes to the supply of milk in the Territory, or are they not?
Mr Speaker, some other points have been raised in this debate. The next one that I am concerned about is the issue of independent policy and the independent review that the Government claims is being undertaken by an officer in, I understand, the Chief Minister's Department. Mr Speaker, the officer is a person of high repute, who obviously has strong qualifications in the area of competition policy. But, as we have been told time and again in this place, it is not the Public Service that makes policy; it is the Executive. But who is responsible for the activities of public servants? It is the Executive. So, how can we have 100 per cent confidence that the report that comes to the Executive from a public servant is independent?
Ms Carnell: Because they are professional people.
MR CORBELL: Mr Speaker, it would appear that the Chief Minister does not understand the fundamental principle of responsible government and how public servants relate to their Ministers. Whether or not the officer is acting in good faith - and I have no doubt that the officer will act in good faith - this parliament must be assured that it is a properly independent process. You cannot suggest that it is, when the public servant who is writing the report reports to the Minister. Are they seriously suggesting that the public servant will provide advice which is contrary to Government policy? I doubt it, Mr Speaker, and I think that members on the crossbenches feel the same way.