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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 5 Hansard (27 August) . . Page.. 1478 ..

Ministerial Statement - Reference to Standing Committee

MS CARNELL (Chief Minister and Treasurer): Mr Speaker, I seek leave of the Assembly to make a ministerial statement on the implementation of an independent council on competition policy.

Leave granted.

MS CARNELL: Thank you very much. Mr Speaker, on 24 June 1998 the Legislative Assembly passed a motion recommending that the Government bring forward in these August sittings a model for an independent council to monitor the implementation of competition policy in the ACT. The motion recognised that the current arrangements for the independent monitoring of competition policy have not met the Assembly's or the Government's expectations. In short, the Assembly was saying to the Government, "Have another look at the way competition policy is assessed in order to ensure that the interests of the broader community are paramount". There is, quite rightly, an expectation in this Assembly and in the community that reforms aimed at producing a more competitive, efficient economy should always be tested to ensure that the overall impact is positive.

This is not, nor has it ever been, reform for the sake of it. The benefits of changes that have occurred over the past decade in major industries such as telecommunications and electricity are very real. They include lower prices, more choice, better customer service and a broader range of products. There are also downsides to these changes, and that is why independent oversight is important. In the current budgetary climate the monitoring arrangements must also deliver a broad range of regulatory services at a cost that is efficient and consistent with a high level of effectiveness.

In addressing the Assembly's recommendation to establish an independent council, the Government has had to balance these and other difficult issues. It seems clear that such a body should have the following characteristics: First, independence from the direct influence of Government, Ministers or MLAs; secondly, capacity to receive references from the Government, MLAs, the administration and the community or to self-refer; thirdly, capacity to initiate inquiries in an appropriate form, including the capacity to undertake public inquiries where necessary; fourthly, accountability for the quality of the outputs delivered, including exposure to accountability mechanisms of the Assembly; fifthly, responsibility toward and awareness of the position of the Government on a range of issues; sixthly, linkages with regulatory and supervisory bodies nationally; seventhly, knowledge, skills and experience relevant to the functions being undertaken; eighthly, capacity to effectively consult across a broad spectrum of interests, including the Assembly, administration, professional bodies, social welfare and community groups; and lastly, the capacity to exercise judgment free of constraints or conflicts of interest.

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