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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 10 Hansard (26 November) . . Page.. 3084 ..

MS CARNELL (continuing):

The Government intends establishing a single regulatory body to improve the capacity to develop a clear and consistent approach to disclosure and licensing arrangements. The new regulatory body will be established by expanding the capacity and functions of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Commission. Regulation which is effective in setting and maintaining service standards and monitoring investment levels will ensure that consumers receive a fair deal on quality, as well as price.

Service standards will be established for regulated utilities. Standards will be set at least to current levels and there will be incentives to improve, over time, services according to best practice. The ACT Government and Legislative Assembly will continue to be responsible for determining the standards and the conditions with which licensed utilities will be required to comply.

The reforms will put in place a clearly defined consumer protection framework within which businesses must operate. This framework features, among other things, standard customer contracts and an independent consumer council. The council's primary aim will be to resolve problems through conciliation, although the council will have the authority to make binding decisions. The council will be formed by building on the existing role of the Essential Services Review Committee.

Regulatory procedures need to be fair, they need to be clearly understood and they need to allow all those affected by the final outcome to be involved in the process. Regulators can only protect customers if the real interests of consumers are properly understood. Consumers are best placed to communicate these. The council will provide consumers with an avenue to express their interests.

Price concessions, including pensioner concessions, will continue to be funded by government as community service obligations. The delivery of community service obligations will be entrenched in the new framework and any or all licensed utilities will be required to deliver community service obligations.

The regulatory framework will also incorporate the current health, environmental and water resources legislation. Public health, safety and environmental standards will continue to be regulated by the Department of Health and Community Care and the Department of Urban Services.

We want to work in partnership with industry, regulators and the general community to create a regulatory regime which ensures that services are available to all consumers on fair terms. I am therefore tabling this statement of regulatory intent to enable members of the public to consider, and provide input into, the proposed regulatory reforms. The Government intends developing legislation for introduction and debate in the Assembly in the autumn sittings next year.

We will be guided by the Government's consultation protocol in ensuring that this statement is subject to the broadest possible range of views and input. As an example of this, the statement has now been posted on the ACT Government's web site to enable Canberrans to access its contents quickly and conveniently. As well, the Government has agreed to second an officer from the ACT Public Service to work with the community sector peak body ACTCOSS in the development of the framework.

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