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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 1 Hansard (16 February) . . Page.. 103 ..

MR OSBORNE (continuing):

Mr Speaker, supporting the legislation takes a little bit of the pressure off my good friend. The extension from 1999 to 2000 is something that I do not have a problem with in principle. I would be interested to hear the Government's attitude to that, whether we are allowed to do that or whether that would place us at risk. Obviously, that is something we will have to listen to when Mr Hargreaves and Mr Smyth speak.

As I said, my office has consulted with the industry - with the employers and with the vendors - and there is some uncertainty about what this piece of legislation will actually do; but, on balance, I think that in the current climate we do need to go forward. I think that the future of the vendors, their viability, is better served by having this piece of legislation in place rather than just doing nothing. I will be supporting the legislation and will be listening to the amendments with interest, Mr Speaker.

MR STANHOPE (Leader of the Opposition) (11.03): Mr Speaker, in choosing to speak to the Bill today I had proposed to concentrate significantly on the process by which we got to this point, particularly in terms of the application of the national competition principles which Mr Osborne has referred to in his speech. Of course, Mr Speaker, as you are aware and I am sure all members are aware, there is a significant level of cynicism within the community about the benefits of the application of national competition principles. The agreement that governments have signed up to in relation to competition does apply a very serious test for governments and for communities. Our willingness to embrace the changes that it is suggested we should embrace as a result of our need to be more competitive do challenge local institutions and local ways of doing business and do present real challenges to the community.

The national competition structure has around it a whole range of arrangements. The national competition principles do not involve just the pointing of a gun at governments and at communities with a suggestion that there are some national competition rules writ in stone that must be obeyed absolutely. The national competition principles do allow for significant scope in determining whether their application is appropriate in given circumstances. Most significantly, of course, the national competition policy principles embrace the need for the application of a public interest test.

There are some very difficult questions to be asked in relation to public interest and its interpretation and governments throughout Australia, including the ACT, have established mechanisms to allow us to be advised on whether competition principles should apply to the regulation of particular industries. The process adopted in the ACT in relation to the milk industry and the potential application of competition principles to the milk industry involved commissioning by the Minister of a report from Ms Sheen - the Sheen report. As Ms Tucker said, whilst the Government has not implemented the Sheen report in its entirety, it has based its decisions and the policy it proposes to implement in relation to the milk industry in the ACT on the structure advanced principally by Ms Sheen.

That is what it has done. That is where we are at today and, in effect, that is what we are debating today. But there was a intermediate step - and a vital intermediate step - and that was an investigation on whether or not the Sheen report actually did appropriately or properly embrace the national competition principles, whether or not it did deal with all the aspects of national competition and its application that we as an Assembly or as a community should be aware of.

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