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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 7 Hansard (20 June) . . Page.. 2221 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

advocates of free trade, that is, that the rules are not complied with by the most powerful countries when they do not suit their domestic agendas.

The federal government tries to reassure the community with claims that essential services will be excluded from GATS; in particular, it refers to the exclusion of services that are supplied "in the exercise of governmental authority"-article 1.3. However, there is a lack of exhaustive interpretative materials on what exactly this exclusion means, as well as a lack of decisions by trade panels on the meaning of the government authority exclusion.

The question of what this exclusion means has been well analysed by the British Colombia government's ministry of employment and investment. It concluded that the exclusion at first appears to broadly protect public service systems and the authority of member governments to regulate such systems. However, this exclusion for "services provided in the exercise of government authority" is defined very narrowly. As a result, GATS appears to bring many public service systems and their regulation within the sphere of the WTO authority. The problem is that in most countries "public services" are rarely delivered exclusively by government, and the article defines them as services which are supplied neither on a commercial basis nor in competition with one or more service providers.

We know that vital public services are delivered through a mixed system that is funded and regulated by governments at the federal, state and local level. Health, education and other social services consist of a complex and shifting mix of public, not for profit and private delivery. An effective exclusion for public services must therefore be broad enough to protect government's ability to deliver services through the mix it deems appropriate and to preserve its regulatory authority over all aspects of these mixed systems. This exclusion should be a priority issue for debate. It is also important to understand that GATS treats public and private service providers as "like"; similarly, GATS treats private non-profit and private for profit service providers and delivery identically. (Extension of time granted.) I cannot, at this point, go into the full analysis of GATS as provided by the British Colombia government, but I recommend that members read it. It shows what a responsible government can do in terms of providing a thoughtful assessment of an issue.

There is a standard position from the major parties that, even though there is some debate about whether services are best delivered publicly or privately, the decision-making authority over these issues should stay with their respective governments. There is a commitment still that essential health and education services should be publicly delivered and that the exclusion will protect them. This motion calls for the ACT government and the federal government to provide an analysis of how signing on to further liberalisation of services will impact on that position and to do some real work on the issue. They should have already done it, of course, but it appears that they are content just to assert what is basically an ideologically-driven position without supporting analysis, and often hurl abuse at anyone who challenges that position.

If GATS disciplines are applied to all public services, that could have serious implications for public services such as health, education and the ABC, because public funding will be seen as a subsidy and GATS will see subsidies as unfair competition or barriers to foreign providers. As the WTO secretariat has said, an obligation to give out

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