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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 9 Hansard (23 August) . . Page.. 3254 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

Not only has there been no real justification made for why we should hand back this particular responsibility to the Commonwealth, there has been no attempt at justifying it seriously. It is a really bad idea. I just cannot imagine any argument that could be put to justify this change in approach. The Labor Party will oppose clause 4 and clause 5. We will oppose the removal of this responsibility from the ACT Fair Trading Office to the Commonwealth.

MR RUGENDYKE (12.02): I, too, have strong concerns about the government's desire to pass control for investigating unfair financial services practices to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. This will result in the supply, or possible supply, of financial services being exempt from the charter of the Office of Fair Trading.

It is outrageous that the government is prepared to abrogate responsibility for representing consumer complaints against unfair practices related to financial services products and services. These include debit and credit cards, loans, insurance, retirement savings accounts and superannuation.

I cannot understand why the government wants to flick pass this responsibility back to the Commonwealth. ACT residents are represented by self-government, and the community expects the government and the Assembly to look out for and protect its interests. But here we have legislation put up by the government to remove this role from the ACT statutes and dump local consumer protection issues on ASIC.

I am certainly not convinced that ASIC will be interested in nor have the resources to adequately serve the ACT public on top of its national regulatory obligations.

Mr Speaker, I wrote to ASIC on 26 July seeking answers to these questions and I am yet to receive a reply. So, clearly, the issue is unsettled and up in the air. The ACT government has indicated that it prepared the bill on this matter anticipating changes at a Commonwealth level. It could conflict with our laws.

I contend that we should do everything possible to preserve our interest and role in representing our community. How long will it take the Commonwealth to sort out what it is going to do with this issue? If this particular proposal is passed today the ACT will be left in limbo. I am not prepared to risk leaving the ACT unprotected or in limbo for any period of time. I do not have the confidence in financial institutions and insurance companies to water down the laws designed to protect consumers from unfair or unscrupulous conduct.

Mr Speaker, I have a proposal before the Assembly regarding credit card providers. If this was adopted the ACT would not be responsible for policing it in practice under the legislation proposed by government. The ACT could not enforce its own law. The government wants to wash its hands of the responsibility and leave it up to the Commonwealth. This is a nonsense.

Consumer advocacy has taken a battering with the removal of funding from CARE Credit and Debt Counselling Service, and now the government wants to take away further safeguards by downgrading the powers of the Office of Fair Trading. I will be opposing clauses 4 and 5.

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