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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 1 Hansard (19 February) . . Page.. 165 ..


MRS BURKE: Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question is to the minister for fair trading, Mr Stanhope. Mr Stanhope, what procedures has the Office of Fair Trading adopted to ensure that unscrupulous operators are not taking advantage of people and organisations affected by the recent bushfires, with regard to temporary accommodation, rent and services, including insurance?

MR STANHOPE: Thank you, Mrs Burke. This is a very important question. This issue was raised last night at a community meeting of Chapman residents. It concerned price fixing or alleged price fixing. There were some emerging concerns, particularly in relation to the availability of tradespeople, as much as anything else. I think the concerns that were expressed at Chapman last night, to which Alan Thompson responded-representing the task force at that meeting-were more about potentially exploitative or unconscionable activity or conduct by local traders.

The bushfire recovery task force has, as a result of these emerging concerns, contacted the ACCC to seek its advice, in the first instance, and any assistance that it can provide with these issues. The ACCC has advised that its jurisdiction would cover collusion, price sharing, market rigging and deliberate withholding of material. If anything of this nature comes to the attention of the bushfire recovery task force, then now it will be referred immediately to the ACCC and the ACCC stands ready to assist us in this regard.

The bushfire recovery task force is also working with Rawlinsons, a company that specialises in producing reports on building costs, to provide a public monthly report on the movement of building costs in the ACT. The bushfire recovery task force is determined to monitor and audit all movements in building costs, so that residents who are seeking to rebuild their homes will have some idea of whether there is an escalation in costs. Through that process, of course, we will be able to highlight any potential or emerging shortages of tradespeople in any particular area. We will continue to communicate regularly with all residents in relation to that matter.

The bushfire recovery task force is also working closely with the Construction Industry Training Council, the MBA and the HIA to increase the number of qualified tradespeople working in the ACT building industry, and to ensure that building materials from national suppliers are available in sufficient quantity to meet the local industry's demand. Of course, these processes are aimed at keeping the supply and demand in balance and minimising the impact on prices. We are also looking at mechanisms for dealing with complaints. We will probably develop a complaints hotline. That is one idea currently being examined.

You asked specifically about the Office of Fair Trading. The issue that was raised at Chapman last night was specifically in relation to hourly rates being charged by bricklayers. That was the particular point of concern. That is an issue that is not necessarily within the responsibilities of the Office of Fair Trading. That is why we are pursuing some of these other mechanisms.

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