|Title||TRADE PRACTICES AMENDMENT (INDUSTRY ACCESS CODES) BILL 1996
Senator KEMP (Assistant Treasurer)(10.50 a.m.) âThe Trade Practices Amendment (Industry Access Codes) Bill 1996 which is before the chamber aims to improve the operation of part IIIA of the Trade Practices Act, thereby facilitating reform of major infrastructure sectors of the economy by facilitating access to essential facilities such as electricity grids, thereby permitting competition in those sectors and providing very substantial benefits to consumers, businesses and the economy more generally.
The bill essentially aims to improve and streamline the process whereby the owners of so-called essential facilities undertake to allow other parties access to those facilities. The bill is particularly designed to promote the establishment of a national competitive electricity market. A 1995 report by the Industry Commission estimated that the annual benefits to Australia's gross domestic product of electricity and gas reform would be around $5.8 billion or approximately 25 per cent of the total benefits expected from the national competition policy reforms. I notice Senator Murray seems to doubt those figures. But, as he said, and I suppose we will not argue, time will tell. We think that that is a fair estimate based on the information which was available.
The government rejects the Greens' amendments to the bill. These amendments would transform the effective, appropriate and streamlined voluntary access mechanism into a process oriented, costly and time consuming ordeal for both access providers and seekers. The only certain outcome from such an approach would be a substantial delay in micro-economic reform, particularly in the establishment of a national competitive electricity sector.
The government will be moving two amendments to the bill in the committee stage. The government welcomes any support for the bill which I have detected in the chamber, although unfortunately there will be a number of amendments moved by the non-government parties which will not assist the bill. In fact, a number of these amendments, as I will outline, are flawed.
We welcome the Labor Party's support for the bill and the government's amendments to the bill. However, let me make it quite clear that the government will be opposing the Labor Party's amendments to the bill. I suspect this will be the subject of some debate in the committee stage. It has to be said that the amendments proposed by Senator Cook have nothing to do with the bill before the Senate. They are simply, in our view, a somewhat cynical attempt to criticise the government's petroleum industry reforms. The fact is, Senator Cook, that in your 13 years of office, the ALP did literally nothing to lower petrol prices to consumers.
Senator Cook âWe created a free market; what are you talking about?
Senator KEMP âWell, you only have to look at your petrol pricing and the serious need for reforms when we came into office, which you had refused to move on. Senator Murray, the government is progressing reforms to deliver lower petrol prices and, regrettably, the ALP seems determined to undermine this reform agenda, which I think is a great pity. We will debate this further in the committee stage but the reality is that the amendments proposed by the Labor Party are seriously flawed in terms of actually trying to achieve their own objectives.
That is part of the mischief which has been created, but an equal part is that these amendments were simply not made available. They were put in the chamber at the last moment. No-one had a chance to look at them. My office was seeking the Labor Party amendments last night so that we could have a look at them. They were thrust on the chamber. I have to say that, to accept on the face of them that, because of some weasel words from Senator Cook, these will solve all these problems, is just plain wrong.
I urge Senator Murray to think again. We are moving strongly on the issue of petrol prices. We have put down a clear policy. The Labor Party, desperate to recover some ground in regional areas from its failures over 13 years is attempting to undermine the government's reform. We have seen how the member for Werriwa (Mr Latham) ended up with egg on his face recently in relation to this issueâseriously on his face.
There is constant argument that we need to have more consultation about legislation which is brought forward. The reality is, and I put this before the chamber, that I do not think anyone can doubt that government ministers are making themselves and their officers available to properly brief non-government parties. Equally, the Labor Party comes in here and springs on these amendments. We could not get copies of them last night. Senator Murray, I certainly urge you to think again. If the Labor Party's bona fides in this area were serious, they would have put these amendments out so that there could have been a proper debate on and consideration of them. Senator Cook, it is a most unsatisfactory way to operate a serious bill. As a former government minister, I think you should have known better.
Anyway, this debate will proceed. As I indicated, in the committee stage the government will be moving its amendments which have been circulated to the chamber.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.