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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 6368

Senator BRANDIS (2:06 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer, Senator Coonan. Will the minister advise the Senate of recent developments in ACCC appointment processes?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —I thank Senator Brandis for his question and his ongoing interest in the ACCC as a professional barrister and as a senator. It is extremely disappointing that a majority of states and territories have failed to support the Commonwealth's nomination of Mr Graeme Samuel as Deputy Chair of the ACCC. Currently the Chair of the National Competition Council, Mr Samuel is a highly intelligent and competent person with extensive credentials in understanding and implementing competition policy. As the Australian Financial Review reported this morning—quite rightly—lawyers with experience in both business and competition policy who are willing to work in the public sector do not grow on trees. It is a small pool, and it is going to become smaller if every nominee is treated in the same way as Mr Samuel. He has previously been supported by states and territories, including those with Labor governments, in his work at the National Competition Council.

While Mr Samuel's nomination received strong support from some states, there has not been sufficient endorsement for his nomination to proceed, very sadly. The Treasurer has made it quite clear that some of the comments by state governments about the adequacy of the nomination are simply wrong. The process that was followed for this nomination was the same process that has been followed in every appointment in the ACCC since its inception in 1995. It is a process required by the conduct code agreement between the Commonwealth and the states and requires the Commonwealth to invite nominations from the states. The Treasurer wrote to the states and territories not once, as required, but twice—on 31 May 2000 and 5 September 2000—inviting nominations for a number of ACCC positions, including that of the deputy chair. Only one nomination was received in response, and that came from former Chief Minister Carnell of the ACT. She nominated Mr Allan Asher, the incumbent deputy chair, who was not available for reappointment. Five months after the Treasurer's second letter, the Acting Premier of New South Wales, Mr Andrew Refshauge, wrote suggesting a person for the deputy chairman's position. The Treasurer noted that in his recent discussions with Premier Carr he had indicated that he did not wish for that nomination to proceed. After considering possible candidates, the Treasurer then wrote to the states and territories again nominating a candidate: Mr Samuel. The states have had the opportunity to indicate their views. It is absolutely false to suggest that proper consultation processes have not been followed. Indeed, the consultation process that was followed for the nomination of Mr Ed Willett for an ACCC commissioner position followed exactly the same process as that of Mr Samuel for deputy chair. Yet it is only Mr Samuel's nomination that is being opposed.

What could possibly be driving the rejection of Mr Samuel? The real reason the states said no to Mr Samuel, of course, comes down to it being widely reported that New South Wales was behind the push to reject his nomination. What factor could be so powerful and consuming that it could make a Labor premier or treasurer reject a person they knew to be a talented, capable and qualified candidate? At a meeting on 24 October at the Trades Hall Auditorium in Goulburn Street, Sydney, there was a meeting, and minutes recorded that `the President, Comrade Sandra Moait' was in the chair. It was a meeting of the New South Wales Labor Council, and it called on the Premier of New South Wales to oppose the appointment of Graeme Samuel as ACCC deputy chairman. Guess what? That is where it came from. Surprise, surprise! It was pursued, and within two weeks the comrades of the New South Wales Labor Council had directed Premier Carr not to endorse Graeme Samuel, and that is how it happened. (Time expired)