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Monday, 9 December 2002
Page: 7468

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (5:02 PM) —I will put it on the record that the Democrat amendment presumes that appointments to the ACCC are supposed to represent particular sectional interests. Such an assumption is incorrect and misunderstands the legislation and the role of the commission, which is to administer and enforce the legislation in the interests of all Australians, not in the interests of particular groups.

It is redundant to amend the bill to provide for merit as a requirement for appointment to the ACCC. The nine elected governments in Australia involved in the process of ACCC appointments will of course ensure that any ACCC appointment is meritorious. I am not aware, for example, of anyone criticising the ACCC on those grounds, let alone identifying any particular appointee that they would regard—

Senator Cherry —You mustn't have read many papers lately.

Senator ALSTON —Concerning the ACCC? I profess ignorance. If there has been someone appointed to the ACCC whose process of appointment you say has been criticised then I would be interested to know who that might be. I hope it is not Professor Fels. What might happen in the future is an entirely different matter, but I am not aware of anyone having been appointed on that basis.

Appointments to the ACCC are already subject to a high level of scrutiny under the existing requirements of the Trade Practices Act and the 1995 intergovernmental Conduct Code Agreement. Nominees for appointment to the ACCC are subject to a cabinet selection process to ensure that only suitable and qualified persons are put forward. A nominee for appointment must have knowledge of or experience in industry, commerce, economics, law, public administration or consumer protection. Each nominee must then be supported by a majority of state and territory governments. The amendment is therefore unnecessary because there are already in place perfectly adequate mechanisms to ensure scrutiny of ACCC appointments by nine elected and fully accountable bodies.