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Thursday, 25 November 2010
Page: 2315

Senator BIRMINGHAM (9:27 PM) —The opposition will not be supporting these amendments of the Australian Greens. We have argued strongly in this place thus far during the course of this debate for there to be decent oversight, for there to be the maintenance of, ideally, the existing provisions and powers of the ACCC and for there to be strong accountability for the minister. We see these, frankly, as token measures, well intentioned though they may be, I am sure—because I know Senator Ludlam is always well intentioned. I have great respect for Senator Ludlam’s intentions, but frankly these two amendments require the minister to get some advice. That is all. They do not require the minister to heed that advice in any way whatsoever. And, as we know, there is far from the necessary oversight in this chamber to ensure that the minister is heeding advice that is given, is acting in the national interest, is acting in consumers’ interests and is acting in the interests of competition.

While Senator Ludlam and the Greens come here with good intentions in moving these amendments, I regret to say that we do not think they will make one iota of difference to the way the processes operate and to what is actually going to happen. We would have far preferred that the Greens or the other crossbenchers recognise that, if you want to hold the government to account, to ensure that the minister is promoting the long-term interests of end users, to ensure that the minister is promoting real competition and to ensure that the minister is not ticking off on some type of sweetheart deal, you should put all of the deal through the usual paces of the ACCC’s scrutiny. You should put all of the deal through the usual operations of the Competition and Consumer Act.

These amendments—which just tell the minister to get some advice—sound great, but making them would be a little bit like changing the objects. In some ways I am reluctant to mention that, because I know it will bring back to Senator Ludlam memories of the debate we had about amendments (1) and (2) to change the objects. I am not suggesting that we should repeat that debate, Senator Ludlam—I am certainly not suggesting that—but these amendments, whilst they require the minister to talk to somebody and whilst they make some work for public servants, do not require the minister to heed any advice or to do anything meaningful to be any more accountable to this parliament or anybody else in his decision making, and that is why the coalition will not be supporting them.