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Friday, 30 June 1995
Page: 2810

Mrs CROSIO (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Security) (1.15 p.m.) —Never before in parliament have I heard so much rhetoric and so much ill-conceived discussion of a bill before the House. Time and time again, when members of the opposition have not read a bill, do not want to debate a bill, or are not concerned about a bill or its consequences, they have put forward these types of spurious amendments and put on performances like the one we have just witnessed.

  As I listened to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Costello), it went through my mind that the leadership battle in the Liberal Party of Australia must be on again. The coalition is not floating policies and, if an opposition cannot float policies, it keeps its backbenchers in the dark and treats them like mushrooms. If the Leader of the Opposition then feels that he is facing a leadership challenge, he says to his backbenchers, `Don't worry about it boys and girls, there's an early election coming.' The performance from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is obviously part of that debate.

  I bring to the notice of the people present today—particularly the people in the gallery and the people who are watching this debate on television or listening to it on the radio—what the bill before the House is all about. The Competition Policy Reform Bill 1995 was drafted in response to the Hilmer report. This bill has been circulating for 10 months, and public input on it has been sought and received. This bill marks the beginning of the removal of monopolistic markets through regulation.

  The Competition Policy Reform Bill will mean that prices will no longer be set according to the dividend that a state or a territory government needs to receive from a monopoly enterprise to pay for the services it provides to the community, or according to how much it needs to service its debts or to balance its budget. This bill will put in place the Industry Commission report on national competition policy. Full implementation of this bill and the policy behind it will put the equivalent of $1,500 per annum into the pockets of every Australian family.

  The opposition does not want to debate this bill because it knows it is a good news bill. The opposition does not want to debate this bill because it knows that this bill will create 30,000 jobs and increase real wages by three per cent. The opposition does not want to debate this bill and its ramifications because it knows that it will add $23 billion—or 5.5 per cent—per annum to the gross domestic product. The opposition does not want to debate this bill because it cannot. It is too ashamed to praise the government for what it has achieved.

  The federal Labor government has introduced competition into areas where there was a monopoly. This government has introduced competition into the telecommunications industry. It has created a level playing field between the two telecommunications carriers by legislating to give Optus access to Telecom's infrastructure. Consumers have felt the benefits of competition through substantially reduced prices and a better range of services.

  This government has introduced competition into certain aspects of the operation of Australia Post. The voters of this country who use post offices will be aware of how much more efficient and how much more customer oriented Australia Post has become. The government has also legislated, through this and other bills, to allow competition in the airline industry. Anyone who opens a newspaper today will see how consumers have been the beneficiaries of greatly reduced airfare prices.

  This bill is concerned with all facets of government policy which influence competitive economic behaviour. (Quorum formed) I am sure that members who have just come into the chamber have been listening to my speech through the other avenues available to them. I was saying that never in the five years that I have been in this parliament have I heard such a speech as the one just given by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in his run-up for leadership.

  Obviously, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) is perturbed and worried. He sat there listening, trying to keep the knives out of his back. Then the honourable member for Canberra (Mr Smyth) called for a quorum because he did not want to hear the debate. The honourable member did not want to hear the truth about the Competition Policy Reform Bill. He did not want this bill debated in the parliament because this bill is about what the people of Australia want. The people of Australia know that they are going to benefit from this bill because this bill is about freedom from the monopolies that have existed.

  Before I was so rudely interrupted, I was talking about what the Labor government has done for telecommunications and for Australia Post. I talked about where the government is going with competition policy and how competition policy is concerned with all facets of government policy. The most important aspect of this bill is the national approach that the government has taken. That is shown in the increasing integration of economic activity across all states and territories.

  The importance of internal borders has continued to decrease. The importance of international borders has also diminished as tariffs and other barriers to free trade with other countries have been dropped through the forums that the government has created, such as APEC. National competition policy provides a framework of laws, principles and processes, as well as two key institutions—the National Competition Council and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

  The bill before the House—which the coalition refuses to debate because it has no concept of what it is about—has, in the 18 months since that Hilmer report was released and in the 10 months since the draft legislation was made available for comment, been the subject of extensive consultation. The government has had extensive discussions with various concerned groups.

  I will address the concerns of a number of those groups. The state governments fear a loss of revenue from areas where they have been monopoly service providers. The ACTU is concerned about the loss of jobs and conditions and the reduction in the role of the public sector, which was of prime concern to it, and the public sector's ability to continue to meet community service obligations once it is subject to competitive pressures. Related concerns are about such public interest issues as whether the environment and equity will be ignored in the new competitive marketplace if efficiency is narrowed to economic items.

  I believe that the government has addressed all the concerns about the bill which is now before the House. At the COAG meeting in April 1995, the states and territories reached agreement with the Commonwealth on all outstanding issues. The Industry Commission report found that the states and territories will not lose revenue when competition is introduced. In fact, it estimated that the states and territories will have a windfall gain of some $3 billion. That is an addition, because the Commonwealth will also experience those gains. The states and territories have until June 1996 to provide a detailed program so that they can share the pool of money that will be available to them.

  On the ACTU's concern about potential loss of conditions and jobs if government enterprises are opened up to competition, it needs to be recognised that, through productivity bargaining over the last 10 years, the government has been instrumental in downsizing some areas of the public sector. There has also been increased efficiency within the public sector. There is no reason to expect major job losses in areas where efficiencies have already been made.

  The federal government recognises that while micro-economic reform benefits the society as a whole the adjustment costs may fall disproportionately on some groups of workers. That is why we have developed our white paper initiatives, such as our labour market programs, including training and retraining, to assist those few who may be adversely affected.

  The wages and the conditions of our workers in areas opened up to competition through corporatisation or even privatisation are already protected, and they are protected through transmission of business provisions in section 149 of the Industrial Relations Act, which the honourable member for Higgins wanted to decry in this parliament. If there is any doubt about transmission, the government can take other steps, such as including provisions to protect our workers in the sale contracts. In the case of corporatisation, there is a charge on the employer, so existing awards and agreements continue to apply. The government does not see this exercise as a way to reduce wages and conditions but as a way to achieve an economy based on high productivity and high wages.

  We have only a limited time on the bill. There is so much more I would like to say. It is one of the finest pieces of legislation ever introduced in this House. It has taken a lot of consultation. I commend the minister on introducing the bill, a bill that needs to be adequately debated, not treated with disrespect by the coalition, which has abused its role as a so-called alternative government. I commend this bill to the House.

  Motion (by Mr Leo McLeay) put:

  That the question be now put.

Mrs Bishop —Mr Deputy Speaker, I know one cannot speak to such a motion but, on indulgence, I think you, Mr Deputy Speaker, have a problem.

Mr Leo McLeay —It has to be put without debate.

Mrs Bishop —We have to determine precisely what question it is that has to be put.

  Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Vaile)—The question will be that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question. The member for Watson has moved the closure of the debate. The question is that the question be now put.