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Friday, 30 June 1995
Page: 2819

Mr GEAR (Assistant Treasurer) (1.49 p.m.) —In response to what the member for Menzies (Mr Andrews) had to say about Hilmer's views on sections 45D and 45E of the Trade Practices Act, Hilmer did not say anything of the kind; in fact, he was silent on 45D and 45E. As far as his assertion that somehow we should have adopted the Hilmer report holus bolus, that is, make no changes, of course the government was never going to be in that position. Wide consultation with the community led to significant changes to the legislation which improved it.

  Listening to the responses after we had released the draft legislation and the inter-governmental agreements led to significant changes which streamlined the operation of the legislation but also gave it a much wider focus because, as I said in my second reading speech, we are not introducing competition for competition's sake; we are introducing competition where it is for the public benefit.

  The public benefit test is enshrined in the foreword to the legislation and also in the inter-governmental agreements. There is a wide area that has to be covered when this legislation and the principals that governments have signed up to actually introduce competition. We did not introduce the Hilmer report as it was presented to us, but it did form the basis of the final outcome and of the Competition Policy Reform Bill, which is before the House today.

  Another area where we did not agree with the outcome of the report was that the prime focus on competition should be on economic efficiency. We stayed with the public interest test. Another area where we deviated from the report was in pricing. If you read the Hilmer report and you have a look at the final outcome of this bill and the inter-governmental agreements that go with it, you will find that the government has moved a long way from the rather limited recommendations that were contained in the Hilmer report to the government.

  So it is absolutely wrong to think that, just because a report to a government favours certain things, the government should automatically adopt those things. They are just recommendations to the government. The opposition is always running around the country talking about sections 45D and 45E and labour market reform, as though this is part of the Hilmer package. It never was. It was not in the terms of reference, and the report that we received never referred to it because it was not in the terms of reference, and neither should it have been. It is an entirely different agenda.

  The other thing I would say about this package, and I stress this as often as I can, is that it is not about privatisation; this whole package is about competition. If you were to sell tomorrow any public monopoly in Australia so that it became a private monopoly, you have not increased competition. You have still got the one operator, a new one, but you would not have any more competition. So we have got in place procedures where governments choose to go down that path.

  We do not support the amendments moved by the opposition. The first one would mean that you could not reappoint anybody that had been appointed to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Why would you do something like that? If we have commissioners who are doing a good job, who have the expertise, why would you not leave them there? Why would you take that option out? Obviously, if they are not performing, or if there are different needs, or if you need to put somebody in there with a different view about competition policy, you are free to do it. It does not mean to say you have to keep them there, but we do not close off the option.

  As for sections 45D and 45E, which are the amendments moved by the opposition in relation to clause 12A of the bill, of course the government does not accept those. Those provisions are more properly addressed in the Industrial Relations Act. The government is not going to support these amendments moved by the opposition.

  Motion (by Mr Gear) agreed to:

  That the question be now put.

  Proposed new clauses negatived.

  Bill agreed to.