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Wednesday, 7 June 1995
Page: 934

Senator MARGETTS (10.03 a.m.) —I would have quoted from the report but I do not have a copy in front of me. As honourable senators will see when they look at the report, there is a qualifying statement at the end of it which I have written on behalf of the Greens (WA). As Senator Boswell has discussed, a number of serious concerns were brought up in the two days of hearings that I attended. They were not inconsequential concerns.

  Those concerns included statements from such groups as the Institute of Engineers. The institute had a concern, grounded in its experience of such things as the implications for the provision of electricity and water, in relation to the carry over of expertise and the possible loss of that experience with the transformation from government provision of utilities to private provision. Unfortunately, the government's response has tended to be that it is providing—as Senator Boswell suggested—a carrot and stick approach to privatisation and competition policy through the states. However, when the questions are asked the response is, `Ah, but that is up to the states'. I believe that is a cop-out.

  The Institution of Engineers said that, in its estimation, any major change of this nature should be planned very carefully, and the institute found it difficult to locate anywhere in the proposals the resources provided for this careful planning to be carried out. Either the Commonwealth is pushing the states to make these changes or it is not. If it is pushing them faster than they would otherwise be going, or if it is pushing them fast at this stage and pushing us quickly to make these changes, there is a responsibility there. The responsibility is to make sure that when we make these changes we are doing it fully cognisant of what the implications are.

  One of the questions that I asked during the hearings related to the experience of utilities in the United Kingdom. There has been a reasonable amount of discussion about this in the media at various times. We have had conflicting reports, political reports, about the implications of competition policy within the United Kingdom. Some people are saying, `There are serious ongoing problems,' and other people are saying, `No, we've got over this,' or, `They were only isolated pockets.'

  On questioning, the Institution of Engineers clearly said that there are serious ongoing problems and that they would be able to provide the committee with information on that. Unfortunately, that meant that we would have needed to wait at least two weeks to receive that information from the United Kingdom. But, no, we had to make the decision so quickly that we did not have the ability to look at that experience from other countries.

  Whatever you believe in relation to competition policy, I believe that it is not responsible for this parliament to be jumping in to actually legislate the changes until we have looked responsibly at what the implications are in those places that have made those kinds of changes. So, yes, we have heard some of the political debate about the implications in other countries, but it seems that it is not responsible unless we are prepared to look a little deeper.

  There were, as we have heard, deep concerns from local government, largely about being left out of the consultation process. I have heard that on a number of occasions on a number of issues, including further discussion on such things as benchmarking that will be dealing with specific issues which local government will not be asked to participate in. So I am deeply concerned at this stage. That is why, whilst I acknowledge that the committee report acknowledges some of the serious concerns and the need to address those concerns, I am deeply worried that the recommendation is, `Let's go on with it anyway,' with undue haste without first working out how those serious concerns will be met.