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Commonwealth Government releases National Competition package: legislation introduced in Senate



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ASSISTANT TREASURER

PRESS RELEASE NO.

COMMONWEALTH GOVERNMENT RELEASES NATIONAL COMPETITION PACKAGE

LEGISLATION INTRODUCED IN SENATE

The Competition Policy Reform Package was introduced into the Commonwealth Parliament today.

"The package provides a historic boost to the Government's micro-reform agenda," said Assistant Treasurer George Gear.

"For the first time, Australian firms and consumers will have the same rights in the marketplace, no matter where they work or live. Overseas investors will have greater certainty in the business rules that apply. A new access regime for essential facilities will make the most productive use of facilities such as gas pipelines and electricity grids. Business input costs will be lowered as all States embark on the reform of their water, electricity and gas authorities, and of rail and ports. As anti-competitive regulations are thrown out, legal service costs and household bills will drop."

This national competition package has been developed by the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments in response to the 1993 Hilmer Report, which recommended a national competition and legal framework to boost Australia's economic performance. _

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"This package gives Australia one of the most sophisticated competition policies in the world," Mr Gear said. "It balances economic efficiency and the public interest. By promoting competition across the economy, it will help dismantle barriers to competition erected by Governments and the private sector since Federation."

The package consists of two parts:

• The Competition Policy Reform Bill, which extends the Trade Practices Act to all business conduct in Australia. The Bill establishes two new national competition bodies, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (the merger of the Trades Practices Commission and the Prices Surveillance Authority) and the National Competition Council. It also establishes new access and pricing arrangements.

• Two Inter-governmental Agreements, tabled in Parliament, setting out procedures and principles on structural reform of public monopolies, legislation review, competitive neutrality, prices oversight and access to essential facilities, and appointments to the new national competition bodies.

I must point out that these reforms do not encourage privatisation," Mr Gear said. "This is spelled out in the Agreements. It is entirely possible and very often appropriate to pursue greater competition while retaining public ownership. We have demonstrated this in telecommunications, where competition has led to much lower prices, but Telstra has remained the property of the public."

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The reform package has been introduced into the Parliament now so that it can be debated and passed in the Budget Sittings. The Government is committed to having the first stage of the reforms commence operation from July 1995.

The Council of Australian Governments will consider this package at its April meeting. The Commonwealth expects that all Governments will sign up, so that implementation of competition policy is on a truly national and co-operative basis. If not, the Commonwealth will proceed on its

own to implement the reforms.

This package released today was finalised after more than six months of consultation with the States, businesses, consumers, unions and the wider community. This intensive process was very valuable. The Government has modified the original package to make the new processes simpler and more flexible. We have also underlined in the Bill and the Agreements the central thrust of the national

competition regime: to improve the job prospects, the living standards and the quality of life of all Australians.

Copies of the competition package are available through the Australian Government Publishing Service Bookshops.

29 March 1995

For further information: Margot Marshall Office of the Assistant Treasurer (06) 277 7360