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Curious timing, Professor Fels.

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Curious Timing, Professor Fels Robert McClelland - Shadow Attorney-General

Media Statement - 7 June 2000

Robert McClelland, the Federal Shadow Attorney General, revealed in Parliament today rather curious timing in the response by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to the Labor Party's representations regarding misleading and deceptive material contained in the government's GST advertising campaign.

While Mr McClelland initially made representations to the ACCC on 18 April 2000 and subsequently on 24 May 2000, the ACCC did not respond to those representations until a facsimile transmission sent at 3.51pm on Wednesday 6 June 2000.

"The timing is particularly curious given that the Bill which would have given the ACCC specific power to regulate Government advertising was the first item of government business to be dealt with that afternoon. The debate actually commenced at 4.18pm," said McClelland.

"Mr Fels' assertion that the ACCC was without power to intervene in respect to Government advertising would have been a very material fact to raise in that debate."

Mr McClelland also expressed concern today in Parliament that the ACCC had not acted on the basis of previous precedent where, despite doubts about the extent of their power to intervene in respect to Government communication, the ACCC had used the status of his office to persuade the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care to modify advertisements regarding the Government's 30% rebate on private health insurance premium.

In a letter dated 6 April 1999 to Shadow Assistant Treasurer Kelvin Thompson, Professor Fels stated:

"The Commission was also concerned that the Government advertising may have had a "flow on" effect on the advertising of the rebate by private health funds". ●

"The failure by the ACCC to act in accordance with that previous precedent will unquestionably reduce its authority in enforcing the Government's price exploitation code in the private sector. As Professor Fels acknowledged in his letter of 6 April 1999, Government conduct is inevitably seen as a benchmark in the private sector".

"It is also entirely hypocritical of the Government to impose severe penalties on the private sector for engaging in the sort of conduct of which it is also guilty but is getting away with scot free".

Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.