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Competition concerns

THERE is growing disquiet among industry groups affected by the latest round of competition recommendations proposed by WA Government reviews of State laws.

Liquor stores, small retailers, lawyers and painters are among the industries fearing their members will be hard hit by State efforts to secure $70 million in federal funding under competition policy incentives.

One of the loudest opponents of proposed change is the Liquor Stores Association of WA, which is concerned about the potential deregulation of the liquor industry.

But the LSA is not alone. Small retailers are worried that trading hours will be opened up, allowing suburban shopping centres to open seven days a week.

The WA Law Society fears a proposal to introduce “lay advocates” and “quasi-practitioners”, who would be licensed to deal with limited aspects of practice, would reduce the standard of legal practice.

And the Master Painters Australia WA Association favours competition but believes that more regulation is needed to boost service and the profile of the industry.

The fate of WA’s $70 million third tranche national competition policy funding is before the Federal Government at the moment and a decision is not expected until next month.

If WA is found to have failed its obligations under the national competition policy, which it signed to in 1995, the Federal Government can withhold all or some of the funding.

Under the policy the WA Government has to review all its legislation and remove the parts that are anti-competitive by June 30 next year.

However, the Government does not have to change its laws for competition’s sake alone. It can refuse to change anti-competitive legislation if it feels the parts that make it anti-competitive are deemed to be in the public interest.

In the six years since it signed onto the national competition policy, the WA p From page 1

Government has re-viewed 175 of its 390 Acts. Of those Acts reviewed only 19 amendments have been passed. Some of the remaining 215 Acts have been repealed.

So far WA has received all of its national competition payments in full.

The Liquor Stores Association of WA’s major objection to the 45 recommendations proposed for the Liquor Licensing Act is the proposed removal of Section 38.

It argues the section’s removal will allow any business to retail liquor products.

LSAWA executive director Lindsay James said the deregulation of Victoria’s liquor industry had not been successful.

“A liquor store in Victoria is now one third of a similar outlet in WA because of the deregulation,” he said.

“The number of liquor store licences in Victoria has increased by 195 since the industry was deregulated in 1999. Deregulation will kill small businesses here. The people with the least resources will cop the pain of the whole thing. And putting a liquor store on every corner will have a huge social impact.”

Association members will soon be lobbying federal parliamentarians to get them to oppose any national competition policy-driven changes to liquor licensing laws.

Racing and Gaming Minister Nick Griffiths is expected to take a report to State Cabinet next month, summarising the 70 submissions on the national competition report his department has received. A spokeswoman for Mr Griffiths said Labor’s policy was to oppose deregulation of liquor licensing laws.

Master Painters Aust-ralia WA Association president Peter Van Veen favours free enterprise but believes there is already too much competition in the market. There are 1,800 registered painters in WA.

Changes proposed by the review of the Painters Registration Act incl-uded reducing the age of registration from 21 to 18 and raising the maximum price of a job that could be done by a non-registered painter from $200 to $400.

The former Govern-ment endorsed the recommendations of that review but no changes have been made to the Act.

“Competition is a fantastic thing so long as everybody is making a quid and everybody is meeting their social responsibilities,” Mr Van Veen said.

“If there is competition without regulation, you start getting problems.”

Law Society president Ken Martin said there were some positives in the review of the Legal Practitioners Act (1893).

These included the proposed introduction of flexible business structures, including incorporation, loosening controls on practice names, abolishing limits on the number of articled clerks a lawyer can employ and deregulating the training of articled clerks.

Mr Martin said the society had received no response from government on its submission responding to the review.

Arguments against the deregulation of retail trading hours included the social impact such a change would have.

However, the Cham-ber of Commerce and Industry supports a “staged and phased” deregulation of shopping hours.

The competition policy came about to redress a fall in Australia’s wealth.

Between 1960 and 1992 Australia went from being the third richest OECD nation to the 15th. Part of the problem was deemed to be the protection from competition granted to large sectors of the economy.

The Council of Australian Governments – comprising the Federal, State and Territory governments – commissioned Fred Hilmer to undertake an inquiry into a national competition policy.

The National Comp-etition Policy WA signed onto in 1995 was drawn from Professor Hilmer’s recommendations, which included:

p extending trade practices law to prohibiting anti-competitive activities to all businesses, removing the exemption for most government-owned enterprises;

p introducing competitive neutrality so

privately-owned businesses could compete equally with government-owned businesses;

p changing all laws that restricted competition unless the public benefit outweighed the costs of keeping the restrictions;

p developing a national access regime to let competing businesses use nationally significant infrastructure such as gas pipelines and railway lines; and

p specific changes to laws governing gas, electricity, water and road transport duties.

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