Competition reform work won't die if Harper has his way

By The Mandarin

October 26, 2015

Ian Harper is determined the slaving work of his competition policy review won’t be for nothing. And it seems the new Prime Minister might be willing to take a copy of his report down from the shelf.

The former chairman of the Australian Fair Pay Commission (pictured) steered an extensive review into competition policy, with 56 recommendations tabled for the government in March. The Council of Australian Governments “noted” the work before Tony Abbott promptly shelved it.

Productivity Commission chair Peter Harris lamented last month:

“It is rare to recover bureaucratically from the fate of being noted by COAG. Moreover, if you look up the COAG reform agenda on the official website, you will see commitments from 2009 and 2011. But nothing of substance since. Clearly, there is a need for a political revival …

“Reports like Harper, or closer to home my organisation’s report on Justice in Australia, now 12 months old, deserve a serious response, even if it is to reject – but explained with logic and thoughtfulness – what has been proposed. They are social or economic first order matters.”

Harper had another crack in The Australian today, warning Malcolm Turnbull he had to act quickly to prevent productivity growth from stagnating and living standards declining. And he has just the ideas to do it — 56 of them, in fact, which new Treasurer Scott Morrison is apparently now re-considering given Turnbull’s stated goal of strengthening competition to lift productivity. Morrison, the paper reports, presented Harper’s work in human services, opening up more choice for consumers, at his first meeting of state and territory ministers “and has marked this as one of the government’s early achievements”.

Harper said Morrison is “very committed” to competition policy:

“I hope we would hear back from the government before Christmas so we finish the year with a clearer view of what the New Year agenda looks like. Australia’s productivity challenge is not going away and policy responses on this area take time to formulate and even more time to implement.

“Then there’s more time before we see results in terms of productivity benefits. In short, the sooner we can make a serious start on the competition agenda, the better for Australia.”

And the sooner reports from bureaucrats are not left, as Harris noted last month, “to languish if they no longer suit the immediate political agenda”.

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