Barr plays monopoly with a dead bat

Vicki_DunneTODAY’s Question Time in the Legislative Assembly was dominated by the Opposition’s suggestion that Actew has been “abusing its monopoly” and charging more than necessary for water and sewage services, following the Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission’s (ICRC) draft recommendation to cut the prices.

Speaker Vicki Dunne, pictured, had to once again use her “mother’s voice” to remind members of the Government not to draw attention to Zed Seselja’s upcoming attempt to move to Federal politics, and to refer to him by his name or official title.

“…that does not include “senator” or “senator-elect”,” Ms Dunne said. “It is not a title that is used in this place… and I don’t expect you to interrupt or interject like a little kid when I make a ruling.”

In response to the Opposition’s continued questioning about the issue, Treasurer Andrew Barr said the ICRC was responsible for determining the prices that Actew could charge, not the utility provider itself or the Government.

“Obviously a theme is emerging in question time today,” Mr Barr said. “… I shouldn’t need to remind the shadow treasurer that the ICRC undertakes periodic price path setting processes for Actew.”

After further questions about the “unnecessarily high” water and sewage prices, and how they will be kept at a more reasonable level in future, an increasingly terse Mr Barr maintained that it was a matter for the ICRC, which is independent of the Government.

“… I’m at a bit of a loss to explain why the Opposition have no faith in the independent regulator,” he said.

Deputy Opposition Leader Alistair Coe kept up the pressure, referring to comments made yesterday on ABC radio by the ICRC senior commissioner Malcolm Gray, who said there had been problems with how Actew has been managed, in contrast to the views of senior members of the Government.

But after repeated interjections, Ms Dunne was again forced to intervene.

“Mr Coe, you seem to be causing difficulty for the Treasurer, who can’t answer the question,” she told the Opposition Deputy.

“I take your assessment with pride,” he retorted.

Ms Dunne was in a generous mood for the day’s last question, a follow-up to Tourism Minister Andrew Barr listing the ACT’s recent successes at the Australian Tourism Awards in Hobart.

“Minister, is it not true that there are many events during the Centenary that will be of a standard to be nominated for the Tourism Awards?” asked Mary Porter, the Member for Ginninderra.

“It’s probably an expression of opinion, but it’s the last question of the day,” said Ms Dunne.

“Thank you, madam Speaker for your indulgence,” Mr Barr replied. “It is indeed a big year for Canberra.”

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