The potential for local diversity in implementation of the national competition policy
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Australian governments have embarked on a major effort to improve the competitiveness of the economy by adoption of a national competition policy (NCP). The policy extends the scope of trade practices legislation to encompass the public sector and professions, modernises policy in the areas of pricing and access powers, and is intended to revitalise the microeconomic reform agenda. The intended result is an integrated national economy, more uniform and consistent business regulation across the country and improved levels of competitiveness. But, there is an inherent tension between the imperatives for harmonisation, uniformity and reduced regulation on the one hand and tendencies for local diversity and increased regulation on the other. This article explores this tension with illustrations taken from three key aspects of the policy - opportunities for institutional diversity, treatment of the public interest and the prognosis for an integrated national, competitive market. The potential for each jurisdiction in Australia to take diverse and problematic approaches to the implementation of competition policy is then re-examined through the mechanism of a specialised case study involving the regulation of access to gas pipelines in Western Australia.
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