Tuesday, 1 December 2015
Omnibus Repeal Day (Spring 2015) Bill 2015, Amending Acts 1990 to 1999 Repeal Bill 2015, Statute Law Revision Bill (No. 3) 2015; Second Reading
It was interesting to listen to the member for Isaacs' contribution to this debate. Yes, a large part of these bills does have to do with housekeeping. But he made a couple of interesting comments about the environment, taxes, governments reducing regulation and pay being cut that I might touch on prior to making some further comments on the bills.
The Minister for the Environment, in a speech last week, gave a very good outline of the history of the involvement of the conservative side of politics in the environment and protecting the environment. It would be worthwhile, for the edification of the House—and the member for Isaacs, if he cares to hang around for a little bit—to reflect on some of those things.
Dr Leigh interjecting—
I see the member for Fraser is here. He is contributing to the debate as usual, so I will take that as meaning that at least the member for Fraser is interested in the environment.
Under the Menzies government Australia was one of the 12 original parties to the Antarctic Treaty. The McMahon government appointed Australia's first federal environment minister: Peter Howson. Howson led a delegation to the inaugural United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. Under the Fraser government we saw Uluru, Kakadu and Christmas Island all declared national parks, and the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu received World Heritage listing. Under the Howard government we saw federal legislation to enshrine the protection of the environment in law. We also saw the introduction of the mandatory renewable energy target in 2000, as well as other activities in that space. So I think it is well worth acknowledging in this House that coalition governments have a great track record in protecting and looking after our environment, with a view to leaving it in better shape for future generations.
The member for Isaacs touched on deregulation and the supposed efforts of the previous government. I am always amazed at their ability to rewrite history. In his contribution to the House, the member for Isaacs seems to have conveniently forgotten the impact on the Australian economy of the carbon tax, the mining tax and other increases in the regulatory burden. From memory, I believe the previous government introduced in the order of 21,000 new regulations. So they cannot come in here and say that they are pristine, snow-white evangelists for deregulation, because the track record of those opposite in six years of government is the complete and utter opposite.
I am pleased to rise in support of the omnibus repeal day bills—and the fourth red tape repeal day—as a whole-of-government initiative to amend or repeal legislation that is not the subject of individual stand-alone bills. This omnibus bill will amend or repeal legislation across 14 Commonwealth departments, many of which are spent, redundant or have remained on the Commonwealth's statute book beyond fulfilling their purpose. Excessive and unnecessary regulation reduces productivity and investment. It supresses job creation, creates economic uncertainty and has a negative impact on consumer and investor confidence. Reducing regulation represents enormous opportunities to improve Australia's productivity and competitiveness.
In 2013 the government made a commitment to reduce red tape by $1 billion annually. I am pleased to say that we have exceeded this red tape reduction target. Over the two and a bit years of government, we have reduced red tape by around $4.5 billion compared to our target of $3 billion over three years. We have repealed over 3,600 spent and redundant acts and more than 10,000 legislative instruments from the Commonwealth books—and, yes, many of those are no longer relevant and spent, but we have got them out of the system. What this equates to is less time required by individuals and businesses to fill out forms and seek external advice and less hard-earned revenue spent on systems and equipment to meet the regulatory requirements of government. This will improve our nation's economy, create more jobs and lower costs for businesses and households.
The government has not only reduced the cost of red tape and regulation; but, importantly, going forward, we have improved systems for regulatory decision-making and begun to change the culture of decision-makers and regulators to one that recognises the burden that is imposed by regulations and the way that they are administered. All cabinet submissions are now accompanied by an analysis of the regulatory cost and benefits, and we have changed the way that we approach regulation so that it is not seen as a costless way to address policy issues. We also now have a regulator performance framework for Commonwealth regulators.
We have achieved a great deal in the past two years, but it is important to recognise that there is still much to be done. Part of that focus is to expand the regulatory reform agenda. Regulatory reform should do more than just reduce compliant costs; it needs to support flexibility in our economy so that we encourage innovation to the greatest possible extent. Now is the time to continue and update that agenda. The government is making sure that regulatory reforms put the needs of business and the broader community first, by: removing regulatory obstacles that can stifle competition and new technologies; continually reviewing ongoing regulations to ensure that they remain fit for purpose; working with states, territories and local governments to maximise the reform potential across the country; and ensuring, where regulation is necessary, that it is designed the best way possible, so that it is fit for purpose and easy to comply with.
Bad regulation costs more than time and money; it impacts on our economy. We have seen the difficulty with the pace of change in our economy and, consequently, the capacity of our regulatory regimes to adapt to those changing conditions. A good example of this is digital disruptors like Uber and the rise of online retailing. Regulatory barriers can also hinder competition and the market forces that push firms to innovate and perform at their best. In an age of rapid technology change, we simply cannot set and forget when it comes to our regulatory framework.
The agenda of the omnibus repeal day places a renewed focus on reform. The key change is that we will expand the regulation reform agenda to have a new stream that will focus on reforms that enhance productivity and innovation. At the same time, we will keep removing unnecessary and ineffective red tape. Over the coming months, the government will consult with stakeholders and industry representatives to determine: the major productivity-enhancing regulatory reform priorities, how to strengthen the focus on productivity-enhancing reforms while still reducing red tape, and how to engage better with states and territories to revitalise productive reforms. Following these consultations, the government will outline what regulatory reforms we will pursue under the new agenda—key areas to further reduce red tape reduction and areas of regulatory review so that our regulations remain fit-for-purpose—as well as the course to deliver these reforms.
Since the last repeal day, the government have announced a number of significant measures. We have made the tax system more efficient by developing new ways to make our tax system easier to comply with. The introduction of myDeductions, which allows individuals to record their deductions using their phone, is a case in point. We are also enhancing ATO online services for individuals and sole traders. We have also introduced a single permit for costal shipping. We are committed to implementing a single permit system for coastal shipping to build a more competitive and efficient shipping industry. It is interesting to note that the number of Australian registered ships had fallen from 30 in 2006 to 15 in 2014. With a 63 per cent decline in the capacity of the fleet since 2011, the cost of freight for some operators has increased by over 60 per cent. That is why, on 25 June 2015, the government introduced the Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 to make shipping more competitive and efficient.
I will use a local example: one of the businesses in the electorate of Forde gets their powdered milk product from Victoria. Their biggest international competitor, based in Singapore, also gets their powdered milk product from Victoria, yet it is cheaper for that competitor based in Singapore to ship their powdered milk product from Melbourne to Singapore than it is for the business in my electorate to ship the product from Melbourne to Brisbane. Surely, those inefficiencies cannot be supported and maintained in an open, global economic environment. The bill I have just mentioned will implement major reforms to the regulation of coastal shipping by replacing the current three-tiered licensing system with a single permit. It is hoped that this bill will enhance access for Australian manufacturers and primary producers to cheaper, more reliable shipping services and make our products more competitive and internationally and domestically.
Another significant measure is the change to give businesses freedom to communicate digitally by making it easier for financial service businesses to communicate important information to consumers. Consumer preferences are changing, with ever-increasing numbers of people transacting digitally. This is why we will allow product disclosure statements to be delivered to consumers digitally unless the consumer opts out. This will, again, reduce the costs of printing and mailing for businesses, while preserving choice for consumers.
The new regulatory reform agenda is about building on the culture we have embedded across the public service of looking at the benefits and costs of regulation and continual regulatory review to ensure that our regulatory frameworks remain fit for purpose. Overall, the new regulatory reform agenda is an ambitious policy agenda that includes: looking at every aspect of our tax system; reforming our Federation to improve service delivery, particularly in health and education; competition reform; and strengthening the security of our financial system.
The Harper review recommended that all Australian governments review regulations, including local government regulations, in their jurisdictions to ensure that unnecessary restrictions on competition are removed. This new regulatory reform agenda supports the recommendations in the Harper review. I commend this bill to the House.