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
I speak in relation to the Omnibus Repeal Day (Spring 2015) Bill 2015. This bill is another of the government's self-styled repeal day bills. This one was introduced together with the amending legislation and statute law revision, and all I can say is, 'Here we go again: another repeal day—another day when the government expects a pat on the back for performing the everyday work of government.' It is quite shameless, really. This is the fourth repeal day since the election of the Abbott-Turnbull government. The member for Warringah had three, and this is the member for Wentworth's first. Same horse, different jockey.
Once again, most of the measures in the bill are relatively non-controversial. Out of the 37 measures in the bill, four have already been identified and they have the whopping saving of $6.2 million. I heard some of those speakers opposite talk about the fact that there are billions of dollars in savings, and we hear that every single time they talk about this. But when you examine the legislation, look at the explanatory memorandum and see what is actually happening, it is a very different situation.
I last spoke on one of these puffed-up repeal day bills on 14 September this year, just 11 weeks ago. That was the Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2015) Bill 2015. That bill had a grand total of $41.4 million in savings and, as I said, this bill has a total of $6.2 million—not billion; million—in savings. This is the second lowest amount of deregulatory savings contained in any of the four sets of repeal bills presented by this government. When you add them all together and you look at what it actually says, it is $63.6 million in deregulatory savings. That is not insignificant, but it is not the $4.5 billion the government pronounces.
A quick calculation shows that the $63.6 million in savings from the four sets of repeal day bills accounts for just 1.4 per cent of the $4.5 billion total. Perhaps we should get rid of this omnibus repeal day bill nonsense this government keeps talking about. Where is the flash and fury? We see savings of $6.2 million. Glancing way into the future, I wonder what the autumn 2016 repeal day bill will do. Will it crack a million dollars, or give enough for a couple of pizzas? We just do not know. It is becoming less and less as they go.
The first repeal day bill was announced by the former Prime Minister, the member for Warringah, with a ministerial statement to a packed chamber. It was debated that same week, and the member for Wentworth—now the Prime Minster—even spoke during the second reading of that first repeal day bill. Flash forward to today and these bills are now introduced by an assistant minister responsible for deregulation policy, entirely without fanfare. These announcements, it would appear, seem as humdrum as the measures in the bill.
Each time I have spoken on a repeal day bill, I have always taken a few moments to remind the government and the chamber, and the public who might be listening, that, over nearly six years in office, Labor repealed 16,794 spent and redundant acts, regulations and legislative instruments. We cut costs to business by $4 billion per year. We worked to minimise and simplify existing acts. We worked to create cost-effective legislation. We corrected spelling and punctuation. We removed duplicate paragraphs and we amended tables of content. We did this, mostly, up in the Federation Chamber, and I do not recall too many members of the Liberal and National parties actually speaking too often. We also worked through the COAG process to bring about the seamless national economy reforms.
Those opposite exult in these self-aggrandising repeal day bills. Let us have a look at what they have done. When I spoke in September on the last repeal day, I said that there were a number of blockbuster measures. Let us pick a few of those measures to have a look at a rural theme. They repealed the Honey Export Charge Amendment Act 1980, the Apple and Pear Export Charge Amendment Act 1981, the Dried Fruits Levy Amendment Act 1984, the Dried Sultana Production Underwriting Amendment Act 1985 and the Laying Chicken Levy Amendment Act 1989. None of these bills will affect a single Australian farmer—not one. None of them have deregulatory savings attached—zero. There are no deregulatory savings whatsoever. The last bill repealed the Primary Industry Councils Act 1991, even though the last council was established under that act in 1993 and none exist now.
Back to this bill: in the Finance portfolio, we have 15 old appropriations acts repealed from previous financial years with no deregulatory savings attached whatsoever. We have an amendment to the Natural Heritage Trust of Australia Act 1997, subsequent to the repeal of the Rural Adjustment Act 1992. These amendments include groundbreaking work to change punctuation and headings. It is a shame the Prime Minister has abolished knights and dames, because surely the heroic punctuation changes to the Natural Heritage Trust of Australia Act 1997 warrant a knighthood for the person who drafted the legislation!
It is groundhog day. For example, we have seen the repeal of the Skilling Australia's Workforce Act 2005, which was originally in that spring bill that I referred to. We have seen amendments to the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act 2012. I want to talk about that particular amendment, because it is important. Amendments to the stronger futures act removed the minister's power to request the Northern Territory minister to appoint an assessor to conduct an assessment in relation to licensed premises in certain circumstances. The federal minister cannot actually enforce such a request. The Northern Territory minister and the Northern Territory authorities have responsibility for monitoring and regulating activities in such premises and, given the Commonwealth minister for Indigenous affairs cannot enforce such a request, the powers have limited impact. We agree; the government should get rid of it.
But the amendments also make some other changes. The amendments also remove the requirement for the minister to cause an independent review of the last three years of the operation of the act. I thought, 'Where have I seen that before?' It was mentioned last time.
In 2014-15, the government, in collaboration with the Northern Territory government, undertook a formal review of the Stronger Futures agreement. In light of that, they think this particular provision is unnecessary and duplicative—and we agree. It is interesting, because the government decided that there was a requirement that they had to fulfil. They could not get the legislation through last time, so they had to make an administrative change. We found out in Senate estimates what actually happened. They undertook an administrative review, and that is all they did. We did not seek to repeal the review. It did not happen within the legislative time frame required, but they had to do it because it was in the legislation. Guess what they did? They engaged the law firm MinterEllison to do this. They requested a quote and MinterEllison was selected through a procurement process for that review. The government engaged MinterEllison to do a desktop review of the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act 2012.
Being a dutiful shadow minister, I decided to have a look at this review, entitled Independent review of the effectiveness of Northern Territory and Commonwealth laws in reducing alcohol-related harm. I thought, 'Where have I seen all this stuff before?' It turns out that a couple of the lawyers at a desk in MinterEllison decided to have a look at this, at a cost to taxpayers of $11,000, and guess what? There was a House of Representatives inquiry, chaired by the member for Murray, Dr Sharman Stone. The deputy chair was the member for Lingiari, and I was also a member of that inquiry. We travelled all over the countryside and we handed down a bipartisan report, tabled in this place on 25 June this year, called Alcohol, hurting people and harming communities. At the request of the government, with $11,000 of taxpayers' money, MinterEllison decided to have a look at that parliamentary report and at a few bits of legislation. They produced a bit of a summary of the legislation and had a look at the report and made a couple of comments. In the end, they said nothing much about what happened. Their review states:
… we have concluded from the materials considered that alcohol misuse has and continues to cause considerable harm to Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, we have been unable to determine with any precision whether there has been a reduction, or otherwise, in alcohol-related harm to Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.
Good grief—what a revelation! We had a parliamentary inquiry which looked at it. They say they are unable to do it. Well, they are sitting at their desks reviewing it at a cost to the taxpayer of $11,000. Further, they state:
This has restricted our ability to assess the effectiveness of the laws, but we conclude that the scheme established by the Liquor Act and provisions of the Stronger Futures Act provide an effective framework for the regulation of supply of alcohol in the Northern Territory, and that regulation of supply is a necessary but not sufficient means (in and of itself) of addressing alcohol misuse that causes harm to Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.
… … …
(a) We have not identified any particular aspects of the laws that may be amended to increase their effectiveness in reducing alcohol-related harm. Nor have we been able to conclude that any of the laws, but, more particularly, the provisions of the Stronger Futures Act, should be repealed.
The government were so incompetent that they could not get the legislation through last time. Under the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act, there was a requirement to do a review. A parliamentary inquiry produced a bipartisan report. The government then commissioned these lawyers, at a cost of $11,000, to sit there at their desks and do this review, because the government were so incompetent that they could not get the amendments through last time. They come in here and say, 'We are going to get rid of the legislation this time' in relation to the review that has already taken place, and they admit in Senate estimates that the whole purpose of the review was to fulfil the legislative requirements of administrative review, which they are not intending to act on. The minister has not even responded to the parliamentary inquiry report that was handed down on 25 June this year.
In Senate estimates the officials said they anticipated tabling the government's response by 3 December, which is the last sitting day, before Christmas. So I say to the government: do not come in here and give lectures when you are so incompetent that you cannot get your legislation through. You wasted $11,000 of taxpayers' money. Any first year law student could have done this. I am not having a go at the lawyers personally. They are a competent law firm—there is no doubt about that whatsoever—with competent lawyers, but they should not have had to do it at the cost of $11,000 to the taxpayer. I made this point in a press release I sent on 23 October 2015, in which I state:
Senate Estimates further revealed that more than $11,000 was spent on an independent review of the effectiveness of Commonwealth and Northern Territory alcohol laws—but not to achieve any particular outcome other than to satisfy a legislative requirement.
In fact, the review, required under the NT Stronger Futures legislation, was conducted in such a short time frame that it relied almost solely on a report from—
the House of Representatives inquiry I talked about—
into alcohol abuse in Indigenous communities.
in Senate estimates—
Department officials revealed that the $11,000 review was not conducted for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not the alcohol laws were effective.
They have the gall to come in here and tell us they are saving billions of dollars, when, under the legislation which they are now amending because they were so incompetent they could not get it through last time, they are wasting taxpayers' dollars, and they were not even responding to the bipartisan parliamentary report of the inquiry chaired by Dr Sharman Stone, the member for Murray. How incompetent is this government? What a mockery they are making of this particular legislation when you have a look at what they have done in this area.
In relation to aged-care, the other part of my portfolio, they have made some reasonable suggestions, and we agree with them, so we support them. We will support them on this stuff because they have already had a review, and they did not need it. If they had been competent, they would have got it through in first place. It is important for people to note that, to receive care, an aged-care recipient must be appraised through an ACAT assessment and classified based on their care needs. A number of providers can provide information to the department. The secretary of the department can suspend approved providers who do those assessments and appraisals if false and misleading information is provided. The amendment here removes the need for the secretary to approve an adviser but provides for restrictions on who an adviser can be, and that is set out in the Classification Principles 2014. They have made some other changes, which remove panels of appraisers and the need for the secretary to approve the advisers. In future, that will be set out in the Sanctions Principles 2014, which we agreed to. That saves $5 million of the $6.2 million. (Time expired)