House debates

Wednesday, 2 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

12:54 pm

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

There is nothing inherently wrong, in principle, with the bills before the House and those that have preceded it in the government's declaration of so-called repeal days. I suppose it gives this House something to do, because it does not seem to have much else to do. Under the tutelage of this government, certainly the Federation Chamber is not operating because it has nothing to do. We seem to spend all of our time these days in this place dealing with bills that are pretty mundane, like these ones, and condolence motions, for example, which are very important but which are usually sent to the Federation Chamber after the first half-dozen speakers or so, but they have been kept here because the government has no legislative program. It is just extraordinary. You wonder what the Australian people are thinking. We are all here, and they are paying for our flights, subsidising our accommodation and paying for the costs of running this building, and yet the House has nothing to do. So I suppose these repeal bills do give the House something to do.

The other question is: what does removing most of these redundant bills mean for business? I ask that question because the government keeps saying that this is about the reduction of red tape or regulation. I ask myself whether it costs the government more in administrative terms to remove the bills than it costs to leave them there. I certainly do not see how business benefits from the repeal of most of the measures contained within the bills we are debating today—for example, repeal of the Wool International Privatisation Act 1999, which privatised one entity to create a new private entity, which itself no longer exists? There can be no better example to demonstrate that that does not help business. That makes no difference to business, and that is true of just about every provision in the bills before us today.

The real crime here is the spin and the attempt to perpetuate the myth that somehow these repeal days benefit Australian business. Of course, we are not opposing the repeal of these redundant statutes on the statute books, but I challenge the government to outline exactly how businesses benefit. The other crime of the government is that they suggest that these bills do no harm and that they are all good news for the parliament and the administration of government and for business, but that is not really true. Many of the measures in these bills highlight the failure of the government to keep election promises and, indeed, the promise to be a government of 'no surprises'. For example, some of the provisions take us to drought measures.

It is very nice to have the minister for agriculture at the table. There is the minister's attempt to move the APVMA out of Canberra to his own electorate, which is always an interesting proposition, notwithstanding the fact that the professionals in the APVMA do not want to move out of Canberra and will not move out of Canberra, I am reliably advised. Those who need to consult with and visit the APVMA are not people on the land or farmers or anyone pursuing those interests; it is the big multinational companies, typically, that market chemicals in this country. They like to come to Canberra. When I am dealing with representations from a farm group or a chemicals company, I like to get the APVMA up the hill and into this place to brief me so I can better understand. I appreciate that the minister is always willing to provide me with that briefing, as I would if I were the minister for him. It is a long way from Armadale when I want a briefing or, indeed, the minister needs a briefing, although he can go home and get his briefing, of course. It is an extraordinary imposition for the chemical companies to have to go to Armidale, in the minister's electorate, when they need to consult and meet with the regulatory body, which is so important to them.

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party, Deputy Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

It's along the freeway!

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

The minister's interjecting. He is saying it is not very far. I know this part of the world very well and, I can tell you, no matter how you get there it is going to take you at least a few hours to get to Armidale from Canberra, from Sydney or from Melbourne, if your company is based in that capital city.

The greater point, in addition to the minister giving himself a big leg-up with his electorate by claiming all these jobs are now coming to Armidale, is that the jobs are not going to come—because the people are not going to move. These highly trained and skilled professionals live in Canberra, have kids in school in Canberra, are more than capable of securing another job and they will not go. This is one of the most important regulatory bodies in this city and it is going to fall apart.

The same can be said for our research and development corporations, which the minister is also insisting leave Canberra. These are bodies that collect money, and make decisions about where research money should be spent, and contract the money out, contract that job out, to another body. It might be a university, for example. This idea that they have to be out there in rural areas contains no logic whatsoever. The minister's proposition that they need to be close to a university is even worse. What we want is contestability. We want those RDCs to have a few choices about who they farm that work out to so that you have contestability and they get value for money. This minister wants to be parked in UNE, for example, so all the work is done at UNE. It is not a very bright idea. But it is great for the minister—all in his own electorate. He has also moved his ministerial office, by the way, from Sydney to Armidale. That gives him two electorate offices: one in Tamworth and one in Armidale. Bingo! Chi-ching! Fantastic!

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party, Deputy Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

Tamworth? I'm going. I've had it!

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

You have to give him points for initiative; politically, he is doing okay. With drought measures, this government's draft policy has been a complete failure. Drought continues to wreak havoc in parts of New South Wales and Queensland—in fact, right across the nation—yet this minister gives them nothing but spin, nothing but false hope, a policy that is having no effect for anything. They either cannot access it or it is no good to them whatsoever—as the minister exits the chamber in disgrace and out of embarrassment. I would be embarrassed too, Minister, if I were you.

You are slowly creeping towards being the worst agriculture minister in this country's history. You have a think about it, Mr Deputy Speaker. The minister stands at this dispatch box on a daily basis claiming credit for all manner of things. There was something that happened 20 years ago, I remember, he was claiming credit for this week in the parliament. But what has he done? The big initiative was this white paper—another broken promise because it came so late—completely lacking any narrative or strategic direction, with no goals or objectives. It was just a cobbled together hotchpotch of ideas with a bit of money here and a bit of money there, which is a matter for other portfolio responsibilities. He claims the free trade agreements. It is not his work. If anyone's, it is the trade minister's work—but a culmination of the former Labor government's work. It has nothing to do with the minister for agriculture.

What has he done but attempt to deliver all these riches to his electorate by moving these RDCs and the APVMA to his electorate? What has this minister done? I cannot think of any initiative. He claims credit for commodity prices. He never mentions the commodities that are going down in price, only those going up. The great tragedy of this is that he likes, most often, to talk about cattle prices. We are all happy. The cattle producers are getting a better price. That is a good thing. But he cannot take any credit for it.

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! I would remind the member that this debate is on the Omnibus Repeal Day (Spring 2015) Bill 2015 and I am struggling to find a connection between the issues that the member is raising and the issues in the bill. The member has the call and I would ask him to be relevant to the bill.

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

I appreciate your intervention. I will not do it, because I want to save you time, but I can promise you that everything I have made reference to is contained within this bill. Drought is the most perfect example, because it is repealing a provision on drought. They are all there, Mr Deputy Speaker; trust me.

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have great faith in the member for Hunter.

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

Out of deference and respect for you, I will return to something very specific. That is the abolition of the National Rural Advisory Council. It is in here, Mr Deputy Speaker. The National Rural Advisory Council is a statutory body. On that basis, it has all those things you associate with statutory bodies. It has tenure for its members, an annual report, plenty of transparency and accountability. It is chaired by none other than Mick Keogh, a highly regarded agricultural professional in this country. It is gone. I do not recall the minister promising that pre-election. It has been replaced, I concede, by something the minister promised he would do before the election. So I will qualify something I said earlier. He has done something: he got rid of one body and put in another body. That is a big achievement by the minister.

The problem is that the new body, the Agricultural Industry Advisory Council, is not a statutory authority. There is no annual report. There is no tenure for its members. They are there at the minister's whim, hand-picked by the minister and there at his pleasure, and it has no transparency. We asked at Senate estimates, recently, what this body does. The officials did not seem to know very much. I challenge the minister to come back into the House and tell me which things he has done—it is going to be pretty hard because he has not done much—off the advice of this advisory council. He said that is what it was going to do. They were going to consult around the country and advise the minister. As a result, he was going to come up with these new ingenious ideas for the agriculture sector.

There is another interesting thing about the advisory council—and, again, this new body has some very good people on it, many of whom I know personally, and they are very good people, but we need to know, given the expenses involved, what the advisory council is doing. For example, this is very important because in August 2014 they had dinner in Darwin, to do some consultations, apparently; it was $3,042. In April 2015 in Devonport in Tasmania there was dinner and networking; it was $3,916. These may be legitimate expenses. I was not there; I do not know how many people were there. But they are pretty pricey dinners. If the taxpayer is going to be investing that sort of money in an advisory group completely chosen by the minister, made up of members who only serve at the pleasure of the minister—and you know what that implies: it means, 'Don't come to me with ideas I don't like or you might not be on the advisory panel much longer,' and I do not think there is anyone in this House who would deny that the minister is capable of that, having gone through two secretaries or departmental heads, by the way, during his tenure; no-one is going to doubt that the minister would not hesitate to act if he was given advice he did not like—then taxpayers are entitled to know what the advisory council is doing, what advice it is giving and what the bases of these expenses are and so on.

This repeal bill does serve to highlight many of the failings and broken promises of this government. It is a government that has done nothing in agriculture except to claim credit for things it has had no responsibility for and can therefore claim no credit for.

1:09 pm

Photo of Karen McNamaraKaren McNamara (Dobell, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the Omnibus Repeal Day (Spring 2015) Bill 2015. It is not a fancy or glamorous bill—in fact, some might consider it to be quite boring. But the member for Hunter's contribution certainly was not boring! Seriously, though, when it comes to taking action on the reduction of red tape, excitement is not the priority—making life easier for people is. That is what this bill, just like the other three omnibus repeal bills preceding it, is all about. This bill is a whole-of-government initiative to amend or repeal legislation across 14 portfolios.

The bill, as with the intent of the previous omnibus repeal bills, introduces measures to reduce the regulatory burden for businesses, families, individuals and the community sector that are not the subject of individual stand-alone bills. For example, this bill amends the requirement in the Aged Care Act 1997 for approved providers to notify the department within 28 days of any changes to key personnel in circumstances that do not materially affect the approved provider's suitability to be a provider of aged care.

The bill also includes measures that repeal redundant and spent acts and provisions in Commonwealth acts—for example, the Customs (Tariff Concession System Validations) Act 1999 which validated decisions that relied on 40 delegations made in relation to tariff concession orders; this act has no operation in relation to decisions made after June 1999 and, therefore, is obsolete. Then there are provisions in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 which are redundant now that the Special Broadcasting Service, the SBS, has assumed television production and supply activities previously undertaken by National Indigenous Television Limited.

In total, this bill will repeal 905 Commonwealth acts. Unnecessary regulatory burden is a dead weight on small businesses, and, as a government, it is imperative that we support the local businesses that are essential to the Australian way of life. When our local businesses are free to thrive without worrying about unnecessary regulation and compliance, they have a direct positive impact on their local community. Investing in small business, whether as a consumer or as a government, is proven to boost local economies, support local jobs, encourage a sense of community ownership, utilise local knowledge, embrace regional individuality and uniqueness, and promote the community as a destination. We cannot afford to see small business people swallowed up in red tape, spending more time complying and less time operating their business and spending time with their families. This is why this government is committed to repealing unnecessary and cumbersome regulations and requirements that are nothing but a hindrance to innovation and productivity. Inefficient and unnecessary regulatory compliance depletes business resources, drives down the bottom line and is a dead weight on the Australian economy.

The Assistant Minister for Productivity, the Hon. Dr Peter Hendy, announced, at the introduction of this bill, that the government has achieved double the targeted savings derived from red-tape-reduction announcements, saving $4.5 billion annually in the first two years. This is an enormous achievement and a massive saving. For one dollar added to the cost of regulation, the government's implementation of regulatory reform has cut over $11.

We are committed to streamlining or simplifying operations where Australians interact with the government to help them spend less time filling out forms and standing in queues. The government has continued to investigate how and why we impose regulations, and we take a genuine look at how they directly impact Australians as they go about life and conduct business. By taking a thoughtful, consultative and innovative approach to red tape, we are chipping away at cumbersome, outdated and time-consuming regulations where we can achieve the same outcomes through easier, more convenient means. In our digitally-driven age, we recognise that it is far more convenient for Australians to submit information online or via their smartphones than by filling out endless paper forms and standing in line. By embracing digital technology we are not only helping Australians to have more time for other tasks and activities but also reducing the administrative burden on business owners, professionals and the public who need to interact with government departments and also on the departments themselves. A simple example of this is the new tax tool included with the ATO app called myDeductions, which means that Australians can now get rid of their old shoeboxes because they will not need to fill them with receipts for tax time. Yes, we can now say, 'Tax receipts—well, there is an app for that.'

The great thing about deregulation is that it has a genuine effect on our local businesses. One such business that has noticed a reduction in red tape for its operations is SpotGo, which is a family owned and operated business in Dobell that manufactures and distributes premium cleaning products. Brendan Small has been operating this family business, which was first established and had a presence in the commercial cleaning industry in 1996, since 2000. The Small family have a long and distinguished Australian heritage all the way back to their arrival in Australia on the Charlotte, one of the ships of the First Fleet. Mr Small has founded a successful commercial cleaning company, followed by a carpet-cleaning business. He worked alongside his father until he took over the reins as sole manager and operator. He was often asked about high-quality carpet spot treatments, and after a number of years he engaged an industrial chemist and began researching and testing, and they developed a premium product. It took around five years, but SpotGo perfected the formula and, since then, has expanded to a five-product-strong range of complementary products. The company is continuing research and development to further expand its range. In fact, its range is now sold at Woolworths and IGA stores throughout New South Wales. SpotGo has developed its products to an outstanding standard and fundamentally believes that Australian manufacturers can be world leaders in quality, and in environmental and safety responsibility. As manufacturers who specialise in creating cleaning products, they are familiar with adhering to regulations and standards. Further deregulation will provide them with more time and more freedom to focus on fostering the successful business they have built and to continue their research and development.

In Dobell, small business is our greatest and strongest employment sector, with over 8,000 small businesses within the electorate. I strongly support small business and the individuals and families who give everything they have to make a go of it. For many, their small business is an all-in investment that determines their ability to pay the mortgage, put their kids through school and enrol them in sport, pay the bills and put food on the table. They understand the pressure of paying wages and taxes and, of course, the cost of adhering to regulations. Through deregulation, the government is actively working to reduce these burdens and create a marketplace that supports small business and encourages growth.

We have seen growth in Australia in the past two decades with extraordinary economic expansion. In many respects, our regulatory systems and checks have not kept pace with this growth. This has, unfortunately, resulted in some regulatory frameworks becoming cumbersome and inhibitive. We want to ensure that we do not stunt the growth of Australian industries and business. This portion of repeals is not only beneficial to small businesses, however; it also removes redundant legislation and reduces red tape across the delivery of social services—taxation, the environment, education and training, health and aged care.

As our population ages, the government is removing administrative and compliance regulations that are unnecessary and simply inhibit the delivery of aged-care services by abolishing the requirement to use administrator adviser panels. These panels provide a list of consultants approved by the Department of Social Services to assist sanctioned providers to return to and maintain compliance with their responsibilities under aged-care legislation. The government recognises and acknowledges that aged-care providers have the knowledge and experience to make certain determinations based on what they need. So not only are they now going to be able to reduce time and costs expended; they will also benefit by having the autonomy to meet their specific needs. The Department of Health estimates that this will lead to annual savings of $5 million in compliance costs—funds that are better directed to patient care. Dobell has a high demand for aged care, with the number of residents over the age of 65 projected to grown by 32 per cent over the next 10 years. I am pleased that the government is taking steps to alleviate compliance and regulatory burdens on our aged-care providers.

This bill, being the fourth omnibus repeal day bill, is evidence of this government's commitment to simplify life for Australian individuals, businesses, and government departments and agencies. This government has a proven record in supporting the delivery of goods and services, entrepreneurship, innovation and market trade, and it will continue to do so. I thank the Assistant Minister for Productivity for his work on this bill. I commend this bill to the House.

1:20 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Manufacturing) Share this | | Hansard source

I have listened to much of the debate in respect of the Omnibus Repeal Day (Spring 2015) Bill 2015. I have noted the comments of members opposite, most of whom come into the chamber and claim that this legislation is going to save the community and, in particular, small business substantial amounts of money because it will remove red tape that business and others have to jump over every time they want to do business out there in the community.

The fact of the matter is that there has been no evidence whatsoever brought in by the government to substantiate the claims that this will make life for the community and small business, or any sized business, any better at all. What we are dealing with is legislation that is part of normal government function, whereby legislation is reviewed, its relevance is reconsidered and, if it is considered to be not relevant, it is made obsolete. We go through the same process to ensure that the words used in legislation are still current, bearing in mind that, over time, the interpretation and meaning of words also change, and sometimes that comes about because of court judgements. So it is a function of government across the country at every level to, from time to time, review the legislation that is currently in place and ensure that it remains relevant to the day.

What is also clear from the comments made by those opposite is that, if it were true that this legislation is making a huge difference to the small businesses in Australia, we not seeing that reflected in the economic activity of the country and in economic confidence in particular. I note that only yesterday there was some research out there suggesting that economic confidence, if anything, is actually declining.

Whilst I also note the government comes into the chamber from time to time and tries to jump on any glimmer of economic good news that is out there, the truth of the matter is that most of the economic indicators would suggest that the economy has in fact stalled and has become stagnant. When I talk to business people across the country and in particular in my home state, which I do on a regular basis, I get the same feedback—that is, that the economy is not going so strong.

But if you want to have a really good indicator of how good the economy is going, just have a look at what the Reserve Bank announced yesterday. They announced that the cash rate will be left unchanged at two per cent. My general rule of thumb is this: if the cash rate remains constant, it means the economy is pretty stagnant—that is, it has flat-lined and is not moving, particularly in one direction or another. If the interest rate goes down, the economy is in trouble, and if the interest rate goes up generally it is a sign that things are on the rebound.

I say to members opposite that you have had two years and three months in government and you have come into the chamber on many occasions with these repeal day legislation issues, every time claiming that this is good for the economy and for the country. Where is the evidence to support those claims? The truth of the matter is that the evidence is simply not there. Indeed, the economy is probably going in the opposite direction. Only this week we had the announcement that the budget deficit over coming years will increase by a further $38 billion.

The government's economic strategy is not working, and, contrary to their claims that it is all the fault of the previous government, I put it to members opposite that, firstly, they have not only been in government for 2¼ years, but it is their policies in particular that are causing the economy to go in the direction it is. I can well recall some very good presentations by global experts on this issue. They made the point very clearly and very strongly, based on evidence of what has occurred in other countries, that, where austerity measures are brought in by governments to try to fix up their taxation problems, the truth is that the opposite happens. When you start cutting payments to people, as this government is doing by trying to cut payments to families across the country, when you make employment conditions more difficult and try to push down wages, and when you cut government expenditure in research and development, the ultimate impact of it all is that it affects jobs across the country. When it affects jobs across the country it will also affect the income tax that comes back to government.

In the same vein, in adding 50 per cent to the GST, which this government is obviously considering at the moment, the same applies. All the government will be doing is reducing the disposable funds that families have when they go out to do their shopping and buy products. Again, that in turn means that the government might be picking up tax in the one hand but it will be losing it out of the other. As Labor has made absolutely clear, we will not be supporting that, not only because it is not good economic policy but because it also affects the people at the lower income end within society.

I have seen this done time and time again by this government with all the cuts they have made, right through from health, to education, to industry assistance and the like. I make a point that has been made time and time again: when governments decide they will turn their back on industry, as this government has done, and industry in turn lays off employees, the government loses from both sides. It loses the income tax it would otherwise have retained, had those people kept their jobs, but it will also then adds to the social welfare bill of the nation, so the government is paying out to those very same people money it claims it does not have and that it needs to withdraw from industry assistance funding that had been previously proposed.

I want to bring to the attention of the House some ways in which the House could make some real savings. I will refer to a couple of matters that have been brought to my attention in recent times by constituents in my electorate. The first relates to a matter whereby a person was trying to get their passport and, because of the misspelling of the person's name on their birth certificate, the hoops that the person had to go through in order to get a passport were, quite frankly, extraordinary. It not only took months and months to get the whole process resolved, but it was also costly both to the person and to the government, which was constantly having to correspond backwards and forwards. It seems to me that perhaps the first thing the government should do if it wants to reduce its costs is look at some of the processes that are required of people when they are dealing with government in the first place. To me, that would be a good start as to where you could save a lot of money.

I had a similar case with respect to a person who was born overseas of Australian parents and came to Australia and has lived her whole life in this country. Again, when it was time for her to apply for a passport, because the birth certificate had not been issued in Australia, and there was difficulty in getting the original birth certificate—it was from an Asian country—the hoops this person had to jump through in order to get the birth certificate, and then the passport, would have been far more costly to the government than to the person involved.

The last example concerns a person who also wanted to apply for a passport. The person had misplaced, lost or had never received the citizenship certificate they had been granted several years ago. Because the person had migrated to Australia from another country she required her Australian citizenship documents to be produced in order to get the passport. With assistance from my office, it took the best part of six months or maybe even nine months for the person to jump over all of the required hurdles before finally getting an Australian passport, which would enable them to leave the country and then come back into Australia. Those are some of the examples that the government should really be looking at if it wants to save money, not the pretentious example of what is in this legislation. (Time expired)

Debate interrupted.