Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Customs Legislation Amendment (Border Compliance and Other Measures) Bill 2006
My apologies, Minister, but I would suspect that you are caught between a rock and a hard place, because the Treasurer and the Treasury certainly outrank you. It seems to me that we are in the middle of a very strong campaign by business—and which is accepted by government—that regulation and red tape need to be regularised, harmonised, minimised and rationalised. This is a red-tape and regulatory system which seems to me to be designed to limit the cashflow costs to government of accepting a deferred payment system, which used to operate on a more flexible basis. If you spin that around as a policy issue, there is not only the policy issue with respect to trying to minimise red tape but there is also of course a general policy: if suppliers to government took the same view that they were carrying costs because government were paying after the event—in other words, they had to carry the cost of supplying goods and services—everything would move to a cash basis. The fact is that the government makes money from paying suppliers on 15 days, 30 days, 45 days or whatever the terms are. Equally, it costs the government money when it receives money later than it would expect.
I do not want to be overly determinative about exactly how this is organised, but it does seem to me that it is unnecessarily complicated and lacks flexibility and efficiency, which we should look for in modern processes. I suspect the minister is without power in this matter and has simply been told what to do by the Treasurer and Treasury. Maybe he can say otherwise—that he is independent of that and has taken his own view. This seems to me to be the wrong way to go. As a person with extensive business experience, I certainly would not like to have this kind of system imposed on me. I would prefer a flexible system which simply says, ‘By such and such a date every month, you must provide these things and allow me to find within my own business structure how I organise that requirement.’ That is as far as compliance should go. Frankly, when the sum at hand is just $89 million, in the context of the way our modern accounts operate, that is but a snip. And it is not at risk; it is simply deferred. It is not as if it is lost. I must say I am uncomfortable with what is being discussed here.