Senate debates

Tuesday, 25 June 2013


Australian Jobs Bill 2013; Second Reading

4:01 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | Hansard source

Prior to question time I was making some comments in relation to the Australian Jobs Bill 2013. In my comments I did not say that the opposition are opposing this piece of legislation, but I did put on the record some of the reasons why we might be doing that. One reason in particular is that this legislation imposes additional costs on industry and on business, which, as I said earlier, is a hallmark of this government. I talked about the fact that this government has imposed the carbon tax on Australian business. The government claims that it has only a small impact, but it does its calculations on an economy-wide basis—it ignores sectoral specifics of the cost of a carbon tax on industry. I know one business, for example, that has spent $17 million to mitigate the cost of the carbon tax on its business. It did receive some government assistance to put a co-generation plant in as a part of that project. That will reduce their energy costs, but not in a net sense. After they have spent that $17 million, after they have received $4 million in taxpayers' assistance to spend that money, they will still have a $7 million a year bill over and above what they had before the carbon tax came in.

The government talks about its food and foundries program. Government members were in Wynyard in Tasmania with a company recently, talking about the fact that that company was going to save $140,000 a year on its energy bills, but they did not say what the net cost to the company of the energy bills was. That is what the opposition has been complaining about the whole time: the government talks about the saving but it does not talk about what the overall cost is going to be. As I said, one business spent $17 million to reduce its energy costs, which it has done, but in a net sense it is still $7 million a year worse off. These are costs being imposed on industry by government. When I go around talking to business and industry here in Australia, I hear that the cost of government to business is a significant issue.

What does this bill do? This bill adds more cost to business—yes, on large projects, but it does impose additional cost and create a new bureaucracy. We have seen extraordinary growth in the bureaucracy over the last six years, since this government has been in place. That is what we oppose. We oppose additional cost on industry and business, and we oppose the unnecessary growth of the bureaucracy.

This piece of legislation requires Australian industry plans for projects with a capital expenditure of over $500 million to have an Australian industry opportunity officer embedded in the procurement teams of those companies. There was some concern earlier in the piece that this would mean that a bureaucrat would be embedded into the business. We know now, through the discussions we had at estimates, that that is not the case. We are pleased that business is not going to be impacted here.

This legislation will establish a new bureaucracy, the Australian Industry Participation Authority, supposedly to raise the profile of the industry plans and to help industry gain access to opportunities. The legislation talks about the 10 industry innovation precincts, which the government is going to create. The government says that these changes will create an extra $1.6 billion to $6.4 billion worth of economic activity for the region. The other thing that was discussed at estimates was how this will be funded. It will be funded by cutting access to research and development. So $1.1 billion will come off R&D for industry in Australia and placed into this program. A lot of concern was generated around where the costings for this would come from. We talked to the industry department within the tax office, and they could not tell us where the difference was between, I think, the $460 million in the initial discussions on this and the $1.1 billion that it is now. The tax department talked us through the process for that number. But the fact is that here we are talking about creating jobs by taking assistance away from industry, away from the R&D that gives industry its leading edge and technological advancement. So we are going to fund this plan by cutting back on the smart end of industry. That is how we are going to allegedly create these jobs.

As I said prior to question time: here we are in the last sitting week and the government bring in the Australian Jobs Bill. We are supposed to believe that this is part of a broader plan, which the government fund by cutting R&D. They create a new bureaucracy of 50 people, but they impose an additional cost on business. The government have brought in more than 20,000 new regulations. It is no wonder that, when Senator Sinodinos and his deregulation task force set about to find savings, they found in excess of $1 billion a year worth of savings. There have been 20,000 new regulations created under the Gillard and Rudd governments, yet the government now, with this piece of legislation, wants to create more regulation and more cost and impose additional cost on industry.

Let us go through the costings. The department estimates that the development of a plan under this process will cost $9,000 based on an employer spending two weeks on the plan at an annual salary of $200,000. So fairly highly qualified people will be creating these plans. The reporting on the implementation of the plan, which is every six months, would be another $9,000 a year. So, for the life of the project, it will cost $9,000 a year for reporting, and it would take one week to prepare every six months. The cost of implementing the plan is put at $29,000 a year. It is starting to add up: $9,000 to develop it, $9,000 every six months for reporting and then $29,000 to implement it. As I said before question time: more cost, more regulation, more bureaucracy in the last sitting week of parliament.

Twenty thousand regulations have already been imposed by this government at a time when industry is telling us that the cost of government to business is a significant issue. I have talked about the mining tax, we all know about the carbon tax and we know about increased energy costs; all of these things have been imposed by this government on industry here in Australia, and the government tries to walk away from the fact that these things have had a negative impact on the competitiveness of Australian business and industry.

We have seen the Steel Transformation Plan; that is a transformation that nobody likes to see, because the steel industry will be half what it was before the government brought in the Steel Transformation Plan. We have seen a huge loss of jobs in the food processing sector and we see even more jobs under threat in that sector right now. In my home state of Tasmania we see significant concern around the Simplot plant. The company has given that plant until August or September to come up with a plan to see it survive beyond the next three to five years. We know that the Bathurst plant may not see out the next 12 months. Yet this government thinks that the way to deal with those things is to layer more regulation and more cost onto industry and business and expect that they might survive or thrive.

We have seen an out-of-balance industrial relations system being put into place; industry talk to us about that all the time. We have seen the inconsistency in industry policy. We have seen the car industry talk about sovereign risk in relation to government policy and the inconsistency of government policy over the last two years. We have seen concern about the promises that have been made. The cash-for-clunkers scheme that was going to assist the car industry disappeared before it started. Other elements of funding that were to go to the car industry were taken away before they were fully implemented. That sort of inconsistency undermines the confidence of industry and business in the governance of this country, particularly in their willingness to invest into the future—and we are seeing that.

We have seen Ford say, 'That is it; we are going to cease manufacturing in this country.' We are seeing Holden right now having some very difficult conversations with their employees in South Australia about their future and what it is going to take. If these are not manifestations of the concerns around policy in this country and of the fact that industrial relations and costs are concerning industry, I do not know what are.

In relation to this bill, we are concerned that we are creating a bureaucracy of 50 people. We are imposing tens of thousands of dollars of additional cost, yet again, through a requirement for a plan to be put in place, six- monthly reporting and then the implementation of that plan. We are concerned that this is all being funded by reducing research and development in this country. We have already seen the reform that this government put through on the R&D tax process, which was designed to restrict and limit the growth of R&D in this country beyond $20 billion a year. Yet here we are taking away the access of more companies to R&D in order to fund this process, which is about more red tape, more compliance cost and more bureaucracy.

This is symptomatic of the issues that we have dealt with from this government right through the last six years, issues that industry tell us continue to be significant problems for them. Yes, we have had the impact of the high dollar. But when you have that particular environment why would you then continue to layer on red tape, green tape and bureaucratic costs? It does not make sense—and yet we are expected to believe that this piece of legislation is going to assist in job creation at a cost to R&D expenditure. That is the reason that the opposition will not be supporting this piece of legislation.


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