Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Ministerial Statements


5:40 pm

Photo of Mark BishopMark Bishop (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

As always in matters of consequence, as this statement is, the devil lies in the detail. In the House today, the Prime Minister made a speech that highlighted a range of absurdities contained in regulation, extant regulation, and which the government will in due course seek to repeal.

The Prime Minister deliberately ignored the fact that some, indeed most, of the regulations in the repeal package have been around for at least 40 years and possibly longer. In that period, successive governments chose not to seek regulation repeal. Indeed, in most of that time period, the treasury benches were occupied by the current government and its predecessors.

The truth of the matter is that the current government is seeking to continue the practice of the previous Labor government as carried out over the last five or six years. Put simply, the previous government repealed reams and reams of redundant regulations and legislation. It was stock in trade for the previous government. So, surprise, surprise, the Abbott government has discovered the digital age and seeks to repeal redundant legislation requiring paper copies to be maintained in some government offices. Well done. But, in summary, the Abbott government continues previous practice.

Repeatedly, over the last few weeks and in the Prime Minister's statement we have it asserted that the last Labor government was responsible for some 21,000 new regulations. It seems to the opposition that the coalition is not capable of any analysis more nuanced than a self-serving scratch tally of the legislative instruments enacted between 2007 and 2013. Had the government bothered to be honest about the content of those 21,000 regulations, they would have found that over 4,000 were in fact tariff concession orders—regulations that reduced cost for business and that were requested by businesses. They might have found that a further 3,400 of these regulations were airworthiness directives addressing safety issues.

So, as always when one looks below the surface with this government, we find the justification for a course of action fits poorly with the evidence behind the assertion. I repeat, the previous Labor government never felt the need to confect a media stunt like repeal day to celebrate a dubious achievement, because the job was being done on a regular basis as part of the ongoing, sound administration of the nation's affairs.

In contrast, Labor knows what brave regulatory reform is. In contrast, Labor well understands the virtue of the market operating free of unnecessary restriction and regulation. In contrast, Labor knows deregulatory reform is more than the routine repeal of redundant regulations that are no longer enforced. Since the eighties, Labor has achieved real deregulatory reform like banking sector liberalisation, sweeping competition reform, the floating of the dollar and the slashing of tariffs.

A real commitment to light-touch regulation might see the coalition adopt, as their own red-tape reduction manual counsels them, a market based climate change policy rather than a half-baked command-and-control scheme that even after four years they are unable to consistently explain. A real commitment to light-touch regulation might see the coalition support a fiscally responsible paid parental leave scheme rather than an inequitable, bloated program funded by a levy on business.

This is all apparently too complex for a government addicted to slogans in place of policy. This is a government that seeks to hide from the fact that, even by their own simplistic calculation of 21,000 new regulations, the all-time record for added pages of regulation was not under Labor Prime Ministers Gillard or Rudd; it was of course in 2006 under the coalition, led by then Prime Minister Howard. Let us move beyond rhetoric and put a few facts on the table at the beginning of this debate. The claim of 21,000 regulations is misleading and, arguably, deliberately misleading. Many if not most have nothing to do with business at all. For example, as I said, 3,400 relate to airworthiness directives issued to maintain and enhance public safety. Regulations have been used to assist business—4,200 legislative instruments saw business benefit from relaxing tariff concession orders. In the period of April to July of last year, the Gillard government repealed over 4,000 regulations. Some regulations may be valid for as little as one day and are used to repeal multiple other regulations.

The PolitiFact website rated the coalition's claim 'mostly false'. PolitiFact concluded:

Our best available comparison shows there were more of these legislative instruments introduced in two years of the Howard government than Labor to date.

They said this in the middle of 2013. They went on:

The Labor government has made progress in their promised reform of excessive regulation.

In the last few months the government has been building a very simple argument, building the perception that regulation equals red tape, which equals bad. Yet in the last few weeks the Abbott government has created a pattern of deregulation that is bad for jobs, leaves small business out in the cold and disempowers ordinary Australians in the choices they make about their lives, including in the key areas of health, financial security and safety.

Some examples of the proposed red-tape reduction included in the package which is the subject of the ministerial statement before the chair include the following: a proposal to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal as part of the government's 'Repeal Day', and plans to scrap the Australian Jobs Act, which is designed to maximise the use of Australian goods and services in major construction projects. At the same time, the government is reviewing, with an eye to removing, the conditions Labor placed on the use of 457 visas for temporary foreign skilled workers, which include a requirement that a job must be advertised locally before a 457 visa is issued. The government proposes watering down legislation that requires companies with 100 or more employees to provide detailed annual reports about gender balance to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. This will make it impossible to know whether we are meeting targets. The proposed red-tape reduction also includes the likely abolishment of the Food Plan, leaving no plan for food processing and the small businesses that support it; the proposed FoFA changes, which effectively mean financial advisers will no longer be required to act in their clients' best interest and will remove the ban on conflicted remuneration like commissions; removal of the five-star food-rating website, weakening the ability of a person to make health choices for themselves and their families; removing Labor's clause in the TGA bill that would have enabled the TGA to instruct a company to release health warnings about their products, leaving people with less control over their health choices; and proposed changes to the Environment and Biodiversity Protection Act, handing powers over World Heritage listing to the states.

In summary, the opposition brings the attitude to the government's package that it pursued whilst it was in government. Unnecessary regulation, redundant regulation, legislation made irrelevant by time or circumstance or geography, is worthy of repeal. Simply jumping to a conclusion without thorough examination is in itself a wasted effort. The opposition will carefully scrutinise all aspects of the government's package of measures and release further advice at a future time.

Question agreed to.


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