Senate debates

Thursday, 4 February 2016


Amending Acts 1990 to 1999 Repeal Bill 2015, Statute Law Revision Bill (No. 3) 2015; Second Reading

1:18 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

The current Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, talks a big game when it comes to 'innovation' and 'agility', but in reality all we get is more of the same from the Turnbull government. Nothing has changed with the change in leadership of the Liberal Party. Prime Minister Turnbull is fond of talking up the need for economic reform and the need to boost growth and drive innovation, but the government are bereft of ideas. Instead, they resort to the same tired games that former Prime Minister Tony Abbott played when he was in charge. We still have no changes in relation to a tax on working people, the GST. Working-class Australians will be thousands of dollars out of pocket if an increase to the GST is applied in this country. Many workers in this country—and many, many workers in rural and regional Australia—rely on penalty rates to put food on the table. If this government get their way, an increase to the GST will be applied, penalty rates will go and we will have a new flood of the working poor in this country.

They say they want to increase the GST because they will cut corporate tax rates and productivity will increase. Let us have a look at what happened in the US when corporate tax rates were cut, starting with Ronald Reagan and then with George W Bush. Did the working class in America end up being better off? No, they did not. What happened in the United States of America was that corporate executives got richer. Corporate executives were living in the type of luxury that ordinary Australians and ordinary Americans could not even contemplate—executive salaries in the multimillions and some even in the billions of dollars when shares were transferred to those executives. So what happened in the United States? Inequality increased and ordinary families were battling to put food on the table, and that is the exactly the position that we see from this government.

These bills, the Amending Acts 1990 to 1999 Repeal Bill 2015 and the Statute Law Revision Bill (No. 3) 2015, are about trying to disguise what is really happening under this government. These bills are about the government trying to say, 'We are removing red tape.' That is a nonsense, because these bills will make not one bit of difference to any legislation in this country. They will make not one bit of difference to the lives of ordinary Australians. It is so the Turnbull government can stand up and say, 'We're removing red tape, we're becoming more efficient, we're becoming more effective as a government'. The only thing that is becoming more efficient is the leaks that are coming out of this government. The only thing that is becoming more effective is the disunity in the government on a range of issues that are before this country. So instead of dealing with nonsense like this bill—we will support the bill because it makes not one iota of difference. But remember: someone has sat down and dealt with this bill, has put time into this bill. But for what? For naught; for absolutely nothing.

What the government continues to do is cut funding to health care, funding to the states for education and attack the trade union movement. Nothing has changed. Absolutely nothing has changed. In fact yesterday, when I saw Prime Minister Turnbull dealing with the issue of asylum seekers and the High Court decision, I actually thought that the Prime Minister had morphed into former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Not one iota of difference; not one schism between them. And all of this is to hide the reality that they want to impose a GST, they want to get rid of penalty rates, they want to increase corporate salaries in this country and increase inequality. They want to cut health, they want to cut education, they want to attack the trade union movement and they want to increase inequality. That is what this government is all about, and all of the rubbish that you will hear from them in response to my speech will not take away from that core position that this government is adopting—that is, to attack the working class in this country, to attack the trade union movement. They know that if they attack the trade union movement, then workers' capacity to increase wages in this country not only for union members but also for workers across this economy will diminish. The IMF—the International Monetary Fund—did a report recently that indicates when you diminish the capacity of the trade union movement to deal with wages and conditions in a fair and reasonable manner for workers in the country, then inequality increases. So that is what this government is about: this government is about inequality.

The two bills before this place today are ample evidence that they do not really care about the big issues; they are about simply trying to create a veneer of efficiency, a veneer of red-tape reduction, because these bills do absolutely nothing. The Amending Acts 1990 to 1999 Repeal Bill will repeals bills and acts, resulting in the repeal of more than 870 acts. As these amendments and repeals have already occurred, the operation of these acts is spent. The acts do not operate, so what we are being asked to do is repeal these acts even though these acts do not operate. In repealing these acts, this bill will have no actual effect on the operation of any law in the country. It is part of the spin of this government, part of the spin—that is all it is; it does nothing. But they can now run out and go: 'We've repealed all these acts. Look how we're getting rid of red tape. Look at how efficient we are.' It is just another government con job; this is a government that cannot be trusted.

Given the nature of these amendments, as acknowledged by the explanatory memorandum, the amendments and repeals affected by the relevant acts have already occurred and, therefore, all of the relevant provisions are no longer operational. We do not argue, never have argued and never will argue against getting rid of regulations that are redundant, no longer enforced and not relevant. It is an attitude we have always had. Take a look at our record when in government. Over the nearly six years Labor were in office, we repealed more than 16,000—16,794 to be precise—spent and redundant acts, regulations and legislative instruments from the statute books. However, this bill does not, and never could, actually reduce the regulatory burden on any Australian business or on any Australian family or individual.

Amongst the acts repealed by the bill are: the Farm Household Support Amendment Act 1997, the Sydney 2000 Games (Indicia and Images) Protection Amendment Act 1997, the Meat Chicken Levy Amendment (AAHC) Act 1996 and the Radiocommunications (Transmitter Licence Tax) Amendment Act 1995. These are not pieces of legislation with any ongoing impact on real Australian families and real business. But what will affect real families and real businesses is the imposition of a goods and services tax simply because it is the economic view of this government that they should cut corporate tax, increase executive salaries at the expense of ordinary Australians. They are the issues that we need to deal with. This bill is just a sad, tired continuation of the same stunts and farcical tactics we saw from former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

The Statute Law Revision Bill (No. 3) 2015 is of a similar character. It corrects technical errors that have occurred in laws as a result of drafting and clerical errors, as well as repealing spent and obsolete provisions in existing legislation. The bill also amends 152 acts to replace references to 'guilty of an offence' with references to 'commits an offence' or similar phrases, as well as eight acts to replace references of 'reference base' to 'index reference period. This is explained in the explanatory memorandum as 'modernising language'. Given the nature of these amendments, as acknowledged by the explanatory memorandum, the corrections make no changes to the substance of the law. Again, rather than achieving anything of substance, this bill does not—and never could—actually reduce the regulatory burden on any Australian business or on any Australian family or individual. The claim that the burden will be reduced is a nonsense, but they want to add another burden, and that is called the GST.

As an example of this bill's absurdity, it amends the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection (Consequential Provisions) Act 1991 to replace a reference to the 'Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development Act 1990' with a reference to the Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development Act 1989—an erroneous recording of the act's year. It amends section 9.10(4) of the A New Tax System (Luxury Car Tax) Act 1999 to replace 'are guilty of' with 'commit'. It corrects an incorrect cross-reference in the schedule to the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act 1994. Landmark reforms these are not.

This bill is further evidence that all we get from the current Prime Minister is more of the same. Nothing has changed with the change of the leadership of the Liberal Party—just a smoother sounding salesman. And that will not last for long, because we saw that smooth salesmanship disappear yesterday in parliament when the current Prime Minister morphed into the former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, because he is being driven and controlled by the worst elements of the Liberal Party. The Prime Minister likes to talk up innovation and agility, but in reality it is just the same old tricks without doing anything of substance.

If this really were about deregulation, the government would explain the bill through the prism of how many new jobs were being created or how much the bill would boost GDP and foster growth and innovation. But the government cannot do that. And they will not talk about the effect of the GST increase on employment in this country, how it will dampen investment, how it will create more unemployment and how it will simply reward the Prime Minister's political donors by giving them increased executive salaries. And who will pay for them? The ordinary Australian public will pay for them. Every time they go to a supermarket checkout they will be paying extra to line the pockets of the executive class of this country. That is the legacy that Prime Minister Turnbull is trying to leave for this country.

These two bills are a sad reflection on a government that has no interest in improving the lives of ordinary working Australians. They effect no change to the law, and they have no financial impact.

We have always believed in making it easier for business to operate. We have always believed in the importance of increasing productivity. It was Labor that took Australia through the global financial crisis and acted decisively to ensure the economy continued to grow and keep people in their jobs—action that Prime Minister Turnbull opposed as Leader of the Opposition.

The repeal of spent legislation will bring no relief to any Australian family or business. The correction of typos might be a legal nicety, but it will have no real effect in the real world. Unemployment remains high at 5.8 per cent, yet Prime Minister Turnbull's government is content to limit its efforts at reform to cheap stunts and smoke-and-mirror tactics that ignore the real issues facing the Australian economy.

The government should be embarrassed by these two bills and embarrassed to trumpet them as economic reforms. The government should be embarrassed that, instead of pursuing real reform, it has once again performed this same stunt, offering no evidence of any actual benefit to the community, while it continues to plot with the executive class in this country to increase their executive salaries through a cut in corporate tax rates paid for by a GST that will be a killer for ordinary Australians who are battling to put food on the table, who are battling to send their kids to school, who are battling to get school shoes and school uniforms. These are the battlers in this community that this government does not care about, yet it will come here and trumpet this nonsense as an economic reform.

I take the view that a real economic reform is one that builds a better society, one that ensures that we do not come into a place like this arguing nonsense like this bill being 'real economic reform' but deal with the key issues of ensuring that workers can go on the job and have rights and a say on the job, that they do not lose their penalty rates and that ordinary families do not get hit by a GST from between $3,000 and $8,000 a family across this country. But this government is so focused on ensuring that the big end of town that pays for its election campaigns—pays the Liberal Party election funds to the Liberal Party—gets looked after, and that is what it is more interested in.

Real reform this is not. This is another coalition con job that builds on the con job that happened to this country prior to the 2014 election, where they made all sorts of promises on education, health, the ABC and the SBS. They made all sorts of promises, and as soon as they came into government they did an about-face on the promises. Whether it is the current Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, or the former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, this is a government that cannot be trusted, because the forces that drive this government are not the forces that are for the good of ordinary working class Australians. They are the people that are wealthy. They are the people with power and privilege, and they are the people in executive boardrooms that are donating to the Liberal Party to make sure—they hope—the Liberal Party are returned as the next government.

The problem we have is that ordinary Australians will pay the price for this. We will end up like an economy like the US, where the health system is not properly funded, the education system is not properly funded and people are not given appropriate opportunity to move in life. I will leave my comments at that and indicate that Labor will support this bill, but it is a meaningless bill and cannot be trumpeted as any economic reform.

1:37 pm

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to thank the senator for his contribution to the debate. It was very interesting. The government is pleased to facilitate and support the passage of the Amending Acts 1990 to 1999 Repeal Bill 2015. This bill contributes to the government's regulation reduction agenda and improves the quality of Commonwealth legislation. The review, amending and repeal legislation clarifies the status of the law in the Commonwealth statute book. It also improves the accuracy and usability of Commonwealth acts by repealing redundant material. These improvements complement the government's commitment to creating clearer and more accessible Commonwealth laws.

The government is also proud to facilitate and support the passage of the Statute Law Revision Bill (No. 3) 2015, which performs a vital service in improving the quality of Commonwealth legislation. This bill allows errors in the Commonwealth statute book to be efficiently addressed and enables the repeal of spent and redundant provisions. It improves the accuracy and usability of Commonwealth acts. These improvements contribute to the government's deregulation agenda and enhance the quality of Commonwealth legislation.

Both bills were prepared on the initiative of the Office of Parliamentary Counsel. I commend the office for the quality of the bills and its commitment to maintaining the accuracy and clarity of the Commonwealth statute book. I thank the Senate and commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.