House of Representatives

Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2014) Bill 2014

Second Reading Speech

Senator Seselja

It is a great pleasure to be speaking in support of the Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2014) Bill 2014. It is always difficult to understand when you hear the Labor Party supporting a bill. It was unclear to me from that contribution whether they actually support it. They are voting for it, which is a good thing, but, in their heart of hearts, they do not actually support lowering red tape for small business. They do not support the principle behind this. Senator Collins suggested that this is standard form-this is just what happens. No, that is not what happened under the last government. Under the last government it was the opposite.

The great success of the previous parliament, according to the Labor Party and the Greens, was the amount of legislation that they passed. Much of that legislation, of course, increased the regulatory burden on business. That is what the Labor Party does, and Senator Collins's attempts to pretend that the Labor Party had a good record on deregulation, I think, is laughable. I have not spoken to one small business owner who believes that they are facing less regulation as a result of six years of Labor-Greens government than they were before. All of them saw their taxes increase and the regulatory burden increase, and that is what we are seeking to address through this legislation and through a range of other legislation that is designed to cut the red tape burden for business right across the country. We took a clear promise to reduce that regulatory burden to the people of Australia. We took that deregulation agenda to reduce red tape burden on the Australian economy by $1 billion per year. The Labor Party has continually disregarded the systematic costs of regulation to our economy and to our national prosperity. Under that Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government, 21,000 additional regulations were added despite Labor's promise to cap the growth and the supposed 'one in, one out' policy.

I should note that the first parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia only passed 513 pages of legislation or half a page of legislation per day. The 43rd Parliament passed half an act of parliament a day and when we compare that record we really gain an understanding of just how overregulated we have become in some areas. The simple fact is that there is far too much overreach. We should aim to make lives easier for individuals and businesses-in fact we have an obligation to do this. As a result of our repeal day we will remove over 10,000 pieces and 50,000 pages of legislation and regulation, which will save hundreds of millions of dollars in compliance costs. We understand that some degree of regulation is desirable and essential, but we see too much unnecessary regulation right across the board and we have come to government with a clear determination to change this culture to make things easier for business in this country rather than harder.

Ultimately, by pursuing our deregulation agenda, we boost Australia's competitiveness. We will create more jobs. We will cut household costs. Overregulation and poorly thought through regulation hurts productivity. It deters investment and innovation and costs jobs.

We know that in 2012 the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked the productivity growth of 51 countries and the result of that saw Australia coming in second last just ahead of Botswana. In 2013 Australia was placed 21st in the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index. We had slipped six places in four years. We also ranked a woeful 128th out of 148 countries in terms of the 'burden of government regulation'. Guess where we were placed. We were nestled between Romania and Angola.

Considering some of the feedback from those directly affected, let us see what they had to say. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry's 2012 National Red Tape Survey found that 44 per cent of businesses spend between one and five hours a week comply with federal, state or local government regulatory requirements. They are spending time that could be better spent with their families or building their businesses in filling out forms, applying for permits and reporting business activity. Seventy-two per cent of businesses say that the time they are spending on red tape has increased over the past two years, and 54.3 per cent say that complying with government regulations has prevented them from making changes to grow or expand their business. That is the legacy of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor years. We need to reflect on the fact that it is business which creates jobs and that by removing some of the unnecessary regulation that is complicating the ability to do business, we unshackle and allow our economy to thrive.

Jos de Bruin, the National Chief Executive of the Master Grocers Association stated that many of their members 'feel that they are in business of compliance and do a little bit of retailing on the side. Red tape is not only a financial cost, it has a social cost taking business owners away from their families to work longer hours just to comply. The government's efforts to cut red tape will only help our members to innovate, prosper and create jobs.' Master Grocers Australia is an organisation which represents companies employing around 115,000 staff, contributing over $14 billion to our economy. These remarks and the results of ACCI's survey contrast heavily with the comments in 2008 by the then small business minister, Craig Emerson, who said that Labor would 'take a giant pair of scissors to the red tape that is strangling small business'. The fact of the matter is that this never happened. It never happened under Labor. In fact, things got worse.

Under Labor there were more than 80 examples of noncompliance and prime ministerial exemptions from the regulatory impact assessment process. Some of these exemptions were for some of Labor's most significant legislative changes-things like the carbon tax, the mining tax, FoFA and changes to the Fair Work Act. To add insult to injury, the independent Borthwick-Milliner review commissioned by Labor, which reported last year, found there was 'a widespread lack of acceptance for and commitment to' the regulatory impact assessment process 'by ministers and agencies'. How could act in the best interests of Australia if they completely ignored detailed regulatory impact scrutiny by granting exemptions at every return? It is telling that, in the five years from mid-2007, Australia's multifactor productivity declined by nearly three per cent.

As I noted earlier, the coalition took to the election an acknowledgement of the need to reduce the regulatory burden on Australians. Our commitment is such that regulation should only be imposed where absolutely necessary and should not be the default position in dealing with public policy issues. We will ensure that our cabinet submissions proposing legislative changes with a significant regulatory impact will be subject to the regulatory impact assessment process.

I note that ministers have already established designated units within their departments and ministerial advisory committees to advise on deregulation priorities and cutting regulation. I am pleased that deregulation will be a standing item on the COAG agenda to enable federal, state and territory governments to cut duplication and overregulation. We are committed to a new approach, one which asks some fundamental questions prior to the passing of new regulations. We need to ask about the purpose, the cost and the impact on productivity. Only after we have satisfied those questions and only when it is absolutely necessary, with no sensible alternatives available, should government proceed to regulate.

I note the remarks of David Byers, the CEO of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association: 'The government has made a great start in cutting red tape to help make Australia a more attractive investment destination. There are billions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs to be won in the petroleum sector. The government's deregulation initiatives are a vital step forward to capturing these opportunities.'

We are making progress on our deregulation agenda. The bill before this place today speaks volumes for what we are trying to do. The bill implements a range of measures across 10 portfolios in order to amend 14 acts to streamline regulatory requirements to reduce the regulatory burden. For instance, we are dealing with overlapping building certification requirements for the aged-care sector, getting read of the duplication that currently exists. Additionally, this bill makes technical corrections and reference updates, it repeals 43 spent and redundant acts and it amends around 27 acts to repeal spent and redundant provisions. For instance, why do we still have regulations surrounding the phasing-out of the Advanced Mobile Phone System, or AMPS? That is completely outdated technology and the phase-out was completed in 2000. There is no practical likelihood that any mobile carrier in Australia would operate one of these networks.

We are proud of our annual $1 billion target for cutting red and green tape and our commitment to set aside two parliamentary sitting days per year to repeal unnecessary and costly legislation. Far from being standard over the past few years, as was suggested by Senator Collins, this is a very different approach to what we have seen by those opposite and what we saw in the six years-

Senator Bilyk: Certainly a lot more razzamatazz!

Senator SESELJA: of the Rudd-

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bernardi): Order!

Senator SESELJA: Gillard-Rudd government. I hear the interjections. What we saw was a commitment to more and more regulation. That was the commitment of the previous government. They trumpeted it. When they were asked about how successful they were as a government and how well the parliament was working, what was the first thing they would say? They would say, 'We've passed hundreds of pieces of legislation; look how successful we are.' I say to the Labor Party that that is not what success looks like. Success is about a government making it easier for business to prosper, making it easier for Australians to make a living, making it easier for small business to employ more people. That is what success looks like for a government. If that involves getting rid of some pieces of legislation and getting rid of some regulation, then that is what success is about-and that is what we should be doing.

We have also heard from the Business Council of Australia. Its chief executive, Jennifer Westacott, said:

The release today of the federal government's repeal day legislation marks a turning point in dealing with the high costs and inefficiencies faced by businesses and consumers in our economy.

The BCA has reported that an environmental approval process for one of its member companies cost the company more than $20 million, required more than 4,000 meetings and led to a 12,000-page report. But it did not end there! The approval that the member company was given had 1,500 conditions and around 8,000 subconditions. This is the extent of regulation in this country.

Universities Australia has estimated that our universities spend around $280 million a year just on compliance and reporting requirements. Each university operates a compliance department which typically has between 15 and 20 dedicated staff. They report:

A typical university is also required to report over 50 different data sets to the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education (DIICCSRTE) annually, comprising 200 reporting instances per year, and over 50 data sets to other Government departments.

We should be aiming to remove duplication between differing levels of government and across government agencies. We should be aiming to streamline onerous and costly processes and we should be taking a common-sense approach to regulation.

In conclusion, I do commend this bill. It is, in the words of Jennifer Westacott, 'a turning point'-because we have not seen this over the past few years. What we have seen has been, in fact, the opposite. We have seen the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government taking decisions that piled burden upon burden on our business sector-and particularly our small business sector. The coalition understands that, when you do that, it has serious implications for our economy, for individuals and for businesses-family businesses, small businesses, medium businesses and large businesses. It has implications for their ability to employ people. It has implications for their ability to remain profitable. It has implications for their ability to innovate. We want to see all of these things happen. We want to see an innovation economy. We want to see more employment. We want to see small, family businesses, in particular, able to thrive and not be crushed by the burden of overregulation-the time burden and the cost burden that goes with all of that.

There are many aspects to our deregulation agenda and this bill is a very important part of it-and we are going to build on this start. Twice a year we are going to dedicate days to repealing legislation that puts too much burden on our business sector. Surely that is something that those opposite should be applauding. Surely they should be hanging their heads in shame at the way they overregulated these very businesses-the way they put more and more burdens on these family businesses. They should be hanging their heads in shame. They should not just be supporting this piece of legislation; they should be supporting other aspects of our deregulation agenda-all of which are designed to give us a more prosperous economy, to give us a more prosperous society and to give individuals, families and businesses the ability to choose, without too much government interference, how they make a living.

I commend this legislation to the Senate.