Article Categories: Speeches, The Economy
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
SPEECH - Statute Stocktake Bill (No. 1) 2011
Thursday, 23 June 2011
Mr ROBB (Goldstein) (17:35): I rise to speak on the Statute Stocktake Bill (No. 1) 2011. The purpose of this bill is to repeal 39 redundant special appropriations relating to the Commonwealth's financial framework. This would include the abolition of 39 special appropriations, including the repeal of one statutory special account and 25 redundant acts in their entirety. It is essentially a government housekeeping bill and has no material consequence in relation to the provision of government programs, funding or new policy.
The government committed to regular stocktakes of special appropriation vehicles in response to the Operation Sunlight: overhauling budgetary transparency report released in December 2008. The bill is part of an ongoing bipartisan commitment to clean up the statute books, as has occurred through five previous financial framework legislation amendment acts between 2005 and 2010 and a Statute Stocktake (Regulatory and Other Laws) Act 2009. Examples of the types of redundant legislation that this bill seeks to repeal include Papua New Guinea Loan (International Bank) Act 1974,which related to the Commonwealth's guarantee of a loan that PNG took out with the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. This loan has since been repaid, so the act is redundant. Second, the State Grant (Special Assistance to South Australia) Act 1960, which granted financial assistance to South Australia during the 1959-60 financial year. That appropriation has been long spent. While this bill is non-controversial in nature, it poses a question of how many other redundant pieces of legislation remain on the statute book. The government is drawing an extremely long bow in its promotion of this bill as part of its commitment to reducing red tape, at least within the government's own administration. But what it really does, in my view, is remind us of the failures of this government when it comes to reducing red tape and easing the regulatory burden on Australian businesses. Many sectors of our economy are choking in unnecessary red tape, regulations and reporting requirements. I think there has been a cultural shift over many years, and it has been accelerated most significantly in the last four years, where regulation has become a very major cost burden across so many areas of organisations and businesses. It is human nature to want to grow your business and bureaucrats are no different. They want to grow their business, and their business is regulation. They are very good at growing their business. In fact, they are expert at growing their business.
In 2007 the Rudd-Gillard government made a big pitch to business based on their commitment to cutting red tape. Labor promised to make life easier for business by pursuing a 'one in, one out' rule for new regulation. They got a lot of mileage out of the one in, one out rule for new regulation. No new law was supposed to be introduced unless an existing one was taken off the books, but instead let's look at the record. Labor have imposed 220 new regulations for each one that they have removed—220 for one, not one for one. It is a huge disparity. The more regulation that government puts on business, the more time, money and effort business people have to divert from real work to filling in forms for bureaucrats in Canberra. The corporate reporting requirements have massively increased across so many areas. Excess red tape and regulation benefits no-one. It only means more costs for business. It stops new jobs, stifles investment, lowers innovation, lessens productivity and ultimately creates a lower standard of living for Australians. The morale of hundreds of thousands of small business people in particular is lowered immeasurably by the significant growth of regulation.
The coalition will always be a pro-business party. We have demonstrated that in opposition with the policies we have put forward for small business and the stance we have taken against job-destroying new taxes. The carbon tax and mining tax will undermine our competitive advantage. The carbon tax, which will morph into an ETS, an emissions trading scheme, will be the most bureaucratic scheme you could possibly devise. The eventual emissions trading scheme will not be one scheme; it will be 1,000 schemes because there will be 1,000 Australian companies involved. Already most of those companies have spent in excess of $1 million, some of them several million dollars, seeking to start to comply with the set-up arrangements that are required for this scheme. Thousands of bureaucrats are crawling all over these 1,000 companies, and think of the regulation, intervention and involvement of bureaucracy when you get $10 billion of tax to recycle and churn.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I will give you an example of regulation gone mad under this government's watch. Last year the Australian Securities and Investments Commission sent a secret directive to our top financial services companies requiring them to complete an 800-question audit—800 questions. It is breathtaking. And if they make a mistake in that document the next thing is they will be hauled before the courts. These are things that people do not see day to day, but think of the costs, the burden and the nonsense—and the arrogance, for that matter—associated with thinking that they can impose an 800-question audit on all of our financial services companies and expect them to welcome this, to be able to do it without incurring some major costs. Of course, these companies are liable before the courts if they unwittingly get something wrong in that 800-question audit.
We have also heard that the Taxation Office has been signalling to many companies and accountants that it will be using its extraordinary investigative powers to sit in and monitor in real time business deals taking place, under the guise of live auditing. If that is so, does the government support such a practice? The fact is that a culture has developed under this government where different organisations—the tax office, ASIC and others—feel that they can now interfere with critical, market sensitive, confidential material and, furthermore, interfere with established corporate governance practices and actually sit at the table when mergers and acquisitions are taking place. This is bizarre, but it is an example of the way in which regulation has gone mad under this government's watch.
The coalition is not just going to talk about reducing red tape and regulation; we are going to do something about it, unlike this government, and we are going to do something substantial. For starters, the Leader of the Opposition has announced that for the first time at a federal level we are going to develop a model to put a value on the cost to business of the regulations that are managed by each federal department. Then we are going to take an axe to red tape to the value of $1 billion a year. Our commitment to this $1 billion a year reduction follows the successful adoption of annual dollar based red tape reduction targets by the Victorian government. Victoria's approach to regulatory reform is highly regarded by business. They topped the Business Council of Australia's scorecard of red tape reform in 2007 and 2010, and the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry is supportive of Victoria's dedicated regulation reduction program. The coalition will recognise the proven success of this deregulation policy and will adapt and refine it. Federal departments will be required to inform a coalition government how many hours small business will spend filling in government paperwork and how much it will cost. This will include things like new software, advice from accountants, training and time spent away from work to learn any new requirements. Departments and bureaucrats will also have to explain how many businesses will be impacted by regulatory changes and how much they will have to do to comply. Any cost provided will need to be examined by the Productivity Commission and it will be transparent and included in departmental annual reports.
So the weight of regulation in each department will be assessed for how much it costs typical businesses in a sector, and it will be extended to identify the costs across a sector. With this information in hand, departments will then be set targets for reducing the costs to business of their regulations and the targets will add up to at least $1 billion per annum. It will be a transparent system that will enable a coalition government to properly assess the ability of departments to reduce the costs of their regulations. I think for the first time many of those in the departments will start to consider the cost implications of their regulations. They are looking to increase and extend the nature of their regulatory operations, but this time they will be forced to see the implications of those regulations.
Today we are here repealing redundant legislation. In that vein we should be repealing the volumes of legislation and regulations introduced to cover up the activities of the National Broadband Network. The NBN marks an ugly new chapter in government intervention. Australia is the only country in the world that is re-nationalising its telecommunications sector. It is an irony that we are here today repealing redundant and unnecessary legislation when on the same day the government has signed a deal to require Telstra to decommission their fixed copper network to give NBN Co. unfettered, sole access to their pits and ducts and to migrate all of their fixed line customers to the NBN. Telstra will not be able to deliver broadband over their HFC network which currently passes about 2.2 million of Australia's 7.5 million households.
To achieve this deal the government has engaged in extortion and blackmail as part of a relentless and sustained attack on one of Australia's great companies. A government monopoly is being created, with all of its attendant inefficiencies. It is being done through more regulation and by removing the transparency that should apply to even a normal corporation. We should be repealing that redundant legislation today because it is being imposed on the most dynamic and innovative sector in our economy.
Despite this bill and other legislation today being debated in the Main Committee to also improve the efficiency of legislation, we have seen this government snub its nose at good government, at transparency, at the competitive free enterprise culture in Australia and at its responsibility to efficiently manage taxpayers' dollars by holding a gun to the head of one of our major companies in order to deliver a political outcome for a desperate, dysfunctional government. Remember that this was conceived by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy on an aircraft travelling from Melbourne to Brisbane. This $50 billion investment was conceived without consulting cabinet and getting its approval. It was conceived by two people who were facing the ignominy of a failed $4.7 billion program that they had promised would solve all the problems of the world. This was a decision made for political advantage and not for the advantage of the Australian taxpayer or the telecommunications sector. This was a political decision.
Dr Leigh: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order by drawing your attention to standing order 75 relating to irrelevance and tedious repetition. The member for Goldstein is giving the same speech he gave on an unrelated matter in the Main Committee earlier today.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): There is no point of order.
Mr ROBB: We just saw another example of the embarrassment that is being caused by the government's announcement today. I thank the member for intervening because all he really did was make my case. This is a bill about repealing redundant legislation and the NBN legislation should certainly be in here.
In conclusion, mark my words: we will be back in this chamber at some point in the future to repeal the failed, dangerous and highly wasteful NBN legislation.
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