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Monday, 17 March 2008
Page: 1874


Mr SIDEBOTTOM (2:46 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Finance and Deregulation. What steps is the government taking to reduce the burden of red tape on businesses?


Mr TANNER (Minister for Finance and Deregulation) —The government has inherited economic circumstances that are challenging. We have a major inflation problem in this country—upward pressure on interest rates and government spending that is growing currently at 4½ per cent in real terms. The government is committed to tackling the inflation challenge both in the short term and in the medium term. The critical part of the medium-term attack on inflation is getting better productivity—getting it up from near to zero, where we have inherited it—and ensuring that we have greater pressure on red tape, which will get deregulation moving in this economy so that businesses are unbound and able to create more jobs, greater wealth and higher economic growth. The attack on red tape is a critical part of the government’s agenda to bear down on inflation in the medium term.

Red tape imposes costs on business, it reduces innovation and, in some cases, it is designed to protect individual businesses against prospective competitors, against innovation and against attacks from outsiders. There are a number of things the government plans to do. Some of these are already in train. The first and perhaps most obvious is that the government has appointed a minister in the cabinet—me—as Minister for Finance and Deregulation. This was a recommendation from the former government’s Banks inquiry, which it chose not to proceed with. We have also appointed Dr Emerson, the member for Rankin, as the assisting minister. Secondly, we have established a working group as part of the COAG process to accelerate and intensify the process of pursuing harmonisation of regulatory arrangements across the states and territories. There was an agreement on this at COAG last year but, unfortunately, there has not been a huge amount of progress in the intervening time. We have turbocharged that process in order to get some outcomes, and that will be reported at the COAG meeting later this month. We are also pursuing internal red tape within the bureaucracy. My department is chairing a working group within the federal bureaucracy which is designed to deliver cuts in red tape within Commonwealth processes, which will indirectly benefit business and the wider community.

Finally, we are developing a culture of continuous improvement in regulation. We should not need to have reviews once every 10 years like the former government did. We should not need to have a Banks inquiry or a Bell inquiry into red tape, because our regulatory system should be delivering feedback all the time so that we can build in a process of continuous improvement. This is crucial to reviving productivity in the Australian economy. I am pleased to see that a number of early decisions have been taken by this government to unleash business and to unleash competition. For example, the government decided to get rid of the monopoly wheat export marketing arrangements that we inherited from the previous government—and the opposition still cannot make up its mind whether or not it supports the government’s initiative—and to liberalise arrangements in aviation between Australia and the United States in order to provide greater competition and greater opportunities for business in the United States.

The previous government talked a lot about removing red tape. It talked a lot about reducing the burden on business. It said when it took office it would cut red tape by 50 per cent. Does anybody believe that red tape was even reduced, let alone by 50 per cent? The answer of course is that very little was achieved—just two reviews, one of which disappeared without a trace, and with the second we are doing our best to follow through with some of the recommendations.

I note that the Business Council of Australia is about to release another report which, amongst other things, will deal with these issues. I would commend that report and the views of the Business Council to the members of this parliament. The Business Council has played a very important role in putting pressure on governments on these issues, and I applaud its efforts. I hope that the opposition’s response to this report is a little more intelligent than its response to the most recent Business Council report about government spending. The member for Wentworth, in response to the Business Council’s claim that there is serious excessive spending and that the government needs to reduce spending, said, ‘They are just the voice of the big end of town.’ I have news for you Malcolm: you are the big end of town! And the big end of town does not even agree with you. You cannot even get your own mates to agree with you.


The SPEAKER —Order! The minister will address his remarks through the chair and refer to members by their titles, and not expand the question too far.


Mr TANNER —I apologise, Mr Speaker. The government are serious about pursuing economic reform and we applaud the contribution to the debate of organisations like the Business Council. Deregulation is central to our agenda—tackling inflation problems, tackling productivity and tackling the barriers to greater wealth creation, greater job creation and greater innovation in our economy. The former government talked a lot about doing something about red tape, but they did very little. We are not on about wild promises; we are on about delivering some outcomes. We are rolling up our sleeves and getting down to work.