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Thursday, 20 March 2008
Page: 2498

Mr DUTTON (9:59 AM) —The Lands Acquisition Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 proposes to amend the Lands Acquisition Act 1989 to decrease administration regulation. These amendments are based on feedback from Commonwealth agencies and relevant stakeholders on the practical operation of the act given to the coalition government. The coalition supports any move to reduce administration and regulation, but unfortunately this is not Labor policy. This bill is identical to the Lands Acquisition Legislation Amendment Bill 2007 introduced into the Senate by the coalition but which lapsed as a result of the election. Minister Tanner has merely recycled and rewrapped coalition policy and tried to sell it as part of Labor’s policy on deregulation.

This bill does not represent the government’s plan to decrease regulation and administration. It represents yet another case of replicating by Labor and more ‘me-tooism’ by Kevin Rudd. I guess it makes sense in one way that they would want to copy the coalition, because the coalition certainly has a proven track record when it comes to reducing administration and regulations. In its recent Going for growth report, the OECD rated Australia as the most open economy in the Western world in terms of light-handed market regulation. In fact, the OECD says Australia’s economy is not only the most open for market regulation but also the best for the impact of regulation on economic behaviour, as well as having the greatest extent of private ownership and the lowest level of regulation of road freight. This testimony is a clear rejection of the government’s arguments that the coalition overregulated the economy. But there is still more to be done, and a great deal of cumbersome red tape and administration is imposed by the Labor state and territory governments.

The Business Council of Australia’s report Towards a seamless economy presents strong criticisms of COAG for their slow progress in the deregulation of the economy. These criticisms sit squarely on the shoulders of Labor state and territory governments. Reform through COAG has been slow, there is no doubt. This has clearly been caused by the state governments. All the evidence shows that, despite the reform efforts of the former coalition government, on each occasion they were blocked by the state and territory Labor governments. The coalition pushed for the removal of unnecessary regulations and taxes at the state government level, but we were blocked at many stages. For example, the unions have stopped their Labor state governments from doing any meaningful reform of occupational health and safety.

The coalition government greatly reduced the red tape burden on small business, and Australia is now ranked as having the second easiest economy in which to start up a business. Measures introduced by the coalition include: investing $49 million over four years to streamline the Australian business number, or ABN, and business name registration across Australia, including trademark searching; establishing a dedicated $50 million Regulation Reduction Incentive Fund to reduce the red tape burden imposed on small business by local government, saving small business an estimated $450 million in time and money; and the development of standard business reporting to reduce the reporting burden on small business.

For the benefit of families, the coalition took significant steps to simplify the process for paying health and social services benefits. In 1997 the then coalition government established Centrelink, a one-stop shop for managing the delivery of payments. In 2000, family allowance was reformed to reduce 12 different payments to three: family tax benefit part A to help with the cost of raising children, family tax benefit part B to provide assistance to single-income families, and the childcare benefit, otherwise known as CCB. At the same time, the addition of family assistance officers’ services to the ATO and Medicare shopfronts immediately increased family assistance access points by 246 officers around the country.

The coalition undertook changes to make it easier for customers to access and understand their entitlements and cut red tape to make it easier for them to receive their correct welfare and social security entitlements. These reforms meant the abolition of 37 forms and letters, and will have saved 22.6 million pages of paper. In addition, the coalition government developed a new childcare management system which will result in better information on child care than ever before and also reduce red tape for services.

For Labor, from what we have seen in the first few months of this government, spin and stunts matter more than substance and solutions. The government has, in just over 100 days, already begun to incur significant costs, with substantial new spending on bureaucracy at the expense of valuable programs and support adversely affecting the disadvantaged. Labor’s claim that Labor would save taxpayers money by cutting the size of the bureaucracy is undermined by its own pledge to establish a raft of new government bodies and hold a string of reviews and inquiries. At last count, Labor had announced around 100 reviews and inquiries and nearly 70 new government departments, committees and task forces. It was reported on 2 September by Seven News:

Kevin Rudd’s claims for standing for a smaller, less bureaucratic government have been blown apart by a Seven News investigation into his election promises.

… Kevin Rudd’s warned that the resource boom could come to an end. But if he becomes Prime Minister there’ll be a new boom in bureaucracy.

Certainly the evidence is on the table now that that has been the case.

State Labor governments have also burdened taxpayers with a massive growth in their bureaucracies in recent years. Since March 1996 the number of federal public servants has declined by 121,700, while the number of state public servants has increased by 201,700. Over the same time frame, the wages bill for state public servants has increased by 95 per cent, which is one reason why state debt is $42 billion and rising. Yet the government persists with the ridiculous notion that spending by coalition governments causes inflation but spending by Labor governments does not. Labor certainly has no substantive plan for Australia’s future. That is becoming more evident day by day.

As with its statements about economic conservatives, Labor certainly is all talk and no action. Only two days ago I exposed the Rudd government’s failure, and in particular the personal failure of the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, to meet its own best-practice regulation requirements. In particular, the most significant new regulation by the Rudd government, and certainly Labor’s first substantive piece of legislation, the Workplace Relations Amendment (Transition to Forward with Fairness) Bill 2008—

Mr Tanner —Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I draw your attention to the fact that this is a debate about the Lands Acquisition Legislation Amendment Bill and for the past six or seven minutes the speaker has not made a single reference to that bill or the contents of it and has been dealing with a whole range of other matters.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—The member for Dickson will refer to the bill in his remarks.

Mr DUTTON —Just on that point, Madam Deputy Speaker: it is hard, almost impossible, for the Minister for Finance and Deregulation to make that statement, because he was not here for the opening remarks that I made. So his statement is flawed and no doubt he does not—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —But I was, Member for Dickson, and I am in the chair and you will come back to the bill. Thank you.

Mr DUTTON —The reality is that this is a very, very touchy minister, who has had a very rocky start. I said in my opening remarks, in relation to the Lands Acquisition Act, that we are talking about efforts in this bill to remove administration and regulation. The issues of administration and regulation, which go to the core of this bill, are also the substance of what I have been speaking about over the last few minutes. That is what makes these points so pertinent in relation to the government’s so-called fight against regulation.

As I say, the most significant new regulation by the Rudd government has been the Workplace Relations Amendment (Transition to Forward with Fairness) Bill. There was a clear failure by the government to apply its best-practice regulation requirements. These huge gaps suggest to me that either the government has no plan for reducing red tape or it knows that Forward with Fairness will increase red tape and costs on business.

There are two other significant Rudd government changes which do not contain an RIS—the changes to tax deductibility for political donations contained in the Tax Laws Amendment (2008 Measures No. 1) Bill 2008 introduced into the parliament recently, and the removal of the higher education workplace relations requirements contained in another bill.

What is important in relation to this debate on this particular piece of legislation, particularly in relation to this issue of regulation and the reduction of red tape, is the way in which the government are conducting themselves in the eyes of business. Business certainly want to have confidence to invest in capital and to employ more staff, and that goes not just for large business but, most importantly, for small business as well. They are significant employers across the country and that means that they look to the government to see what actions they are taking, what legislation is coming before the parliament and the way economic statements are made by the respective ministers. It is amazing that Mark Latham is so accurate in his article in the Australian Financial Review today, in which he talks about economic matters such as are contained within this bill. If I could quote from his article:

His laughter came rollicking through the telephone, a man revelling in the discomfort of a parliamentary colleague. It was mid-May 2005, the caller Joel Fitzgibbon, then the assistant shadow treasurer and now Kevin Rudd’s Minister for Defence—

Mr Tanner —Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This clearly has absolutely nothing to do with the bill before the chamber and I would urge you to call the member back to the question. If he continues to defy your ruling, sit him down.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Dickson is straying significantly from the bill. The quote he is reading has nothing to do with the legislation before the House and I ask him to return to the bill at hand.

Mr DUTTON —Madam Deputy Speaker, just on that point of order made by the minister, if I could explain the position that I have taken. As I said in my opening remarks, when you were engaged in discussion with one of the clerks, the reason for me raising this very important issue is that this bill does go to the very important issue of regulation and red tape reduction, which is an important economic outcome that the government is striving for, and business confidence flows from—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Dickson—

Mr DUTTON —If I could just finish the point, Madam Deputy Speaker. Business confidence flows from the way in which government ministers are perceived, the legislation that they introduce into parliament and the public statements that they make. These are all issues which go to the core of this bill and it is why, Madam Deputy Speaker, in my submission to you, this quote is particularly relevant, as is the sentiment contained within the economic community at the moment.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Member for Dickson, I read the second reading speech while you were making your remarks to try and clarify what the bill is in fact about. It quite clearly states, ‘Land Acquisitions Legislation Amendment Bill’. I quickly read the schedule in front of me and the second reading speech to identify if your remarks had any justification, and I do not think they do. I have allowed you to go on for 10 minutes. I do really require you to come back to the legislation before you.

Mr DUTTON —Madam Deputy Speaker, I am happy to oblige with your ruling.

Government member interjecting—

Mr DUTTON —I do not even know who that person is making an interjection—such insignificance it brings to this place!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order, the member for Dickson!

Government members interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! We will have some quiet. Member for Dickson, that was uncalled for and I would ask you to come to the bill before us.

Mr DUTTON —Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. If you could address interjections as well, that would be helpful in these proceedings.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I did ask them to be quiet before I called you.

Mr DUTTON —The point that needs to be made in relation to this debate is that this government is putting itself forward through pieces of legislation of this nature to aid a reduction in administration, in regulation—

Ms Hall —Madam Deputy Speaker, on the same point of order—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The member for Shortland, like everybody in this House, has to realise they need to get the call before they start speaking.

Ms Hall —My apologies, Madam Deputy Speaker. My point of order is the same as the previous point of order. The member is absolutely defying your ruling and has gone back to exactly the same train of argument that he started with.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I thank the member for her point. I will ask the member for Dickson to be relevant to the bill before the House.

Mr DUTTON —As I said, this bill goes to issues of reduction in administration; it goes to issues of better accountability from the government; it goes to issues of substance in relation to economic policy. Can I just say that, thus far, this government has demonstrated no capacity to reduce administration to provide for easier outcomes for business to be conducted in this country. I think that is becoming evident and it was highlighted in Mr Latham’s piece today.

Can I just say in closing that the opposition does support this bill because, as I say, it reflects identically the bill that was introduced in 2007 by the previous government. It has very many worthy aspects to it, and that is why there is no opposition from the alternative government in relation to this bill. But the point needs to be made that business confidence is at a record low, with the Treasurer having been in power for only several months now. There are worrying signs on the horizon for our economy. There are international factors which are impacting on our economy but, most importantly, domestically, people are watching very closely the statements made day by day by a Treasurer who, in the words of Mr Latham, is certainly inept.