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Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Page: 1532

Mr PERRETT (4:43 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the National Consumer Credit Protection Amendment Bill 2010, and thank the member for Cowper for his contribution. If you go up to level 2 of Parliament House, you will see a piece of legislation in one of the display cases there. It is a piece of legislation that came out of the British parliament and it was signed in July 1900 by Queen Victoria. It is an act of the British parliament that creates a country called Australia. At the time, the colonies of Australia came together and went off to their parliament, their Queen, and said, ‘We’d like to be a country.’ They got together even though they had lots of differences. They had different customs houses, where there were lots of arguments between the states. I am sure most of us in our youth would have seen some of the remnants of those cross-border divisions, like the customs house in Brisbane, a beautiful old building, which is now used by the University of Queensland for functions and the like. My mum grew up in a border town called Goondiwindi, which I think is in your electorate, Deputy Speaker Scott. The customs house in Goondiwindi is where the New South Wales and Queensland governments squared off over putting excise on each others’ goods et cetera.

Back in 1900, when Queen Victoria signed off on the legislation to create Australia, state borders were significant; they meant a lot of things. In 2010, we look at state borders and see—I am sure the minister at the table would agree—that they are only particularly relevant on things like State of Origin night, when our border is very important. When we are transitioning to a modern economy capable of meeting the challenges of the future these borders have to become almost redundant when it comes to business. As we know, Australian businesses, large, medium or small, are not interested in state borders. They are interested in government getting on with cutting red tape so that they can continue to create jobs and keep our economy humming along.

Late last year I was pleased to address the South West Chamber of Commerce in the electorate of Moreton about the government’s reform agenda. This is a terrific group representing the interests of local businesses and community groups, and I am proud to be its patron. Thanks to people like their president, Alice Langford, their vice-president, Robyn Kennedy, their Treasurer, Scott McDonald, their secretary, Ian Dorrepaal, and their publicity officer, Travis Windsor, the South West Chamber of Commerce are supporting business people throughout my electorate. They are good, they are getting better and they are also getting bigger. For any minister who wants to come along, I am sure I can arrange a meeting with the South West Chamber of Commerce. It is groups like this that are telling government we need to succeed in cutting red tape and introducing other measures to boost our nation’s productivity. I am sure anyone who read the Intergenerational report, or even the media coverage of it, would know that it is a horror story—though not a work of fiction—and that we need to do what we can to improve productivity.

Increasingly, companies operate across state borders, and the various state laws that have evolved since Federation are one of the major hindrances to productivity. That is why, through COAG, the Rudd government is shredding red tape, removing duplication and delivering greater consistency across the country. It has been said that Australia, a nation of 22 million people, has more red tape than the European Community where there are approximately 300 million people. That is a bad accusation and unfortunately too accurate. Part of the Rudd government’s cooperative approach to deregulation, rather than the big stick style of our predecessors, is always to reach for the carrot first. We have the big stick in the other hand, just in case, but it is best to get the states working cooperatively.

All Commonwealth, state and territory governments signed an agreement for one national credit law in December last year, and we have already passed our national credit legislation in this parliament. This bill is another part of this process and part of our commitment to a uniform national credit law. It delivers on a request from state governments that we modify the referral bill to exclude certain matters, such as state taxation—I think that was a particular concern of the Victorians, and we have to keep them happy whenever possible—and it does so by amending the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 to limit the scope of the referral power.

While these measures are relatively insignificant, they demonstrate the Rudd government’s commitment to working with the states and responding to their needs rather than steamrolling them through a Commonwealth agenda. The Commonwealth does not have constitutional authority to legislate in these matters, so without the agreed referral from our progressive state and territory governments these reforms would not have been possible.

Unified national credit laws are another cog in the flywheel of achievement for Australian businesses. We know that business is the engine room of the economy, so in response to the global financial crisis the Rudd government passed key measures to protect our small and medium-sized businesses especially. The government reduced quarterly PAYG instalments for small businesses during 2009-10. This initiative gave small business a cash flow boost when they needed it most. The government provided direct assistance to small businesses through a special small-business tax break. Small businesses were able to claim an additional 50 per cent tax deduction for eligible assets purchased before the end of 2009 and installed before the end of 2010. The tax break provided small businesses with an even greater incentive to invest in new capital items, such as computer hardware and business vehicles, to ensure competitiveness for the recovery—and they did invest. I am sure the member for Dawson, who is in the chamber, would note in his morning walks around his electorate that there are a lot of new utes out there. A lot of tradies took advantage of the initiative—the dual cab ute seems to be the ute of choice in 2010—and certainly the businesses in my electorate that sell such utes thank the Rudd government for that initiative.

Other Rudd government measures included an on-time payment guarantee for contracts of up to $1 million between small business and the Commonwealth government, a $4 million investment in small business advisory services, and making it easier for small business to participate in tenders to sell to the government. It is all part of the Rudd government’s efforts to build a seamless national economy by reducing inconsistent and overlapping business regulation.

Our reform program covers an unprecedented 27 areas of overlapping and inconsistent regulation across the Commonwealth, states and territories. For example, under one of the reforms, businesses that operate across state boundaries will no longer need to register their business names and pay a separate fee in each state and territory. They will have to register only once at a central national registry. And tradespeople who move from one state to another—and there are many of them—will not have to apply and pay for a separate licence in each state.

This is what we call the end of ‘rail gauge economics’. Things have moved on a little since the colonies came together back in 1900, when Queen Victoria signed that British act of parliament. Deputy Speaker, can I take you to a part of your electorate, Wallangarra, just south of Stanthorpe, which is a town that straddles the border. Once upon a time trains used to stop there to switch to the Queensland gauge, but now things have moved on. Wallangarra is a town with a great pub—I have spent a night there—but it is not as significant as it once was, even during World War II, when so many people had to get out of the train and get onto another one. Things have changed since then. Acacia Ridge in my electorate is similar.

Reforming business regulation by freeing up time spent complying with red tape obligations and restoring incentives for entrepreneurship is crucial to the success of the Rudd government’s productivity-raising microeconomic reform agenda. This bill is another step along the way. I commend the bill to the House.