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Monday, 12 September 2011
Page: 9776

Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (17:17): I agree with some of the things that the member for Paterson had to say, particularly on the burden of regulation on small business. I know, when we first came to government in 2007, one of the matters we considered quite urgent, and are working on quite hard currently, was a national, seamless economy that would start to take away some of the duplication of regulation across the states. In this bill, we are dealing with something that should be simple, the registration of a business name, and which currently takes place across each state separately. It is not an easy thing if you are a business that works across all the states; but it applies equally to the registration of medical practitioners, workers compensation, the curriculum in our schools—you name it. The history of Australia, with six states and a Commonwealth government without full constitutional capacity to regulate in those areas, has created a whole range of areas where people do more work than they need to because of the structures that we have.

This package of three bills, the Business Names Registration Bill 2011, the Business Names Registration (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2011 and the Business Names Registration (Fees) Bill 2011, creates a national business names registration system—in 2011, after more than 100 years. The purpose of this scheme is to ensure that businesses not operating under their own entity can register their business names and details on a national register so that those who wish to engage with them can identify the entities behind the business names as well as their contact details. The national registration scheme will also remove the inconvenience experienced and compliance costs incurred in the current situation, where business names are registered across the various states and territories, each with its own business names registration scheme. Currently, each state and territory operates its own business names scheme. The creation of a national register removes the inconvenience and compliance cost caused by the registration across the various states. At present, for example, a business operating in every state and territory faces the cost of more than $1,000 to register a business name for three years. That is just the financial cost; it does not include the cost of the effort, keeping track and remembering to renew every three years. Under the national registration scheme, businesses will only pay one fee, which will be in the order of $70, to register for three years. An optional $30 fee will apply for a one-year registration.

This reform proposal is one of 27 regulatory reforms forming part of the National Partnership Agreement to Deliver a Seamless National Economy. When combined with a number of other related initiatives such as the national Australian Business Licence and Information Service and the Australian business account, it is estimated to provide benefits of $1.5 billion over eight years to business, government and consumers and will go a long way to removing a lot of regulatory burden, which the member for Paterson was talking about earlier.

The Seamless Economy reforms will make it easier for Australian businesses to operate with a range of national or regulatory frameworks in diverse areas such as consumer credit, consumer policy, trustee corporations regulation, trade measurement and health workforce registration. These reforms will make a real difference for business. For example, in the standard business reporting which commenced on 1 July 2010, instead of filling in a range of forms through multiple online and paper based state, territory and Commonwealth systems, businesses are now able to quickly and efficiently electronically prepare and lodge business information using a single system.

There have been reforms to occupational health and safety laws which will make it easier for businesses and workers operating across state borders to comply with work, health and safety requirements, as these requirements will be the same regardless of how many states and territories they operate in. This reform is expected to return around $180 million to business each year.

The national trade-licensing system will enable tradespeople to obtain a single licence which will enable them to practise their trade in any Australian state or territory. This will enhance labour mobility and boost productivity by making it easier for tradespeople to work in other jurisdictions and for employers to hire interstate staff to address local skill shortages.

Consumer policy and product safety reforms which commenced on 1 January 2011 are providing improved protections for consumers and reducing costs to business. The ACL replaces at least 20 different and overlapping Commonwealth, state and territory laws and is estimated to benefit the Australian economy by $1.5 billion to $4.5 billion in each year.

The health professionals reform commenced on 1 July 2010. Health professionals including nurses, midwives, medical practitioners and dentists now need only to obtain a single registration to work anywhere in Australia. This reform has cut red tape for health professionals and businesses that employ them and will reduce costs and contribute to the development of a mobile and responsive health workforce.

Consumer credit reform, of which phase 1 is now operational, established a national regulatory framework for consumer protection regulation for mortgage broking, margin lending and non-deposit-taking institutions on 1 July last year.

From next year, a national construction code that consolidates building and plumbing regulations will be in place. The code is expected to cut costs for the building and construction sector, as they will no longer have to deal with different requirements in different building and plumbing jurisdictions. This reform is estimated to deliver benefits to the industry of at least $460 million each year.

So this reform on business names registration is in very good company when it comes to building a national seamless economy. The total package will, along with subordinate legislation, create a national business names registration system. Existing businesses will not need to do anything when the new national business names service commences. Their existing state and territory business name registrations will automatically be transferred into the new national business name register. Where there are identical business names currently registered in different jurisdictions—and no doubt that is the case—the proposed arrangements under the legislation will not require existing businesses to spend money on reissuing stationery or replacing signage. These businesses will be able to keep their existing business name; however, a distinguishing mark will be placed on the business name register allowing specific businesses operating in different jurisdictions to be identified.

The Business Names Registration (Fees) Bill 2011 defines the term 'chargeable matters' in the context of the registration of business names and imposes a fee for chargeable matters related to the registration or renewal of a business name as part of the national business names registration system. At present the cost of registering a business name differs between the states and territories. A business may also be required to register a business name in two or more states depending on the number of states that the business operates in. The Business Names Registration Bill and its cognate bills, through a national system, will make it no longer necessary to register a business name in each state and territory. I commend the bill to the House. It is a very important part of our move towards a national seamless economy and it will make significant reductions in the regulation of small businesses around the country.