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Monday, 25 June 2012
Page: 7824


Mr BILLSON (Dunkley) (16:14): On the surface the Legislative Instruments Amendment (Sunsetting Measures) Bill 2012 seems quite a constructive step forward, but it does mask what I believe is some government dysfunction.Essentially the proposition being put to us today is that, because we have not quite got our act together to conduct the necessary reviews and consultations in a timely way, we will reschedule the timetable for regulations that would otherwise have expired under existing sunset provisions.

It comes as no surprise to me that the government has found itself in this situation and, frankly, it has come as no surprise to many in the business community—particularly the small-business community—who have been struggling under an enormous burden of growing red tape. The coalition has been aiming to put a spotlight on the growth in red tape. Who would have thought that the natural attrition of regulations would also be something that was compromised by this dysfunctional government? Yet that is why we are here today. The government has failed to uphold its 2007 election commitment of one-in one-out in terms of regulatory instruments. I must say, for those who may be listening to this speech, that one of the most enjoyable—yet not gripping—things I have done over the last four years is that my office has been tracking these numbers and, at the risk of correcting one of the earlier coalition speakers, the sorry record for one-in one-out is now 18,089 new or amended regulations since Labor was elected, and only 86 have been repealed. That actually runs at a rate of about 210 new or amended regulations for each one that has been repealed. To quote that great philosopher Maxwell Smart, 'Chief, missed by that much.' The government's performance has been not even close to its election promise, and this has caused great consternation in the small-business community in particular, where an additional regulatory burden may be dismissed by Canberra as just a small additional step or an additional requirement.

What is often missed in a workplace that might be a sole trader or a small, dedicated group of people is that all of these things add to an accumulating burden that takes people away from trying to ensure their business is profitable, that they are able to employ others and that they are able to create hope, reward and opportunity for the communities that they are part of. That is the record. The record has not been spectacular. It is a bit sad, because just recently we were trying to make that contribution by having small businesses in particular relieved of the needless and unjustified burden of being the paid parental leave pay clerk. It was a commitment that I thought we would have seen bipartisan support for, given the election promises that were made by Labor in opposition—this is in addition to the one-in one-out. I keep going back to Friday the 13th, interestingly—July 2007. Ministers Plibersek, Gillard and Macklin in their former shadow roles issued a media release that promised that the paid parental leave would have certain characteristics. I quote:

Labor will not support a system that imposes additional financial burdens or administrative complexity on small businesses or in any way acts as a discouragement to the employment of women.

That was the promise, and that has been broken as well. We are seeing a pattern of failure in terms of red-tape reduction.

Even in your own state, Madam Deputy President Rishworth, Mr Georganas is actually proposing that we now create a 'do not knock' register. I did say that in 16 years it was the worst piece of legislation I have ever seen, which was the longest confession note that the Gillard government was unable to communicate with people. The belief was that more red tape was the solution, when all we needed to do was to get the message out that if people do not want door-to-door salespeople coming to their house they simply have to ask them to leave, and they are obliged to leave under the law. Currently there are cases before the courts to see whether a sign that says 'do not knock' amounts to that request to leave. That is already embedded in the current law and we should really be looking to make sure the law behaves as it was conceived. But no, there was an idea by the member for Hindmarsh that we would have more regulation. He characterised his electorate as having a large number of non-English-speaking background residents who were not able to say, 'No, thank you, please go away' or who were not able to put up a sign saying, 'Do not knock,' but somehow they would be able to work out who to ring to be put on a register to explain their circumstances—when the legislation itself could not even identify where the registrar would be found to put their name on the register to then look at all the exemptions that were in the legislation. If the current arrangement was thought to be too cumbersome, why add more red tape in a shambolic effort to look like you were doing something when the solution was probably worse than the problem you were trying to solve, notwithstanding the fact that the current law deals with it?

The reputation of this government with regard to red tape is quite troubling and quite problematic. It is quite true, as an earlier speaker, the member for Parramatta said, that there are anticipated peaks in the number of regulatory instruments that are due to be reviewed, and that is what planning is for. Planning is to anticipate and to understand that a statutory obligation for these regulations to sunset requires action in advance of them to see whether they are still relevant, valid and responsive in public policy terms. That could involve clustering. That could do any number of things that amount to the sensible preparation of a known statutory obligation to deal with these regulations or otherwise they would expire. Instead, as of half an hour ago, we are still unable to establish what the shelf life is of regulations that were due to sunset had it not been for this legislation. So we do not even know which ones of these legislative instruments, otherwise subject to a sunset provision, will now have the paddles put on them to bring them back to life for a period of time that neatly coincides with a new phased review and consultation process, thematic or otherwise, all of which could have been perfectly easily and appropriately undertaken within the current construct of the sunsetting time frames for those regulations. But that has not happened. The government has been too focused on its own survival, its own day-to-day tactics, to take account of and be responsive to a legislative duty that it has, and its agencies and portfolios have, to realise that there is a whole bunch of regulations due to sunset under an existing provision.

Can you imagine the shock in the small-business community? Can you imagine how they are burdened by the 210 in or amended regulations for each one out—a number of broken promises in relation to the red tape and compliance obligation? I have just touched on paid parental leave as an example, and there are further Labor proposals for shambolic additional red tape that will offer no relief and no remedy to the problems it seeks to address. On top of that, we now have regulations—the small business community thought, 'Well, at least we'll be relieved of those ones that are being sunsetted out,' but no—that are going to have their shelf life extended. There is a process that can now be undertaken in an orderly way to conduct the review and consultation that could have started some time ago, knowing, as we all did, that this was the profile of the expiring regulations that the government and its agencies were faced with.

So, with regard to those twin peaks of government regulation and their sunset dates, the twin peaks are still there, man; we have just shifted them a bit, or we have broken them down to be slightly less peaky peaks. What we have done is, rather than seeing the sunsetting of regulations as the law required, we are going to keep some of them alive. We are going to extend their shelf life and their impact. We are going to continue to have to service and administer them while we get into some orderly arrangement to carry out a review that everyone knew was already on the radar screen, with legislated time commitments, an obligation to consult, a chance to ask what so many small businesses ask themselves every day when they look at yet another piece of regulation: how does this help? How does this in some way contribute to the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth of Australia? How does this in some way add to the prosperity and opportunities in our community? How does this in some way improve the hope, reward and opportunities for our citizens and the quality of life they can enjoy? Those are very simple questions that are asked by small businesses every day. They would be hoping that the government would be asking itself those questions, because it was a legal obligation to do so.

Well, no, that is not what is happening under the Gillard government. They are going to fudge that date. The very simple question was supposed to have been asked: does this still represent a relevant, justifiable and appropriate response to public policy concerns in our country? You will see in the outstanding Productivity Commission report that touches on the review process what is involved, the time frames and certain key anniversary dates. It even goes on to things such as reviewing certain legislative instruments and how that is handled overseas, all of which is a very sound approach to good governance but all of which has not been carried through—a good backswing but no follow-through in relation to the government's promises on red tape and deregulation. At least the coalition take this seriously. We have identified opportunities already. We have not just put up a number of regulatory instruments which might encourage a mischievous government to bundle and package them up so that they look like less even though the burdens and compliance costs associated with them could have gone up quite substantially. Saying, 'Fewer words, fewer instruments,' the government would be out there patting itself on the back, but we have said, 'No, it is the cost that matters. It is the cost in terms of the time, the need to prepare, the changes to systems and the requirement to get advice where appropriate.' All of those are valid characteristics that are part of the Victorian process for evaluating the regulatory burden.

I would like to think we can restore small business hope, reward and opportunity in this country, because it is desperately needed. We need a government that is fair dinkum about the crucial role small business plays in our economy and in communities right across the continent. But, above all, we need to give small business the best chance at success not only for themselves but knowing that they provide in turn opportunities for others and add to the wellbeing and prosperity of their communities. One way of doing that is getting rid of needless, unnecessary and unjustified red tape. The government's record on that is, frankly, appalling. I think the best way to reduce the compliance burden on small business in Australia is not to mess with the sunset clauses and the twin peaks. It is to have an election and get a government that is genuinely committed to partnering with small business so that we are not binding them up in red tape and impeding their contribution to our economy and our communities.