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Thursday, 20 March 2014
Page: 2679


Mr BILLSON (DunkleyMinister for Small Business) (15:59): What was that? We had the professorial tutorial. He read the timetable wrong.

Dr Leigh interjecting

Mr BILLSON: Those who are listening may be bewildered to know that the MPI topic we are supposed to be debating is the government's move to cut transparency, accountability and consumer protection and its impact particularly on the voters of Western Australia.

Dr Leigh interjecting

Mr BILLSON: Instead, we got a PhD dissertation about why we need another regulator.

Dr Leigh interjecting

Mr BILLSON: He did not manage to come to the point that the points he said were so crucial to the regulator can actually be dealt with without creating another institution. What a novel idea! To see the professor who does not even have the courtesy to sit quietly and listen to the discussion on the actual topic he brought forward—it just shows you what a rabble Labor is.

To show you what a matter of public importance this is, there were 21 questions at question time today and not one of them was on this subject. So absolutely gripping, so compelling—Labor was so insistent that the parliament allocate time to this matter of public importance, but it was not important enough to ask a question. Isn't that remarkable. But doesn't that give you an idea about just how misguided and how completely befuddled this Labor opposition is. To hear the professor talk about what should be happening to protect consumers—he seems to overlook a little problem. We heard the Treasurer today saying that under the previous Labor government we saw the fastest growth in government outlays in the top 17 IMF countries in the world. But what did they forget to fund? They forgot to fund the ACCC. They forgot to fund the regulator that is there supposedly to protect the consumers. I know those opposite have had very little interest in competition policy and consumer affairs. They have had so little interest while they were putting all this debt and deficit on the national bank card that they forgot to fund the ACCC.

Did you know, Mr Deputy Speaker Kelly, that if it were not for the election and the change in government, our principal regulator and protector of consumer rights would run out of cash next month? So convinced was Labor that consumer protection mattered that they forgot to fund the agency whose task it was to implement those protections. On 12 September 2011, there was a request for an unimproved operating loss that ran over the top of the budget that was allocated in 2010-11. We thought, 'Oops, we have overshot.' The professor is off to read the timetable and realise what the topic is before the parliament. On 16 January 2012, guess what, another operating loss—

Ms Bird: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The minister should refer to people by their correct titles.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The minister has the call.

Mr BILLSON: On 16 January 2012, we had the discussion from the member for—

A government member: Fraser.

Mr BILLSON: Fraser, thank you. The member for Fraser did not manage to speak at all about the necessary requirement to actually fund the consumer protection regulator. Again on 16 January, we saw another letter to the Treasurer, 'Look we have got an operating loss of over $17 million.' There was another one on 13 April, 'There is another operating loss and we have eaten away at all of the accumulated surpluses.' We then saw another request saying, 'There is another operating loss coming in 2012-13.' Guess what? The operating loss was actually greater than the disclosed operating loss. What happened? Labor did not even fund the ACCC. So let us have none of this cant. Let us have none of this nonsense from Labor that they have the slightest interest in consumer protection. If they were interested in consumers, they would join us in helping consumers by the abolition of the carbon tax.

Here we have a discussion about transparency and accountability. We have the Labor lead candidate for the Western Australian Senate election saying in The West Australian, 'Labor is scrapping the carbon tax.' That is not right. Labor just voted to keep the carbon tax, allowing Labor's law to run which will see the rate of the carbon tax actually increase. So the punishment is extended by the action in the Senate today which will also see it applied to heavy vehicle transport. On the back of this completely false and misleading statement in The Western Australian from Labor's lead candidate for the Senate election, those Western Australian voters who want their consumer interests protected would be aghast to hear what is going on in the other place. It is not only a preservation of Labor's carbon tax; it is a protection of the Labor law that will see the punishment increase and extend to on-road freight. This must be a compelling issue for the Western Australian community.

You would think that if they were interested in the abolition of the carbon tax, they would fund the ACCC to make sure the savings were actually passed on to consumers. That is consumer protection. When the price rises previously attributed to the carbon tax are removed, we want to see a price reduction. But that would require resourcing for the ACCC. Again, this side of the House has provided those resources, unlike Labor that were just happy to let it run down.

I turn to the area of our competition review, an area that Labor cannot even turn itself to address. In its last utterance on this topic, Labor said that they thought the law that was currently in place was perfectly adequate. David Bradbury said that in a debate in this place when he was the responsible minister. The coalition parties were arguing about the need to revisit and reanalyse our competition framework to make sure it was fit for purpose for a modern changing economy; that it would deliver durable consumer benefits and protect their interests; that it would support efficient businesses, big and small, investing in this country by having the opportunity to grow and prosper. What was Labor's response? When Labor were in government, their position was, 'The existing competition framework is adequate to deal with these challenges.' They are not even interested in the review that has the consumer interest and the machinery that is in place to protect it at its heart.

So, again, let us hear none of this nonsense from Labor about being the slightest bit interested in consumers. Their actions do not back up that the glib rhetoric that we get. More worryingly, the debate that we have does not even align with the topic that Labor submitted for discussion today. So what is happening instead? You have seen the coalition bring forward its program about terminating the carbon tax, ensuring proper resourcing for our consumer protection regulator and putting the resources in place to monitor the impact of the removal of the carbon tax. We have also put in place a deregulatory agenda, something that is of great interest to consumers. They know excessive regulatory overreach costs money. Those costs are carried by the consumers. They are passed on from those burdened with those excessive compliance requirements.

We have a deregulation agenda that is at the heart of trying to ensure that regulation is right-sized in the financial services area and deals with some of the overreach and excesses of Labor's approach that has made the affordability and accessibility of financial advice more out of reach for those with modest resources to invest in that important part of planning for their retirement or their financial independence. We want proper protection for consumers if you happen to be a worker on a building site. That is why we want the ABCC. We want them protected as well. That is why we want to make sure there is a registered organisations entity in place so that that commission can do its work to protect Australian consumers and ensure this is a positive place where there is transparency, accountability and protections.

How important is that for the people of Western Australia who have heard about the thuggery that has gone on in building sites in that state. Do we hear anything about that from Labor? No, we hear nothing about those crucial topics. So we have a choice. We can get behind the government's program, respecting the fact that our deregulation agenda delivers benefits for our economy, delivers benefits for those being weighed down and burdened by excess red tape, which causes costs and missed opportunities for consumers. Protecting their interests is getting regulation right sized. It is about reflecting the fact that in this country, before Labor was elected, we were 68th in the world in terms of the burden government regulation put on our economy. By the time Labor had left office, we were 128th. That was after one of their previous ministers said regulation was a noose around small businesses and that they needed to do something about it. What did do they do about it? They just added more and more regulation—21,000 new and amended regulations. Again, there was report after report saying that for time poor small businesses, excessive regulation cruels their opportunity to find work, to generate revenue, to support their viability. Yet what do we get from Labor? We get opposition to that.

Concerning paid parental leave, why is Labor so obsessed with making employers, particularly small businesses and not-for-profit employers, pay a cost to double-handle the paid parental leave payments that the previous Labor government had put in place? What is the argument for that? $44 million additional costs for businesses and $4 million of additional costs for not-for-profit organisations.

What you have seen today is a ridiculous attempt for Labor to make it sound like they are remotely interested in the people of Western Australia. Well, the voters are smarter. They know that we have the plan that will put the mojo back into the Western Australian economy, that will support opportunities for the economy. And talking about consumer protection, we will walk the talk, not just talk the walk.