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Wednesday, 29 May 2013
Page: 4413

Mr BUCHHOLZ (Wright) (10:21): It is a privilege to stand in order to support the bill that is currently before the house, the Statute Stocktake (Appropriations) Bill 2013, which will repeal 84 old annual appropriation acts, from 1999-2000 to 2009-10 inclusive. I find myself as a regular occurrence standing to support bills, because the reality is the coalition supports 87.3 per cent of bills that come before this House. We do, so it is absolutely farcical—

Government members interjecting

Mr BUCHHOLZ: It is farcical that we would hear from those opposite who would suggest that all this government does is be negative—'no, no, no'. That is not the fact and we have proved that again today. The reason I want to speak on this bill is so that the truth is not lost. What the other side of this House are very good at is spin, spin, spin. In the lead-up to this bill hitting the House we heard quotes from the finance minister and quotes from the ministry that this bill was going to be a great cost saver to business; that it was going to be a reduction in red tape; that the benefits and the flow-on through to the economy were going to be enormous; that it was this government in action, assisting in cutting red tape. I am going to show you that that is not the case, purely by walking you through this bill and explaining to you in quite simple terms what it is.

This stocktake bill, being the seventh since 1934, forms part of an ongoing process to clean up the statute book by repealing legislation that is simply redundant. That is all it does: repeal 84 old annual appropriations acts, as has been done for appropriation acts from 1901 to 1999. The current appropriations bills are being debated in the House at the moment. The previous stocktake bill was passed in 2012 and then, like now, was not opposed by the coalition. The current stocktake bill is not a controversial bill by any stretch of the imagination; it is simply housekeeping. I will run through the bill and explain to you why it is a simple housekeeping bill. Again, I suggest this government would have you believe that it is some prudent government slashing of red tape and the bureaucratic nightmare, when in fact these acts are redundant.

The stocktake bill does not appropriate any money; it just seeks to repeal whole existing acts. The amounts appropriated by the old annual appropriations act have been spent or the money has already been exhausted or lapsed or, to a minor extent, will be considered for reappropriation with all the current expenditure being reflected in our current estimates forecast. The stocktake bill also facilitates the repeal of numerous subsidiary laws—in this case connected to the old annual appropriations acts.

While this bill is worthwhile and we support the nature of the bill and the removal of those acts from the statute law, again this is tidying up and housekeeping. This bill does not make any changes with regard to the easing of regulatory burden on business as suggested in explanatory memorandum. It can hardly be described as a feature of a meaningful deregulation agenda to remove some appropriations acts that applied over three years some 20 years ago. Things from 20 years ago are some of the things we are tidying up. This bill serves to remind us how the government has failed to honour its key commitment on deregulation.

We are all reminded of the government's failure to honour its so-called 'one-in, one-out' commitment. The government said it would be the champion of deregulation. You heard the member before, the member for Goldstein, making the comment that 21,000 new pieces of regulation have come in and 1,000 have gone out. There was a commitment to repeal one piece of red tape of regulation for every new piece introduced. I thought we were going to see some real, fair dinkum, material deregulation that was going to improve the productivity or the performance of the economy after six years of Labor leadership. Yet despite a frantic search of this bill I could find nothing that supports any easing for the business sector. This commitment to repeal one piece of red tape of regulation for each piece introduced is not added to in any significant way through this legislation. According to the Parliamentary Library figures drawn from the ComLaw register, the government has introduced over 21,000 new items, as I mentioned earlier on. This is at complete odds with Labor's original commitment of one in and one out.

I want to go now to a part of the explanatory memorandum which speaks about some High Court comments. It says:

The High Court has emphasised that Appropriation Acts do not create rights and nor do they, importantly, impose any duties.

But the more important thing that I want to bring to the room's attention is the actual acts that are going to be repealed. This schedule ensure seeks to repeal 84 old appropriation acts from 1999-2000 to 2009-10 inclusive. They are still on the statute book. The bill would repeal 84 old appropriation acts comprising of 28 old acts on the ordinary annual service of government, 28 old acts for other ordinary services, 15 acts for the operation of parliamentary departments and 13 acts in relation to supplementary estimates appropriations. What does all that mean? Predominantly at budget time we have appropriations bills 1 and 2. In the middle of the year when we are doing our interim figures, which we refer to as the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, we will refer to those figures as 3 and 4. Then of course there are other appropriations figures.

For governments from both sides this is just a procedure for the House. As those in government introduce appropriations bills into the house through the Department of Finance and Deregulation, the term of those appropriation bills will be predominantly for the short term. They will have a life expectancy of three or four years. The linkage to that three- or four-year term will be their reliance on their forward estimates data. That is a bill which is enacted by this House. What this bill seeks to do is go back and repeal or make redundant appropriations act back as far as 1999-2000. So we are repealing appropriations acts no. 1, 2, 3 and 4 for that reporting period. So we are repealing appropriation acts Nos 1, 2, 3 and 4 for that reporting period. The reason I am going into this detail is there is no real benefit to the business sector, in today's real terms, of repealing a budgetary act from nearly 13 years ago, but the government would have you believe something different. There are some other miscellaneous matters in there that are worth noting, just so no-one can get confused that there is any impact on business.

There is an appropriations act entitled Appropriation (Drought and Equine Influenza Assistance) Act (No. 1) 2007-2008. Everyone remembers that drought period when the government spent some money through the exceptional circumstances program to assist. That drought has come and gone and, therefore, the benefits of that particular package have come and gone. I will give you another example. Back in 2004-05, there was an appropriation by the federal government to provide some financial assistance for those affected by the tsunami overseas. That was our contribution. Again, I am just making the point that it was a piece of legislation, an act that was enabled, but the time has come and gone. So it is somewhat—I do not want to be nasty—unfair for the government to claim, as they have, that the repealing of these acts is a cutting of red tape for business. It is not a true statement. There are also a number of water entitlements acts.

I think I have demonstrated well and truly for the House that these bills are redundant. There is no direct benefit to the community in having them stay on the register, and it is a matter of housekeeping to tidy these up. Early last month, there was an announcement by the Attorney-General and Minister Penny Wong that the government had slashed red tape. They claimed they had slashed red tape by getting rid of these pieces of legislation. God help Australian businesses if this is the government's idea of helping to slash red tape for businesses, because there is no direct benefit from the bill that we are debating today, and it does nothing to lessen the red tape that exists in businesses out there—in my electorate, in the state of Queensland and across the nation, and across all sectors, whether it be agriculture, small business, large business, the financial sector—as the government claims. There is conclusive evidence. You just need to read the bill to get your head around that.

Senator Sinodinos, Chairman of the Coalition Deregulation Taskforce, has called for the government to implement measures that will actually reduce the burden of red tape, and green tape, across the economy. What we are going to do is slash $1 billion of red tape and green tape. Arthur Sinodinos, a good senator, will be heading that up. Senator Sinodinos said of the government's announcement:

Today’s announcement is nothing more than legislative house-keeping. While this activity is important to do and has the support of the Coalition, the repeal of these 1000 redundant instruments will do nothing to ease the existing regulatory burden on the business and not-for-profit sectors or boost Australia’s multi-factor productivity.

This is virtually a mirror image of what I have said today about the repeal of this legislation. He went on to say:

Labor’s regulatory program has been both costly and detrimental to the Australian economy. Not only has Labor failed in its commitment to deliver a one regulation in, one regulation out policy, but has implemented costly pieces of regulation such as the carbon tax, the mining tax …

As a result, Australian businesses have been experiencing ever increasing costs and falling productivity, which is resulting in diminished competitiveness and jobs moving offshore—

as we have seen in recent times. The coalition has already announced an aggressive deregulation agenda. The coalition will reduce regulation costs by $1 billion per annum. As Senator Sinodinos said:

Our policy focus is to move beyond the public relations smokescreen and deliver real policy solutions and outcomes that will improve the Australia’s competitiveness and will ultimately deliver lower cost of living, greater employment security and higher living standards …

We support this piece of legislation because we support the diligence of the department in their rotational housekeeping process. It is a good piece of legislation because it does tidy up dormant and ineffective pieces of legislation. What it does not do is cut red tape for the business sector. I have explained that confidently and without question. Anyone from the government who goes out into the public arena without understanding this bill and tries to make any analogy that they are cutting red tape for business, I do not think they are being dishonest, because I do not think anyone in this parliament is dishonest, but it does bring into question their judgement and their capacity to understand the machinations of this parliament and the real cost of red tape on business.

Debate adjourned.