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Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Page: 85


Mr BUCHHOLZ (Wright) (19:34): I rise to speak on the Excise Amendment (Reducing Business Compliance Burden) Bill 2011and the Customs Amendment (Reducing Business Compliance Burden) Bill 2011. Regulation of business activity has always been something of a double-edged sword. The Productivity Commission has noted that, in some instances, regulation has provided social, environmental and even economic benefits. Unfortunately, it also brings significant cost which in many cases far outweighs its intended consequences or benefits.

As a business owner, I am far more familiar with the grinding opportunity costs and the financial impost that red tape and compliance legislation can create. I honestly believe that if people had any idea how much time is spent filling out paperwork before they went into business most of them would just simply never bother. No-one opens a cafe because they want to spend their evenings applying for GST credits. Nobody starts a boutique because they are interested in the nitty-gritty of industrial relations. Yet small business people are increasingly expected not only to run their small business profitably but also to have a thorough working knowledge of the type of impossibly dense regulatory detail that would bamboozle a career bureaucrat.

I campaigned at the last election on three platforms. Firstly, I gave a commitment that I would fight for more money in the pockets of the mums and dads in my electorate. In fighting for more money for those mums and dads, I oppose new taxes. As you can imagine, in the last parliament I was kept enormously busy. Secondly, I gave a commitment that I would fight for better prices at the farm gate. Whilst we all enjoy the benefits of $1 milk at Coles and Woolworths, it should never be at the expense or the sacrifice of dairy farmers, of which there are many in my electorate. Thirdly, I gave a commitment that I would fight for a reduction in compliance and bureaucratic red tape, which are a burden on my small business sector and impede their profitability.

In my home state of Queensland the cost of red tape compliance has gone up nearly 30 per cent over the last five years alone. Small businesses are now expected to be reading over 90,000 pages of regulation. Queensland has gone from one of the beacons of low cost and low regulation to now being one of the most highly regulated states in the country. In fact, according to the Australian Industry Group, Queensland businesses face the largest direct cost of compliance with a whopping 6.5 per cent of total expenses. Every year, Queensland businesses pay over $7 billion in fees, taxes and other charges. It is nothing short of extraordinary. In light of this unprecedented largesse from the small business sector, and in view of Queensland's current mining boom, the rivers of gold are flowing in our state but the Queensland government has still managed to lose the state's AAA credit rating. But that is Labor's economic credibility for you. Unsurprisingly, a great many small businesses have decided to pull up stumps. Over the past two years I have seen dozens of local businesses in my electorate simply go to the wall. From Jimboomba through to the Lockyer Valley, businesses are doing it tough thanks to low consumer confidence and high compliance costs. Just two streets from my electorate office there are two more empty shopfronts, businesses that before Christmas appeared to be vibrant businesses employing four or five people in each of those outlets. Under a Labor government those jobs are gone; those businesses' doors are shut.

Sadly, if Premier Bligh manages to cling to power next month, it is only going to get worse for small business because as of the start of this year they have to get their heads around 400 additional pages of new workplace health and safety regulations. Local businesses in my electorate and everywhere else have had a gutful of being made to jump through hoops of red tape just for the privilege of existing, trading and employing people, and trying to make a living.

But it is not just the Labor Party in Queensland that is slugging businesses with unnecessary compliance costs. The Labor Party in Canberra is doing a pretty good job of it as well. In fact, since 2008 Labor has introduced a whopping 16,173 new regulations. I will repeat that because it is a significant number. Since 2008 Labor has introduced 16,173 new pieces of compliance, and their initial forecast was that as each piece of regulation hit the table they would take one off. Do you know how many have actually come off, Mr Deputy Speaker Thomson? I may have to remind you. At the moment it is 79.

The bills under consideration today, although aimed only at those businesses trading in products eligible for excise or customs duty, are designed to reduce the compliance burden for small businesses, and for that reason they have my support. Under existing excise and customs laws, businesses are required to lodge an entry and pay the applicable excise or customs duty prior to the goods entering the domestic market. However, section 61C of the Excise Act and section 69 of the Customs Act allow for certain small business entities to be granted permission to lodge a return on a weekly basis rather than an individual one. It has been a longstanding practice that the accounting period is weekly.

The amendments under discussion allow for the taxpayer to apply for a new weekly period to begin on their preferred day and, additionally, allow for small businesses to apply for permission to defer their excise settlements to a monthly reporting cycle. This alone will reduce lodgement paperwork from 52 returns to 12 per year. It is the view of the coalition that these amendments, however minor, represent a sensible reform to excise and customs duty. Furthermore, they have the support of many industry stakeholders, and therefore I am happy to support them. I conclude by making the point that the coalition's support for this legislation puts an end to the government's hysterical bleating about our so-called relentless negativity. The coalition, in supporting this bill, is attacked by Labor for saying no, no, no. I went to the library and during the life of the 43rd Parliament only 21 per cent of the bills presented to this parliament last year were met with 'no'. The reason they were met with 'no' is that predominantly they were rubbish bills.