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Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Page: 3145

Mr BURKE (WatsonManager of Opposition Business) (09:56): It is rare in the parliament to have so much hype over so little. I congratulate the member for Kooyong on what is an extraordinary level of spin over legislation that says very, very little—arguably, close to nothing. I am not surprised that the House has just carried a resolution, with majority support from government members, to make sure that they have to speak on these bills for today only. If I were them I would not be wanting this debate to continue beyond today either.

With this bonfire it is all smoke. People on the government benches are getting all excited about the fact that someone has decided to vacuum the spare room that nobody walks into anyway. The legislation that is in front of us—the Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2014) Bill 2014 and related legislation—is a series of legislative instruments that no-one has looked at for years, that have no impact on anyone, that have no effect at all. But we keep hearing from those opposite that this legislation is going to make a big difference for business. I hope that during the debate we hear from government members about the repeal within these bills. The legislation repeals the Defence Act 1904, which amended a definition relating to a naval officer of a state navy. The states have not had navies since 1913. But just in case Queensland or Tasmania or Western Australia decide to bring back a state navy, the member for Kooyong is onto them, making sure the repeal has taken place first.

The legislation also repeals the Defence Act 1909, which, among other things, stipulated that the owner of a mule or bullock required for naval or military purposes shall furnish it for such purposes and that the owner may have to register it from time to time. So, just in case new orders come from members of the Defence Force whereby they want to reintroduce mules and bullocks to the ADF, the member for Kooyong is onto them, making sure we are up to date and repealing the relevant regulations. How this is going to make a difference to small business, only the member for Kooyong knows; only the media releases from the member for Kooyong can tell us how this is removing red tape for business. But he is clearly proud of it—proud of it enough to ask the Leader of the House, 'Please, can we just make sure this debate goes for only one day?'

The legislation also repeals the Judiciary Act 1914, which made the High Court of Australia a Colonial Court of Admiralty. Colonial Courts of Admiralty ceased to exist in 1988, but, just in case someone decides to bring one back, the member for Kooyong again is onto them, making sure that it can be dealt with. The legislation repeals a series of spirits amendment acts, including from 1915, 1918, 1923 and 1932. The main Spirits Act ceased to have any effect in 2006. The legislation also repeals the Passports Act 1948, which used a definition for the meaning of an Australian citizen for the purposes of obtaining a passport which was changed anyway in 2007.

Mr Whiteley: So why didn't you get rid of the statute?

Mr BURKE: He is out of his seat when he is interjecting, which is just silly. Repealing legislation which has no impact is not something we are going to vote against. It is not something to get all excited about and say, 'How dare they do that?' We did similar things. What we did not do was the fanfare, pretending that this will make a scrap of difference to business, because it will not. All this is is cleaning and vacuuming the spare room. You have got to do it from time to time. It is a reasonable thing to do. But it is not something where you can pretend that somehow this makes you the friend of business.

The legislation repeals an amendment to the Flags Act 1953 which amended the size of the Commonwealth star on the Australian flag from three-eighths of the width of the flag to three-tenths of the width of the flag. As the size change was made into law, the amendment act is redundant. It does not matter whether the amendment act is there or not. You want to get rid of it? Not a problem, but I want to know which small business out there is going to say, 'The red-tape burden is lifted for me because I was checking and was not sure what the size of the Federation star on the flag was, and I was confused that the amendment act was still there on the books.'

The Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2014) Bill 2014 amends or repeals legislation almost all of which has no consequence at all. I challenge those opposite, when they are referring in their speeches to the difference this will make to small business, to refer to one section of the bill—just one. I reckon what is going to happen for those opposite today is that they will give a general red-tape speech. They will give a general speech about regulations being bad. They will give an example of too much legislation and things like that. But I reckon they will not be able to make a single link in their speeches between a single word within the legislation that is before the parliament and there being a difference for business. Maybe they will prove me wrong. Maybe there are small businesses in the mule and bullock trade that have been anxiously waiting for this to be clarified on the statute books. But I reckon we are about to see a day of speeches where no-one opposite can draw a single link in their speeches to a single act that is being repealed through these items of legislation that are before us today.

Here is a classic one. In the finance portfolio every year we have appropriation bills go through. The appropriation bills that went through in 2010-11 and 2011-12 are going to be repealed. What does an appropriation bill do? It has parliament voting for money to be transferred across. In 2010-11 and 2011-12 the appropriation bills were carried and the money was transferred across. They are now repealing those acts. Well, the money has been transferred. It makes no difference at all. There is no small business in the country, no business in the country and no government department in the country where this will make any difference at all, but today they are being repealed. If it were just being done in the way these items were dealt with in the previous government, where it was a standard clean-up, then no-one would have any argument. But to hold this up as being a serious example of economic reform is one of the strangest, most creative arguments I have heard in this place.

In the social services portfolio the legislation repeals 12 housing assistance acts that related to the provision of financial assistance to the states and territories. The acts were all made redundant in 2009, when payments to the states and territories became governed by the Federal Financial Relations Act. So they get repealed. So what? If those opposite want to deal with red tape, to provide clean air for, or to remove restrictions on, business, then maybe they should consider today's legislation having something to do with business—and not their shorthand for business legislation, where it is all about removing consumer protection; those issues are not in the bills before us right now.

In the employment portfolio the legislation repeals an act that established the Construction Industry Development Agency. Maybe we are going to hear passionate speeches about why the Construction Industry Development Agency has to go, notwithstanding that it went in 1995. But they are going to repeal the act and somehow that is meant to be making a difference.

Those opposite are going to be giving very, very short speeches, I am told. That is probably merciful. That is probably being kind to the parliament and the public. It is also being particularly kind to those sitting opposite who have to speak on this. We have hundreds of pages of legislation before us, none of which are particularly objectionable, from what we have seen. We will make sure, in the ordinary Senate inquiry process, that there is a Senate check on these issues, but nothing that we have worked through at the moment contains anything offensive. But the reason that we have not been able to find anything offensive in there at the moment is that, on these particular bills, we have not been able to find anything. There is nothing there. There is absolutely nothing before us that makes a difference to anyone in the world. It does not make a difference to anyone in the world.

Mr Frydenberg: You haven't read it!

Mr BURKE: The member for Kooyong is interjecting out of his seat—

Mr Frydenberg: I'm here!

Mr BURKE: No; he was standing when he was interjecting. But please do not kick him out, because it is funnier when he is here. It is much funnier when he is here, because the member for Kooyong is the person who single-handedly inflated this issue as though it were going to be a standard-bearer for the government to prove that they were on the right side of business, that they were the people who would remove red tape—

Mr Frydenberg: And the not-for-profits!

Mr BURKE: Once again, he is referring to a bill that is not in this particular group that is before us. I think that shows exactly the challenge that he has in trying to have any level of passion about the legislation that is in front of us. If the parliamentary secretary who is responsible for the bill cannot even interject something relevant to the bill in front of us, then how on earth are his backbenchers going to be hung out to dry during the debate today to have to meet the challenge? Can they say something relevant on the legislation before us?

The Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2014) Bill 2014 repeals or amends the provisions of a total of 81 pieces of legislation in the portfolios Agriculture, Communications, Defence, Employment, Environment, Finance, Industry, Prime Minister, Social Services and Treasury. It is claimed to be a bill that will reduce the regulatory burden for business, individuals and the community sector.

We will vote for the bill and I challenge anyone to find a reason to be passionately in favour of or against the bill because this legislation is a clean-up of issues which were already largely irrelevant. I will be moving an amendment to the motion—just a second reading amendment, nothing in detail—simply to get some things on the record but largely as a favour to those opposite. Unless I move a second reading amendment, they will have to be relevant to the legislation. I do not know how they are going to do it.

The member for Kooyong might be willing to hang government backbenchers out to dry but I am not. I am willing to move a second reading amendment to at least let them give speeches that have very little to do with the bill but do have something to do with the debate, to make sure that at no point are government backbenchers facing the humiliation of having it drawn to their attention that what they are saying has nothing to do with the bills in front of them. The poor Prime Minister had to deal with that—with talking about issues that are not in fact anything to do with these bills. While the member for Kooyong might be willing to hang his own side out to dry, we, in the last 24 hours, in a gallant fashion—I guess that is an appropriate description—

Dr Leigh: Riding to the rescue!

Mr BURKE: Yes, that is right—like a knight in shining armour, we come to the rescue and provide the assistance to government members that is not being provided by their own side. I will come back to the second reading amendment in a moment and will continue with some general remarks first.

There are issues in front of us which are not part of this set of bills but are part of the government policies that have been tied up with the rhetoric of repeal day and which cause real harm. The future of financial advice reforms cause real harm. Those reforms, originally advanced in government by Senator Sinodinos, were passed to the Minister for Finance and have now been put on the backburner until after the people of Western Australia have voted. I am not surprised that the government have done that, but it is a cynical and a shallow tactic to, in the first instance, claim that removing consumer protection for people's retirement savings is important in a red-tape context, but, secondly, to think that they can get away with just parking the issue, as they have with the Commission of Audit, until after the people of Western Australia have voted.

There is another bill which is not before us in this section, which deals with the impact on charities and the abolition of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission—a commission that provides a one-stop shop that people often refer to when they ask: what is a way of making sure that we can remove red tape? The government's proposal here is that the way to remove red-tape is to get rid of the one-stop shop—the exact opposite of what they will argue in a whole lot of other areas. It shows that they are willing to remove transparency for charities under the guise of red tape removal. Similarly the stripping away of the wage protection for cleaners as part of revoking the fair work principles in the Commonwealth Cleaning Services Guidelines has been caught up in the rhetoric and the language of this, notwithstanding that it is not in the bills before us today. For those opposite it is a real message. When they talk of removing red-tape, they are either talking about a pile of legislation which has no impact on anyone at all or they are talking about the impacts such as removing consumer protection, removing transparency and cutting wages. That is why they want to ramp up the rhetoric and talk about the bonfire, so that they can smuggle under the smoke as many issues as possible to hurt people. The record we had in government of removing regulation never had attached to it the fanfare we have seen from those opposite. If their test is removal of regulations, we need to compare the nearly six years we were in office. Take legislation like today's as the test, where the government are clearing 9,000 regulations that do not matter; we repealed 16,794 spent and redundant acts, regulations and legislative instruments from the statute book.

I do not put that forward as a proud boast or as something that made a massive difference, because it did not, just like today's bills do not. The clearing of regulations that are already redundant does not make a big difference. It is a good thing to do. It is not worth anyone getting excited about opposing and it is not worth anyone getting excited about pretending that here is a test of being an impressive government. This is not. This is something that is routine.

If they really think that changing the rules on mules and bullocks in the Australian Defence Force is what small business is asking for, then it is an example of how far away from reality this government is. The government that launched the most bizarre distraction into knighthoods and dame titles yesterday, the government that thinks that one of the big issues to talk about is bigotry and the government that thinks the way to deal with red tape is to get rid of the regulations that are not having an impact on anyone at all and put them in a big bonfire and ramp up the rhetoric is a government that is horrifically out of touch.

We had a greater deregulatory agenda that was aimed at reducing costs for business in complying with regulation that actually did make a difference—the seamless national economy—and the benefits from those reforms were significant. Those opposite, in particular the member for Kooyong, should note that this is what regulatory reform is about. The COAG Reform Council reported in its final report on the seamless national economy in early February 2014 that the completion of most of the reforms had happened by the end of 2013 and that meant cost savings to Australian businesses worth billions of dollars per year. The Productivity Commission estimated that completion of just 17 of the seamless national economy reforms was estimated to lower business costs by $4 billion a year. The Productivity Commission also estimated that full implementation of the seamless national economy reforms would increase GDP by improving productivity by $6 billion per year.

There were other reforms instituted by the previous Labor government that demonstrated our commitment to the deregulatory agenda. I remember as agriculture minister that one of the first things I did was make sure that wheat growers in Australia could export and sell their wheat to whoever they chose. That was something that was not available under the Howard government. Under the Howard government if you wanted your wheat exported, you could go to only one business, the AWB. That was the only place available to export bulk wheat. That was an appalling situation. So we removed what was a very real form of red tape. A proportion of those opposite, I acknowledge, voted with us on that. They were never able to do it in government. We came through in government and did it. For the entirety of the Howard years a proportion of them sat on their hands on the deregulation of wheat exports. The protectionists opposite, who have now returned to the government benches, lost the day, as they should have. Once again, since then we have seen on some issues, including foreign investment decisions, that the protectionists have managed to get a new level of power and authority in the coalition government that certainly did not happen when we were in office.

Other reforms instituted by the previous Labor government demonstrated our commitment to the deregulatory agenda, including better regulation ministerial partnerships, which the former Minister for Finance and Deregulation established with various ministers to help eliminate unnecessary regulatory burdens. These partnerships were making tangible differences. For example, the partnership that resulted in the length of disclosure documents for financial products, such as superannuation, being reduced to a few pages made it easier for consumers to get information and less costly for business to produce. Those opposite should take note of this one. You do not have to see removing red tape and removing consumer protection as things that need to work in lock step. You can have regulatory reform where you improve the quality of information for consumers and make compliance easier for business. Another partnership resulted in the assessment process for new medical devices and procedures being changed so that patients could access new health technology sooner. We instituted policy measures that are making a difference to lowering business costs and improving productivity. These are tangible measures that are having an effect on the Australian economy.

Let me take you back to last Wednesday when the Prime Minister made his statement on deregulation. The Prime Minister stated that the first repeal day—that is today—would accomplish a number of things. However, when you look at the legislative program, there would appear to be a few things missing. The Prime Minister said the first repeal day will abolish the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission. That is not in front of us today. They have gagged debate—

Mr Hawke: So!

Mr BURKE: What a great interjection. It was only the Prime Minister telling the parliament. Excuse me for thinking that that might matter. I mean, come in spinner, do not stop interjecting now that you have started. We were told that that would be debated and would be abolished on the first repeal day. They have decided to gag the debate and rush through all the changes that mean nothing, but they will not do that one. Once again, anything that is causing real harm they are trying to park until after the people of Western Australia have voted.

The Prime Minister said that the first repeal day will abolish the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor. That legislation is not being debated this week either. The Prime Minister told us that as a result of today's repeal day business will not have to reapply to use agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines. Surprise, surprise! After being told by the Prime Minister that that would be achieved today, they have not bothered to have it debated today.

We were given a dollar figure for what the difference the repeal day would make to the economy, but that dollar figure is not as a result of the bills that are being debated on repeal day. That dollar figure has already haemorrhaged significantly if the government is actually serious about taking a step back on the freedom of financial advice reforms, which form the lion's share of the savings that it was claiming.

Something has changed since the Prime Minister spoke to us last week. The Prime Minister told us a whole lot of things were going to be happening today but all that is left of the bonfire is the smoke. All the bits that we could have a decent argument about—such as red tape versus consumer protection, red tape versus transparency for charities, red tape versus a one-stop shop and the total dollar figure that might be seen to be achieved from a day like today—have gone. All we are left with is the vacuuming of the spare room that nobody walks into. That is all that has been left for us to debate today. Unsurprisingly, we got a very early confession from the Leader of the House that speeches today are going to be really short and the debate today is going to be cut as short as possible. If this were something that they were proud of, they would be wanting to debate this every day. If this were something they actually thought mattered, they would want the scrutiny of parliament because they would think it would advance their cause.

What we have today is legislation that repeals things that already have no impact. The only circumstance in front of the parliament today is one where issues that already did not affect business, as of today, will not affect business. And that is the achievement of the government on repeal day. I congratulate the government on their nerve at claiming that this is a big deal. I congratulate the government on the message development that has gone into the rhetoric around this. If you want to look at the politics, it has been a pretty amusing investigation of spin.

I challenge the speakers from the government side to come up with their own examples of something to be repealed in the actual bills before us that will make a difference to Australian business. I do not know which business in Australia has been wanting to get rid of the regulation about mules and bullocks for the Defence Force—but maybe I just do not talk to enough people! Maybe they are out there, and maybe we are about to hear it. I do not know which state is about to introduce its own navy—but maybe there is information from some of the Liberal states that those opposite will be able to tell me about. But I do know that today is not a significant day for economic reform. And I do know that today the government is caught out on massively over-egging the content of what they call 'repeal day'.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Vasta ): Does the member wish to move an amendment?

Mr BURKE: In relation to the Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2014) Bill 2014, I move:

That all the words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading the House notes that:

(1) the former Labor government had a strong record of deregulation reform which significantly improved the competitiveness and productivity of the Australian economy. In particular, the former Labor government:

a. repealed 16,794 acts, regulations and legislative instruments during its time in office; and

b. through its Seamless National Economy reforms was delivering significant cost savings to businesses—just 17 of these reforms were estimated by the Productivity Commission to lower business costs by $4 billion per year with the full reforms to increase Australia's productivity and deliver a $6 billion boost to GDP per year;

(2) a vast majority of the changes in this bill have no impact in terms of costs or regulatory burden on businesses, individuals and the community sector in Australia;

(3) the parliament supports sensible deregulation which removes cost and regulatory burden, but does not support the removal of protections for seniors, consumers, workers and investors under the guise of cutting red tape; and

(4) the government is using these bills as a distraction from cuts to protections for seniors, consumers, workers and investors."

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Is the amendment seconded?

Dr Leigh: I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

Mr BURKE: In conclusion, and to reiterate, we will be voting for the bills. There will be no dramatic division at the end of all of this unless someone during the debate can find something that matters that we can have a debate about. If anyone can find something that matters, we can then have a debate as to whether we are in favour of it or against. But to date, no-one has been able to do that. What we have in front of us is a standard clean-up which is not worth getting particularly frustrated about but is also in no way worth the fanfare that has been associated with the fizzer that is repeal day.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The original question was that these bills be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Watson has moved as an amendment to the Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2014) Bill 2014 that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. If it suits the House I will state the question in the form that the amendment be agreed to. The question now is that the amendment be agreed to.