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Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Page: 3154


Mr DREYFUS (IsaacsDeputy Manager of Opposition Business) (10:32): I rise to speak to the Statute Law Revision Bill (No. 1) 2014 and the Amending Acts 1901 to 1969 Repeal Bill 2014. My colleague the member for Watson has spoken on the other bill before the House, the Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2014) Bill 2014. Statute law revision bills are a routine piece of housekeeping undertaken by this parliament. They correct typographical and grammatical errors, they update language and they repeal spent or obsolete provisions. They are a completely unremarkable, largely clerical, practice which, in this country, dates back to before Federation. Commonwealth governments of both political persuasions have tended to introduce one or more such bills each year.

In the past, the Liberal Party has acknowledged as much. In 2013, Liberal Senator Gary Humphries spoke briefly in favour of the similar statute law revision bill which I introduced last year as Attorney-General in the Labor government. This is what Senator Humphries had to say:

Bills of this nature are traditionally non-controversial and receive the support of the parliament because they are regarded as an essential tool in the process of keeping the Commonwealth statute books accurate and up to date.

Bizarrely though, the new Abbott Liberal government has dressed up this humble housekeeping practice in the extreme ideology which is fast becoming its hallmark. The member for Kooyong has, quite grandly, said in this place that this routine legislation will reduce the regulatory burden by improving the accuracy and usability of Commonwealth legislation. As a result, the legislation will help to save individuals, businesses and community organisations, time and money. I am sorry that the member for Mitchell, who spoke before me, was not prepared to take an intervention, because I was going to ask him to explain how it is that the statute law revision bill saves even one cent for any organisation, business organisation or non-business organisation in this country. The answer that he would have been forced to give is 'not one cent', and he would not have been able to name one.

We are told, however, that this run-of-the-mill piece of legislation is an integral part of the government's repeal day stunt. In the ministerial statement that the Prime Minister delivered last week, the Prime Minister explained:

… repeal day will scrap more than 9,500 unnecessary or counterproductive regulations and 1,000 redundant acts of parliament.

He also said:

Removing just these will save individuals or organisations more than $700 million a year, every year.

The Prime Minister said that he was creating the 'biggest bonfire of regulations in our country's history'. We are not here debating the 9,500 spent and redundant regulations. All of them have been tabled and no doubt, in coming months, the parliament will have an opportunity to look at those. But as the names of them suggest, and the way in which repealing regulations is expressed, they deal with spent and redundant regulations—in other words, regulations that are no longer having the slightest effect on business life, on community life, on social life in our country. Just to deal with the statute law revision bill, I cannot really improve on the way in which Lenore Taylor, one of Australia's more observant and perceptive journalists, writing in the Guardian last week, helpfully summarised some of the mighty blows for freedom struck by this brave government in that piece of legislation. I quote from Lenore Taylor's article in the Guardian about the statute law revision bill:

1. Part two, paragraphs 10 to 57, lists the clauses in 11 different pieces of legislation where from now on the law will “omit the word “e-mail”, and substitute “email”.

So 'e-mail' with a hyphen is being replaced by 'email' without a hyphen. Lenore Taylor goes on:

Part three, paragraphs 58 to 91, lists the clauses in 16 pieces of legislation where from now on the law will “omit the words “facsimile transmission” and substitute the word “fax".

…   …   …

Schedule five lists 10 cases in which a reference to “legislative assembly for the Northern Territory” must now be substituted with “legislative assembly of the Northern Territory”.

…   …   …

Schedule one, part 27, corrects a punctuation error in the Fair Work Act 2009 to insert a comma in between the words “aircraft” and “ship”.

…   …   …

Schedule one, part 39, corrects a spelling error in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act so that the word “committing” has the requisite two “t”s.

It is a pity that this government was not paying less attention to the spelling of the word 'committing' in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and a little bit more attention to the problems that might be caused to the actual marine park that the act deals with by the depositing of millions of tonnes of dredge spoil. The arrogance of this government and of its Attorney-General is staggering. The Prime Minister, the Attorney-General and the member for Kooyong should be ashamed of themselves for dressing up this sort of proofreading exercise as any sort of reform. They should be ashamed to front the Australian people promising to remove red tape and then serve up this laundry list of spelling corrections and style-guide pedantry.

The piece de resistance of this laughable, pathetic, repeal day stunt is the amending acts repeal bill, a bill which does nothing more than formally repeal transitional and amending legislation enacted between 1901 and 1969. It removes from the statute books pieces of legislation which are already inoperative. An example is the repeal of the Flags Act 1954, a piece of legislation that amended the Flags Act 1953. The amending act, that no longer has any force, changed the outer diameter of the Commonwealth Star, set out in the Flags Act 1953, from three-eighths to three-tenths of the width of the flag. I mention this because last week my office fielded concerned calls about the repeal of this amending act—'Would the government's repeal of the amending legislation mean that the national flag, and in particular the Commonwealth Star on the national flag, would change its dimensions?' Apparently the Prime Minister's office, who the callers had asked first, were quite certain that this was not the case, but were unclear and unable to explain why that was so.

Mr Dutton: Are you telling me you don't support the flag?

Mr DREYFUS: That is a nonsensical intervention, showing that this government has nothing of substance to say and should not have dressed up these bills as some magnificent piece of deregulation when in fact they are nothing of the kind. This repeal of course does not change the flag. Repealing an amending act does not revive the previous version of the principal act. The operation of this amending act was spent in 1954. The Minister for Health would do well to listen to this because, instead of pretending that this is some vast piece of regulation, the government should be owning up and admitting that it is not. The Flags Act was amended in 1954, the Commonwealth Star has had the same diameter for some 60 years now and the repeal of amending acts is nothing more than a media stunt. It changes no rights and no obligations. It has no effect other than allowing the Prime Minister a glib line in his ministerial statement.

Much like our Prime Minister, this is a great big loud spectacle with not one iota of substance. This amending acts repeal bill is a mirage. There is not a single person or company in Australia subject to a regulation which this bill will remove—not one. The bill was concocted entirely so that the Prime Minister could say in his ministerial statement that he would repeal 1,000 acts. It is quite an extraordinary use of the parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. This bill must surely be one of the longest press releases in the history of Australian politics. The Prime Minister made a ministerial statement to celebrate his make-believe deregulation. He held press conferences. He launched a website. And yet, for all the brave talk of freedom, small government and cutting red tape, the Statute Law Revision Bill (No 1) and the Amending Acts 1901 to 1969 Repeal Bill will not remove a single operative piece of regulation.

This government is all tip and no iceberg. They love to speechify; they want to revive the pomp and pageantry of knights and dames. They have the gall to tell the Australian people that they are 'working for them'. They have the nerve to tell the Australian people that their repeal stunt 'is about saving you money, saving you time and trusting your common sense to make more choices about your life.' I defy the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General to explain to the parliament and to the Australian people precisely what part of their $700 million saving will come from spelling 'committing' with two Ts. I would love to see a quantification of the deadweight loss imposed on our economy by the spelling of the word 'email' with or without a hyphen. I want to hear from a single Australian shopkeeper who thinks that the biggest problem facing their small business in uncertain economic times is a misplaced comma in federal legislation.

The partisan pretence that the Liberal Party practises deregulation better than the Labor Party is just that—a pretence. We know what real deregulation is. The Abbott government will not tell you about the previous Labor government's deregulation effort. It will not tell you that the previous Labor government repealed 16,794 acts, regulations and legislative instruments during its time in office, or that the seamless national economy reforms delivered significant cost savings to business. Just 17 of these reforms were estimated by the Productivity Commission to lower business costs by $4 billion a year while the full reforms of that Labor package were estimated to increase Australia's productivity and deliver a $6 billion boost to GDP each year.

It is already clear that the business community sees through the government's repeal day stunt for the circus that it is. The Business Spectator this morning reported that the PM's bonfire of regulations had fizzled. The Spectator, a publication not known for condemning attempts at deregulation, reported:

The culling exercise does not target any specific red tape that hamstrings family business and only a handful of measures are aimed at small business.

The Prime Minister does not actually have the bottle to pursue any real, thoroughgoing reform of Australia's regulatory framework. The Prime Minister is happy to spout lots of ideological cant and deliver little substance.

Most of his repeal day is a stunt of smoke and mirrors, yet there is a darker side to the Prime Minister's repeal day showboating. Among the stunts, there are some very concerning repeals proposed by this government. Though the bills today are of no real substance, the Prime Minister does have some real cuts in the offing. For instance, the Abbott government proposes to repeal the legislation which provides for the Office of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor. That office is responsible for reviewing quite onerous legislation in the national security area to ensure that the restrictions it imposes are still necessary. In a very real sense, the monitor is responsible for an ongoing kind of regulatory reform. The Abbott government cannot see the wood for the trees.

The Abbott government is also committed to the repeal of important parts of the last Labor government's Future of Financial Advice reforms. These Labor reforms are a paradigmatic example of the good to be achieved by government regulation: they corrected a market failure, protected vulnerable consumers and safeguarded the retirement savings of Australians. The Abbott government's unwinding of this reform raises once again the prospect of costly disasters like Storm Financial. We should be worried that after all of the cheap tricks of repeal day—the confected numbers and the overheated rhetoric—are long forgotten these two foolish repeals will come back to haunt us.

Repeal day might be just Mr Abbott's overindulgence in his own ideological obsessions, but it could be ordinary Australians who wake up with the hangover. So, while we will oppose the government's substantive attacks on responsible regulations like the Future of Financial Advice reforms, and while we will not let this government get away with their absurd political grandstanding, Labor will not oppose the uncontroversial bills before the House today.

As I have said, the routine housekeeping of the statute book has long been a bipartisan undertaking. I thank the Office of Parliamentary Counsel for the time and effort which goes into these statute book maintenance efforts. I regret that their hard work on the important task of maintaining the Commonwealth statute books has been so cynically exploited by a government much more interested in stunts and circuses than in substantive reform.