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Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Page: 3171


Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (11:42): The Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2014) Bill 2014 repeals or amends the provisions of a total of 81 pieces of legislation in Agriculture, Communications, Defence, Employment, Environment, Finance, Prime Minister, Social Services and Treasury portfolios. Of course, we support the removal of legislation that is redundant, irrelevant or no longer enforced. As the Leader of the Opposition said last week:

Labor have always believed in making it easier for business to do business. We have always believed in competitive, productive and profitable enterprises. We believe in successful enterprises that provide Australians with good jobs.

What did we do in office to that end? Over nearly six years in office, we repealed over 16,000 spent and redundant acts, regulations and legislative instruments from the statute books.

We also had a deregulation agenda aimed at reducing costs for business in complying with unnecessary and inconsistent regulation. That, of course, was the seamless national economy program. The benefits from these reforms are very significant. The COAG Reform Council reported in its final report on the seamless national economy in early February this year that the completion of most of the reforms by the end of 2013 had meant cost savings to Australian businesses worth billions of dollars every year. The Productivity Commission estimated that completion of just 17 of the seamless national economy reforms were estimated to lower business costs by about $4 billion a year. The Productivity Commission also estimated the full implementation of the seamless national economy reforms would increase GDP by improving productivity by about $6 billion a year. So we took a number of steps and instituted policy measures that are already making a difference to lowering business costs and improving productivity.

While Labor support the broad aims of this bill to reduce the regulatory burden for small business, individuals and the community sector, we also have to point out that what is happening in the parliament today is not quite the substantial range of reforms that the government is claiming. What we see today is a lot of ideology masking as legislation. The vast majority of the items in this bill relate to amending or repealing legislation that has literally no impact on people or organisations at all. So there is no harm in doing it, but there is no real benefit. For example, these bills repeal 12 acts in the finance portfolio—old appropriation acts from 2010-11 and 2011-12. These financial years have already occurred and the Commonwealth government agencies have already been provided with the appropriations that are stated in those acts. Taking those acts off the statute books will have no tangible effect on the lives of everyday Australians at all.

In the industry portfolio we see the repeal of two acts that ceased to have effect by the end of 2011 and we see the inclusion of a single word in three locations in two acts. It is really not going to make the slightest bit of difference to people's lives. In the employment portfolio we see the repeal of an act that administered an agency that was abolished nearly 20 years ago. Of course it is a perfectly sensible thing to do and there is no harm in it, but there is simply not the great benefit that the government is claiming. I cannot really see the regulatory burden of a redundant act that relates to an agency that no longer exists.

The government is making a series of changes to a succession of spirits acts from the 1910s and the 1920s which have long been superseded by subsequent legislation. Again, I am not sure what the regulatory burden of the definition of 'methylated spirits' from 1919 has on Australians but, if there is one, I am very pleased that the regulatory burden has been lifted. Likewise, the Melbourne Commonwealth Games were held in 2006 and I am perfectly prepared to accept that there is no longer a need to have legislation governing the use of the Commonwealth Games logo. I am delighted to see that piece of legislation repealed; I just do not really know what effect it will have in the real world.

Combined with the over 1,000 acts that are repealed by the Amending Acts 1901 to 1969 Repeal Bill 2014 it is hard to see how this contributes to the $750 million in savings that has been claimed by the government. Yes, it is true that there are a large number of acts and regulations that will disappear. It is not a bad thing to do; it just makes very little real difference to people's lives and certainly not the difference that is being claimed.

There is one area where people will see a real difference, but not an improvement. The abolition of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission is part of a separate bill but related to this piece of work by the government. This is a body that regulates the charities sector—and it is comprehensively supported by the sector—reduces red tape and protects the public from fraudulent or scamming behaviour from the small minority of people who abuse the role of charities in our community. As Tim Costello said last week:

The Commission is actually working for us and gives the public confidence, it underpins the consumer benefit to charities.

David Crosbie, the Chief Executive Officer of the Community Council for Australia, said:

The ACNC is more efficient than the government regulators it replaced, is doing good work and deserves a chance to achieve its three goals of reducing red tape, increasing public trust and strengthening the charities sector.

We will be debating this separately, so I am not going to dwell on the charities commission abolition. I have long had a very close personal interest in the establishment and the running of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. It is doing exactly what I designed it to do, which is reduce the regulatory burden on charities but increase public confidence. As part of this effort to ostensibly reduce red tape it seems ironic in the extreme that one of the measures in this package will, in fact, increase the regulatory burden on charities and take them back to the bad old days where they were being regulated essentially by the ATO, which does not have an interest in streamlining and making their lives easier. Indeed, the support of the sector for the ACNC shows that.

The other very important thing that the ACNC has managed to do is give the public more confidence to donate. Every time people hear a story about one bad apple in the not-for-profit and charities sector, unfortunately some people will make an assumption about the whole sector. It is such an unfair assumption, because the charities and not-for-profit sector does such an important job in our Australian community. To think that the fine, upstanding, well-run organisations we see every day might be tarred with the same brush as the minority of organisations, or people who do the wrong thing, would be a terrible disappointment.

A terrific benefit of the ACNC is that people who are considering donating money or are requested to donate can very easily check whether a charity is legitimate by carrying out a free check on the ACNC's register—an online database of nearly 60,000 charities. What a terrific service to offer Australians who are generous and want to help their fellow Australians. To the government that might be red tape but it is regulation that helps our charities sector run smoothly and do what they want to do, which is to focus on helping their clients.

Of course, it gets worse. As the shadow minister for employment pointed out during the week, the government's red tape stunt will also see some of the lowest paid workers in Australia lose out because of a vital set of guidelines that are being axed. The bulk of this program makes very little difference to real people's lives, but this is an example of where it makes a big difference but not for the better. The Commonwealth Cleaning Services Guidelines, which regulate the minimum pay and conditions for cleaners, will be abolished on 30 June this year. The guidelines apply to cleaners working for Australian government agencies and contractors. According to a story that was published in The Sydney Morning Herald,this change will see between $172 and $225 a week cut from the pockets of full-time contract cleaners of government buildings.

The government has tried to hide these changes among 8,000 other regulatory changes announced as part of this agenda. But it shows the government's priorities—and they are wrong priorities. Amongst all this bluster about cutting red tape they are prepared to cut the pay of their own office cleaners. I think it tells you a great deal that on the day that we are debating a cut to the wages of low-paid workers we have this public discussion going on about reintroducing dames and knights. We are cutting the pay of thousands of cleaners and bestowing knighthoods on a select few. It is a classic example of how this government has its priorities all wrong.

The government talks about award payments being a safety net and that people have the freedom to bargain above that, yet where you have very low-paid workers who have managed to get themselves a slightly better deal than the bare minimum pay that they can be paid, the government actually undermines that agreement.

Unfortunately, this is an agenda for the government that is already in chaos. On Monday, we saw the government announce that it was 'pausing' its planned changes to the Future of Financial Advice reforms. That was going to dismantle important consumer protections in financial advice and open the door to the return of a culture that prioritised product sales—and volume product sales—over providing tailored advice, and where financial planners were under no obligation to act in a client's best interests.

In a week that sees the fifth anniversary of the collapse of Storm Financial affecting many thousands of people, these reforms were supposed to be a centrepiece of the red tape repeal agenda. But they did not even make it through the week. This was a reform which the chair of the Financial Planning Association of Australia said would be bad for consumers, and it is easy to see why. The government has paused this so-called reform; it is about time they went back to the drawing board completely.

As has been stated, as a party we are committed to a bipartisan approach to minimise, simplify and create cost-effective regulation—our record in government is testament to that. But we should not forget why we have regulation in the first place. Good regulation make our workplaces safer. It means we have clean drinking water, it means our roads are not lawless and it means the environment is protected. Good regulation is actually what helps our society to function—the alternative is the law of the jungle.

The government should not confuse the repeal of redundant legislation with the gutting of real protections.