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Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Page: 3187


Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (12:51): I thank the member for Hughes for his contribution. It is wonderful to hear how countries that have very little regulation flourish while those that are regulated do not. I travelled recently to a Pacific island which I will not name. Because I am a bit of a cyclist I took some things that most people would not take—a pair of pedals, a pedal spanner and cycling shoes, as well as my helmet, so that I could hire a bike and still clip in. Imagine my horror when I got there and I realised that not only were the screws that hold the pedals on the bikes not uniform on this Pacific island, where of course they would be in most of world, but their threads were not uniform either. You could buy a bolt and a nut and they would not fit. This is a country with so little regulation that you could not even use last year's nut out of your toolbox with this year's bolt.

To assume that all regulation is bad and all regulation ties us up and makes life unpleasant is quite ridiculous. In Australia, we live in a society where our balconies do not fall down, when you put the brakes on the car stops in a straight line, toys for sale do not have lead in them and their parts do not fall off creating a choking risk for a child, and you can get on a roller-coaster without fearing that it will fall down. We have a level of convenience and trust in what we buy that comes from regulation. Regulation can do really good things. I would appreciate it if the government did not attempt, in this debate, to demonise all regulation. You need to be able to pick the good from the bad, but we are not hearing that from the other side. Red tape repeal day is supposed to be about red tape, which is the paperwork that you need to fill in to prove that you did something or to get permission to do something. Having been a small business owner, I know that it is annoying. Sometimes it is valuable as you can use what you put into the form for your business purposes; at other times it is just annoying and you wonder why it is necessary.

With the Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2014) Bill 2014 and related bills we are talking about all spin and no substance. I have been looking forward to this day, to see what the government would come up with that would result in the great unshackling of small businesses who are drowning under red tape. What would they take out for small business on this repeal day? Having read all the bills and all the explanatory memoranda, which took me some time because there were a lot of pages produced, the answer is that very little has been taken out. The small things that have been taken out are the kinds of housekeeping matters that would normally have passed through this House uncontroversially, in the Federation Chamber, on any day of any parliament that has sat in living memory. I often talk about the amount of spin that is in politics and I liken it to sugar. Governments of all persuasions like to put a bit of sugar on their policies, to make them look a bit shiny when they are presented. That is part of the job. It is like putting the cinnamon sugar on a doughnut. But there is supposed to be a doughnut. Under all that sugar there is supposed to be a doughnut. Before someone says that there are holes in doughnuts I will say they are right, because even if you get a policy right there will always be someone who is unsatisfied with something. Someone will always find a hole in it. However, there is supposed to actually be a doughnut under all the sugar. This legislation is just sugar. When you peel away the rhetoric we have heard from the government since the election, the bills are just sugar.

We have heard Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the lead-up to this debate, in the media reports and in his own speech, saying the childcare centres were subject to so many pages of law restricting their capacity to operate. The impression was given, and the reasonable expectation was created, that in these pages of repeals there would be something on child care. There is not. Despite all the hype, all the spin, all the promises and all the raising of expectations, these bills effectively repeal legislation that was automatically going to be repealed anyway. When we were in government we repealed 16,000 bills, but we also found ways to automatically repeal bills which became redundant so that we did not have to pull a stunt like repeal day. It happened automatically. In order to get the numbers up in the childcare area, the government has gone through and found bills that were scheduled to automatically repeal under their sunset provisions and brought their repeal dates forward, so that they could count them. There were public servants working that out at a time when the government was saying we had budget emergency. In September, when the government stated that there was work to do and they were going to hit the ground running, they had departmental staff going through legislation, finding provisions that were scheduled to be repealed automatically, and adding them to a list so they could count them. It is truly extraordinary and it must be extremely disappointing for those in the childcare sector who may have thought there might have been some real work done, rather than the rhetoric and spin.

We heard about local cafes that serve alcohol and have to negotiate 75 sets of local, state and national regulations. It is well worth dealing with that, but it is hard to repeal that type of legislation as you have to negotiate with the states and do some work. Is there anything in all of these thousands of pages that actually delivers on the government's promises? No.

Mr Hutchinson: It is just the first tranche.

Ms OWENS: I hear from the other side that it is coming, they are making a commitment. They do that. The Cutting Red Tape website is truly amazing. They are aiming to cut $1 billion of red tape for business each year. That is a great aim. However, our COAG reforms alone cut $4 billion every year for business. But $1 billion is a nice target. On the government's Cutting Red Tape website they have a wonderful graph which shows them approaching that $1 billion. It is not a graph of what they have actually done; it is a graph of their announcements. They have announced that if they do something at some point, and clearly not today, then these achievements will be reached. They are graphing their announcements, not their deliveries. It is all spin and no substance.

We know that there is no substance to these bills, because there are no regulatory impact statements. This is a government that, in opposition in the lead-up to the election, made an enormous song and dance about how everything would have a regulatory impact statement because it was really important to look at the reduction of red tape impacting on small business. True, it is important. In fact, we used regulatory impact statements when we were in government and we were 97 per cent compliant, according to the Office of Best Practice Regulation. The current government already has some default notices for regulatory impact statements which they have not produced, even though, in January this year, they strengthened the requirement by stating that every proposal that went to cabinet for consideration would have to have a regulatory impact statement. These bills, which are the centrepiece of this great repeal day—which was their great announcement—do not even warrant regulatory impact statements. In fact, their explanatory memoranda say they are not required. It is clear why they are not required—because these bills do not actually repeal anything causing red tape burden. They repeal things that actually do nothing.

In the last few months, the Treasurer, Joe Hockey, has been saying that every time he opened a cupboard he found a spider. Now we know why: it is because he has been running around in the archives opening cupboards that have not been opened since 1905. That is what he has been spending his time doing. It is truly astonishing! No wonder he is finding spiders if he and the department is actually spending time on this. This is the sort of stuff that you do when you have nothing else to do. Cleaning out your inbox, going back over your files and throwing out the files that are 50 years old or 75 years old, is something you do when you are trying to be busy, you have nothing else to do and you want to make yourself feel good by ticking off a few numbers. There is nothing in this.

The Prime Minister said that 9,000 regulations and 1,000 acts will be repealed, but in order to reach 1,000 acts he had to go back to acts which repealed acts before 1969. There are over 1,000 acts being repealed in these bills, which repealed bills between 1901 and 1969. How astonishing! Of course, it is great that it is happening, but you want to put out a press release about this? This is the normal business of government. This is the usual business of government. We repealed 16,000 when we were in government—unlike the Howard years, by the way. The net increase in regulation under the Howard years was higher than it was under Labor. We added 21,000; we repealed 16,000. The Howard years saw a net increase in regulation that was higher by far than it was the Labor years. To walk in here and somehow try to take credit for this great repeal day, which actually only repeals bills that have not done anything for a very long time, is quite problematic.

Mr Nikolic: Why didn’t you do it when you were in government?

Ms OWENS: The member asks why we did not do it when we were in government. Because we were actually governing. We were getting on with the job of governing. We still found time to do this stuff—

Mr Nikolic: Mr Deputy Speaker, under standing order 66A, I was asked a question. I seek to intervene under the same standing order.

Mr Snowdon: No, she didn't ask you a question.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Broadbent ): Member for Parramatta?

Ms OWENS: I am not accepting the intervention.

There are also some wonderful things in these bills which caused me to chuckle! Bearing in mind that we are seven weeks out from the budget, I wonder whether this is the best use of departmental staff time. I suspect that there are probably a few advisers that were shaking their heads and getting quite worried about the fact that there is real work to do. There are 11 different pieces of legislation that from now on will contain the word 'email' without a hyphen. Who in the department took time out from the important work of preparing the budget and preparing things for expenditure review to do that? Who in the department took time out from dealing with the budget emergency and from the extraordinary things this government had to do because things were so terrible, to do that?

Mr Snowdon: And 'facsimile' to 'fax'!

Ms OWENS: Hang on, yes: where 'facsimile transmission' appeared in 16 pieces of legislation, the legislation now says 'fax'. Small business all around the country is delighting in the fact that now, stylistically, they can type less. They can just put 'fax' now. They will not have to type two words; they can just type one. A member of staff—someone who works in the department—and then drafters actually took time—

Mr Hutchinson: One in; one out.

Ms OWENS: One in; one out. So that is it? So you change 'facsimile' to 'fax' and that is one out? Goodness me, that is just astonishing!

In part 4, paragraphs 92 to 99 amend six pieces of legislation to add a space in the middle of the word 'trademark' so that it reads 'trade mark'. Again, that is of incredible benefit to small business—not! All spin and no substance. Never mind red tape, what about waste of time? There are 10 instances that a staff member managed to find where the legislative assembly of the Northern Territory was referred to as 'for the Northern Territory', and they changed it to 'of the Northern Territory', and then someone had to draft it so that it could go into this Statute Law Revision Bill (No. 1) 2014. The amount of time that has been spent on this when there is, I assume, real work to do is quite astonishing.

It is not surprising that those opposite are only speaking for five minutes, because there is not any more than that to talk about in this debate. If they thought that there was something to speak about in this debate, the other way to reduce their speaking time was to have a small number of speakers speaking fully and fulsomely on the wonderful changes that they have made in these repeal bills—1,000 bills that repeal bills which were obsolete in 1969. You had a target of 1,000 and that is how you have met it. There is not a single small business, a single person at home, a single school or preschool pupil, a single university student, a single pensioner or a single person living in an aged-care facility that will benefit at all from the repeal of 1,000 bills that repeal bills between 1902 and 1969. The hide of the government, to actually get up and brag about this, is amazing. They actually bragged about using the time of departments and the time of drafters to draft something that, quite frankly, you would only do when you did not have anything else to do. This hype about this repeal day, this hype about this removal of red tape today, is proving to be nothing more than a farce.

One of the previous speakers spoke about the horrors of duplication. They have actually found a horror of duplication in this: they found that in one of the bills there were two commas in a row, so they took one out. I have to be fair here; there is another area where they have reduced duplication—

Mr Frydenberg: What about aged care? What about telecommunications?

Ms Owens: I was just going to aged care. They have actually removed the duplication where aged-care businesses had to register building approvals with both the Commonwealth and the states. The interesting thing about this is that 60 per cent of aged-care providers are from the not-for-profit sector. The ACNC, the charities commission which those opposite are abolishing, was tasked with removing duplication in aged-care regulations. However, it was tasked with fixing the hard-to-remove duplication—not the simple stuff that you can do in a paragraph, but the stuff that requires negotiation with the states, and you are removing it. You have managed to do one easy bit, but you are removing the body which would have worked on repealing the hard stuff. So you are actually making it harder to repeal red tape, not easier. This is all spin, all sugar and no doughnut.