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Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Page: 3250


Mr RIPOLL (Oxley) (16:44): This has to be one of the most laughable and hilarious wastes of time of this parliament. It has to be one of the biggest stunts that any government could foist on the Australian people. It is the normal business of a government to do this as a regular part of their work. It is not something that you would crow about. If anybody who is listening to this debate turned up to their job, they would not make a big show and dance of the fact that they merely came to work. That is their job. The job of this parliament is to actually deal with a whole range of legislation and regulations while trying to make Australia a better place. Every once in a while, part of making Australia a better place ought to be about getting rid of a whole heap of old redundant acts and regulations, and that is done all the time.

That is what Labor did when we were in government. We set about the task of getting rid of some of that old legislation, but we did not overly focus on that to the detriment of doing other, more important things—particularly looking at a seamless national economy and particularly looking at the vast range of things needed by people and by small business to make their lives easier. We took it seriously.

This goes beyond just being a joke: it is an insult. The government are talking about the biggest bonfire in Australian history, and they believe that the bigger pile of paper you burn, somehow, the better you have done. It might feel good for five minutes. For five minutes those opposite are going to beat their chest; they are going to crow about how much regulation, red tape and burden have cost small business. They are going to crow about how much better everyone is going to feel. But that feeling of good is not going to last a really long time, because the next day, after the bonfire burns out, when people ask themselves, 'What has changed in my life?' the answer will be very little to nothing at all. This is the problem.

This is just a stunt. They are repealing a whole heap of redundant regulations that are meaningless to anyone—regulations that have no impact. The vast majority of the measures that we are discussing have no impact at all—none. For example, take a look at the 12 acts in the Finance portfolio: old appropriation acts from 2010-11, 2011-12 and so on. These have already been implemented; they have been spent and they are expired. They do nothing. This government think that they can just pick up something that does nothing, burn it and say, 'Look at all the things that we have done'. Removing this legislation from the statute books really has no tangible effect, not for anyone—not small business, not anyone. People will not feel anything; they will just see a big cloud of smoke and a big fire. Nothing at all will have changed.

How ridiculous is this? Well, let me give you some examples. They are repealing two acts that ceased to be effective by the end of 2011. They are also including a single word; in three locations in two acts they are inserting the word 'former'. That is it: from 'was' to 'former'. I do not see how this is going to relieve a whole heap of cost or burden from anyone. In the Employment portfolio, they are repealing an act that administered an agency that was abolished nearly 20 years ago. Good on them! I am sure that will have a massive impact! I can still see businesspeople knocking down my door to say, 'Get rid of that redundant act from that agency that disappeared 20 years ago; it is burdening me in some particular way.'

It is really hard to see how much, if any, of this contributes to the very wobbly, jelly-like number—$700 million-odd—that they claim they are going to save. Curiously, though, the single biggest saving they were going to make was going to be to remove consumer protection for people under FoFA, the very important Future of Financial Advice reforms that Labor undertook after so many tens of thousands of people lost their life savings. They have now hit the pause button. Apparently they had an epiphany last weekend. They had been determined to push through on this no matter what, but something happened over the weekend—whether it is Western Australia, some really bad polling or something else—that made them think, 'Hang on a second, we just might be wrong on this.' They have hit the pause button, but nobody should be misled about what that means. It means they are coming back to it. If I read the minister's words correctly, he is coming back to it full steam ahead to rip away consumer protections to the people that most need them, the most vulnerable in our society: retirees and people saving for their retirement future.

One of the curious pieces of legislation that they are burning on this funeral pyre is a section of the Flags Act which specifies how large the stars on the Australian flag are to be. That is right: they are getting rid of a whole bit of paper that specifies the size of the star on the Australian flag. An enormous cost saving to small business! An enormous impact on the lives of ordinary Australians every day! When they sit around the kitchen table doing their budget they say: 'But, Mum, Dad, what about the size of the star on the Australian flag?' 'It's okay, son, the government has taken care of it. It has been thrown onto the pile to be burnt with all the other acts that do nothing at all.'

What else are the government doing? The Spirits Act of 1915 amended the Spirits Act 1906. It ceased to have effect in 2006. They are going to get rid of that one as well, because—yes, you guessed it—it does absolutely nothing. The Judiciary Act 1914 declared the High Court of Australia to be the Colonial Court of Admiralty. I did not know that it had any impact today, but it must be appropriate given that in the last 24 hours we have seen Tony Abbott and the government revisit the past and revisit history. Joe Hockey came in here with a budget paper from the 1900s. It is appropriate when we are bringing back lords, dames, knights and all sorts of things. These are the big-picture issues, aren't they! Isn't this what Australians were begging for at the election? Isn't this what they said their highest priority was? I do not think so. Earls, lords, graces and bringing a 'grace note' back to Australia are perhaps important to a few people—I do not deny that—but I did not think that it was a priority for government. I did not think that lords, dames and knights were going to make a whole heap of difference to small business. But it is, again, something that this government sees as a priority.

They are also repealing the spelling of the word 'e-mail'. No longer will it be law in Australia that email is 'e-mail'; it is now, by law 'email'. Good job! I know that that is going to save me an absolute fortune! When I type my next 'e-mail' I will make sure to omit the hyphen, which I have not used for a decade. Thank you for clarifying that piece of red tape and regulatory burden.

In a piece of heavy lifting so immense that I cannot even think of the weight of it, in 16 pieces of legislation the words 'facsimile transmission' will be outlawed! It will be substituted by the word 'fax'. My lord, the weight of burden relieved from my shoulders—this is a glorious day! I feel an inch taller; this is good news! On the bonfire of regulation in history: no more shall it be 'facsimile transmission' it shall be 'fax'. This a great government! I can remember the emails and letters I received saying, 'When will the government change the word facsimile to fax?' Well, it has been done. Thank you, Tony Abbott.

It is true that there are a large number of acts and regulations that will disappear, and all of us hate red tape. Don't we want to get rid of red tape? Don't we want to get rid of regulation? Of course we do. It is what Labor did in government. We just took it a bit more seriously. We thought, 'If you're going to get rid of red tape, make it about something that people aren't going to laugh at you for; make it about some regulation that actually has an impact, something that is going to be lasting.' We talk about legacies that we leave in this place—well, I am glad that the legacy that Tony Abbott and the Liberals are leaving behind is changing the word 'fax'. We can see that, in 100 years time—as Joe Hockey likes to say—they will be recounting this great regulation repeal day bonfire stunt because they managed to respell the word 'fax'!

Let us get a little bit serious in this place about our precious time, the cost of parliament and all the things we have got to do. The government is in the mode of: 'We just can't afford anything'—we can afford to waste time in here, of course, because that is different; they do not count what we get paid—'We can't afford anything in the budget; we can't afford to help support orphaned children, veterans, a whole range of people in disability areas or pensioners.' We asked the question today, 'Will you guarantee that pensioners won't be affected in the budget?' That is not a question, apparently, so we did not get an answer.

They talk about all this, and yet they have got time to waste on whether we are going to have new lords, knights and dames. We are going to spend a whole heap of time, effort and money. I would like to know how much it costs. Let us do an RIS on how much it costs for each minister of the government to go to the departmental head of all the departments they administer and say to them: 'Find me something—I don't care what it is: a comma; a full stop in the wrong place. Pore through every single page—thousands and thousands of pages—but find me something I can repeal, because we want a big bonfire.' And so the Public Service diligently follows the instructions of the minister to the letter. I hate to think how much that cost. How much money was wasted in going through this sham of a process? It is the biggest bonfire that nobody cares about.

I will grant them this. If for five minutes they actually think this is going to be really well accepted—the red tape is gone and all the rest of it—then I will give them some red tape that they could look at. What about BAS statements? Now there is a problem for small business and business. What is the government's view on BAS? Or tax, for that matter? Let us have a look at the things that really impact on people.

What Labor did in government was substantial. It had weight and it had purpose. Most small businesses—more than half of them—turn over less than $200,000 a year. That is not a lot of money. One of the biggest things we did for small business and for ordinary people when we came to government was to triple the tax-free threshold from $6,000 to $18,000—now there is doing something serious. That impacts on low-income families, middle-income families, high-income families, small businesses, micro businesses, large businesses—everybody. Now that is something to crow about.

We went in there and said: 'We want to do something about your cash flow, so we are going to give you an uncapped $6,500 instant asset tax write-off. Every time you want to buy a piece of equipment, we are going to help you. Government is going to be there.' That was $4 billion worth of direct assistance to small business ripped away by the Liberals and the Nationals, who earbash us all to death saying that they are the friend of small business. They go up to small business, look them in the eye, shake their hand and then knife them in the back—thank you, friend! These are the friends of small business: the Shakespearean, Camelotian thespians that we see on the other side, who like to come in here and talk about mystical worlds that do not exist—and I am sure the minister at the table knows what I am referring to.

There is also a whole heap of other things that we did in terms of reducing red tape for small business, such as the seamless national economy or business names registration. Instead of having to register right across the country in all the different jurisdictions, do all the paperwork and pay $1,000, we got it down to a single point where businesses can register online seven days a week, 24 hours a day, for $70. That is red tape reduction. That is reducing costs for small business. That is doing something meaningful.

How do you want to be remembered in this place—as the joke ministers who turned up here with blank pieces of paper and said, 'We're going to halve your regulation'? Let me tell you one place they halved regulation. There was an act where there were two commas, one following the other. They removed one. There you go—they halved regulation! 'It is done; we took away a comma.' You think I am kidding—I am not. This is serious; this is real. This government wants people to take it seriously, and this is one of the things that it has done.

And the litany goes on, with a list so long—this bonfire of ridiculous proportions, this having a go at people, this taking the mickey, this thinking that the Australian public are somehow too stupid to realise that after the fire has died down nothing has changed. It is Monty Pythonesque, because there are parts where they have changed things—and these are massive changes, such as changing 'approval of care recipient principles' by adding a single letter or changing the order of the words! I am a big fan of Monty Python, and I remember that really good segment where the Judean People's Front were the splitters from the People's Front of Judea. That is the sort of government we have been given.

This is a mob that went out there on some big-picture stuff and said: 'We won the government, so we can do whatever we like. We might've mentioned it before the election—and now here is the detail, by the way, of all the things we are going to do to you.' Is getting rid of the schoolkids bonus one of those things? Sure, you might have mentioned it before the election, but I am not sure people understood fully that you would actually do it—or maybe they did, but they may not be happy about it. The government has come into this place under the pretence of helping small business, helping families and doing something concrete, and instead is being a laughing-stock. Over time—and I am not talking about a long time, but in the coming days, weeks and months—people will feel no impact. None. Zero. What you are doing with this repeal day stunt is nothing but a joke.