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Wednesday, 17 October 1984
Page: 1867

Senator MISSEN(4.01) —I support the matter of public importance put forward by my colleague Senator Hill. It relates to:

The Government's failure to recognise the importance of small business to the Australian economy and to implement policies that will encourage growth and employment opportunities within the sector.

I immediately take issue with my friend Senator Jack Evans who, in an interesting speech, put up the proposition, which is quite true, that all governments in the past have failed to take into account sufficiently the position of small business and have failed to take the necessary action to strengthen it. But those governments that were last at the barrier, those recently in existence which have failed to do this, during this period of enormous unemployment, have the greater responsibility. They must accept responsibility for not having done something before now.

Interestingly enough, today the Government has put up Senator Peter Cook to lead for it in opposition to our proposal. The irony of that is that in doing so , the Government puts up the man who, as secretary of the Western Australian Trades and Labour Council, did more to ruin small business than even Bob Hawke did in his period as President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. This is the wolf in sheep's clothing who has come before us today to lead the case for the Government. It will be remembered that he had very little to say about small business; it was about the general Christmas-like attitude of the Government that everything in the garden was lovely. It will be remembered that early in his speech he claimed that small business had recovered, that there was more profit and that small business did better in this Government's first year in office than it had done previously. He was forgetting, of course, that there was such a thing as a drought in Australia and that the difficulties of all small businesses, all the country businesses, all the transport businesses and all of those undertakings that were depressed in that period, these problems were wiped away not by the stroke of genius of this Government but by the hand of God which brought rain to our shores and, perhaps, the benefit of the American recovery at the same time. What this Government did not do and has never done is to face up to the reality that there are long term problems that particularly affect small business that have never been tackled.

Senator Cook went on to tell us how we could not come forward with policies now . It was no good; 'the cab had left the rank'; it was too late altogether. To some extent, Senator Jack Evans went the same way. He said: 'No, it is not policies; it is no good putting them forward. Really, it is what you can do'. But, of course, those of us who are not in government, and that includes Senator Jack Evans's party, are not in a position to do these things at present. The analysis of blueprints for the future, whether they be in the form of private member's Bills, which Senator Jack Evans rightly maintained were a good initiative in the Parliament in showing up such things, or in the form of detailed plans, such as our new policies on small business and the policies which Senator Peter Rae and I launched yesterday, on regulation, deregulation and the reform of the regulatory process, will provide an indication of what we shall do in government when we are elected on 1 December. It is important that we be judged on those things.

Senator Cook claimed that the Government had set up a Small Business Council. I think that Senator Jack Evans exploded that one. Most of the members of that Council are not small businessmen, and we know that it is only in the last few weeks that this Government has discovered the problems of regulation and the problems of small businessmen, and it now proposes to set up further committees on the subject. So in the next Parliament we might learn what the Government proposes to do about it.

I turn, therefore, to the question which is the basis of the second part of our case today, the crushing burden of regulation on small business and what we shall do about it, and what the Labor Government, if re-elected, will not do about it. I say immediately that we recognise that this is one of the great burdens on small business. It is not the only one-Senator Hill has pointed out many others-but it is a very important one that affects the whole of the economic ability of small businessmen. To use Senator Cook's words, let us remember that 95 per cent of businesses in this country are small businesses. The degree to which regulation has grown over the years and has caused small business to be greatly affected is to be seen in statistics contained in a very fine report prepared by the Confederation of Australian Industry in 1980. Of course, the position has grown worse since then.

At that time, the Confederation pointed out to the public that in the last 20 years to that date, Federal and State governments passed 16,000-odd Acts of parliament and over 32,000 statutory rules or regulations-a total of 49,000 statutory instruments pressing burdens upon business and, in particular, small business. The Confederation also pointed out that in the 10 years to that date, Federal government regulatory expenditure had increased by 333 per cent on similar expenditure 10 years previously. Those are crushing burdens on the taxpayer and on the small businessman. To complete these formidable statistics, which, as I say, have grown since that date, we had at that time 16,000 persons employed in private industry solely for the purpose of complying with the requirements of Federal regulatory agencies, and when one adds to that number the Federal regulators, one finds that about 28,500 people were employed in this task.

Do we wonder that our tax burden is high? Do we wonder, therefore, that small business is burdened with these things because of the extent to which this has grown and has not been attended to by government over the years? The result, as estimated in our policy announced yesterday, is that about $6 billion a year is spent on complying with State and Federal regulations. That is a burden that we cannot allow to continue.

What is the Hawke Government's response? What has happened? What is the late death-bed repentance that we hear from it? Two or three weeks ago we heard the Hawke Government's response to the report made to it by the Business Council of Australia, which report I have with me. It is an excellent report and one which, in a few pages, points out the crushing burden of regulation in this country. Our policies cover every item raised by the Business Council. But the response by Prime Minister Hawke was to say: 'I shall form a tripartite committee, and seek agreement between three-the Government, the unions and the business people' . We know who will miss out in that equation. The people of Australia know that when final conclusions are arrived at, they will not get what they want at all. Why is that so?

One has only to look at the policies of the Labor Party to know the things that it is obliged to do. According to a report in the Australian of 11 October, Mr Hawke suddenly called together the business organisations for the purpose of looking at the possibility of setting up a deregulation review committee to advise on how many of the existing regulations applying to business can be removed. Mr Hawke told the Business Council that he is now convinced that after 84 years of Federation we have accumulated an excessive and often irrelevant and obstructive body of laws and regulations. When did he learn that? Why did he not learn that early in the period of his Ministry?

Senator Cook —Why didn't you do something about it? You put them there.

Senator MISSEN —As Senator Cook says, why did he not do something about it? It has been accumulated. It was there for him to observe. It has taken him nearly 20 months to discover that he should do something about it. He has decided to do so partly because the Business Council has asked him to do so and partly because in the last few days he realised that the policy on which members of our parties , such as Senator Peter Rae and I, have worked for years has been adopted by our parties and was about to be delivered.

Senator Cook —Why isn't he in this debate?

Senator MISSEN —It is no good Senator Cook looking back into the far distant past. His Party is in Government now and it did not do anything until a few weeks ago. I suggest that the Government's present proposal cannot be trusted by the Australian people. One only has to read what was decided by the Australian Labor Party National Conference in July. The people who may have wanted to do something were 'rolled' by the majority. The resolution which was carried at that Conference states:

Conference affirms that interventionist policies which are closely monitored and comprehensive in nature are necessary to bring about the growth which is required on a sustained basis if unemployment is to fall on a continuous path.

So interventionist policies which are comprehensive in nature are required. Where is the talk about taking away regulation and controls? The Conference resolution concluded:

Fundamental to the interventionist policies required is a planning mechanism.

So one can well see that the decisions of the Labor Party are in that direction. I refer to my unfortunate State of Victoria, which labours under the Cain Labor Government. In its first year it managed a great push of putting on 10,000 new public servants. That was the Victorian Government's idea of deregulation. The Victorian Legal and Constitutional Committee has investigated a Bill which the Hon. Alan Hunt, the Deputy Leader of my Party in the Legislative Council, proposed. That Committee has produced a 400-page report which recommends very much along the lines of that Bill and very much along the lines of the policy which our parties in Canberra have adopted. That Committee in its report-I remind honourable senators that it is an all-party report-said most interesting things about the obstruction which it received from the Cain Government. Paragraph 6.2 of the report states:

The Committee notes that under the Parliamentary Committees Act 1968 it has power to send for (and receive) any papers and records relevant to its inquiries . It would be regrettable indeed if a Parliamentary Committee were constrained, by lack of co-operation of any government department or other authority or body, in particular the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, to utilise its powers under the Act.

The next paragraph sets out the disturbing facts of which the Committee learned. Prior to the attendance of two departments to give evidence, a telex was sent to them requiring them to conform with the guidelines for public servants responding to parliamentary committee inquiries and to adhere to the statement of the Victorian Government on the question of regulation review and revocation. Later another department told the Committee that it had riding instructions from the Department of the Premier and Cabinet as to how it should conduct itself before the Committee. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Committee concluded:

By formulating what it termed a policy statement as its response to the Committee and circulating it to government departments on this basis (requesting that they adhere to it) the Department of the Premier and Cabinet appears to have pre empted the findings of the Committee on the Bill which was referred by the Parliament to the Committee on a bi-partisan basis for review and report. Additionally, this served to inhibit witnesses unnecessarily in what appeared to be a non-controversial enquiry.

If one looks further at the conclusions of that report-

Senator Cook —When are you going to tell us the regulations you are going to pull out?

Senator MISSEN —I know this hurts. It is no use saying that the Labor Party will support these measures. We are requesting the public of Australia to look at the policy which we have set down and the commitment we have made in regard to deregulation. That policy sets out how we will go about deregulation of industry and how we will tackle it-

Senator Cook —Which regulations?

Senator MISSEN —There are thousands of regulations. The honourable senator would not know.

Senator Cook —Tell us one.

Senator MISSEN —I will not waste my time telling him that. Our policy will also review existing regulations, to make sure they are still appropriate. We will reform the whole process of making regulations in this country. They will not be brought down in the Parliament and then be binding on the public. Instead the public will be given prior opportunity to read them. Regulatory impact statements will be obtained which will tell them what the effect of the regulations will be. That and the further involvement of the Parliament, which will occur under our policies-the Parliament does not do enough at the moment- are things which I invite the public of Australia and the business community of Australia to read and study.

Yesterday in this Parliament the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Senator Button, in answering a question on increases in jobs, had it pointed out to him that more than 50 per cent of the jobs created since last October are government jobs-public administration and community jobs-which of course are paid for by the taxpayer. The Minister said: 'So what?' He does not concern himself and the Labor Party does not concern itself with that matter. We suggest that in government we will do the things which are necessary to justify the faith of small business in our parties.