Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 13 May 1985
Page: 1799

Senator PETER RAE(3.06) —With a lone voice only coming from the other side of the chamber, the proposal that this is an important matter has apparently been supported. I wonder why there was only one voice. I would have thought that we could expect some general support for the concern for the urgent need to implement an effective program for business deregulation, but apparently at least one person on the Government side does not agree.

Senator Colston —Two.

Senator PETER RAE —Two, was it? I thank the honourable senator very much. Is there any advance on two?

Senator Robert Ray —Two no trumps.

Senator PETER RAE —Two will do. I wish to emphasise that in talking about the effective program for business deregulation we are talking about something which goes beyond having a summit, a tripartite inquiry or some other sort of a review of a review that takes a long time but does not really produce very much. We are talking about getting this economy going again. We are talking about creating wealth for distribution amongst all the citizens of the country. We are talking about making the country able to compete with other countries so that the time in which Australia developed as an island unto itself is recognised as having passed. We cannot have rules which place us at a disadvantage with our trading competitors. We cannot have practices which are not common in the parts of the world in which we have to compete. We need to remove the cost, the impediment which so much regulation which has developed over the years has caused to business and to the economy. The impediment to growth in this country is great indeed. The objections which one finds come from small business as well as large business and are loud and long. Many calls for deregulation have been coming from such organisations as the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Australia and the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia. All of them, through the Business Council of Australia and various other bodies, are concerned about two things. One is the cost and the other is the impediment which it constitutes to our being able to develop. Yet, what do we find?

The Opposition has a policy, which it has published, in relation to the regulation, deregulation and reform of the regulatory process. It has a positive deregulation policy. It has a program, which it would start on day one in government, to ensure that steps are taken to encourage self-regulation where possible, provided adequate steps are taken to protect public and consumer interests. It would require regulation impact statements with each proposal for new regulations. It would reduce the paper war and simplify forms and bureaucratic requirements. I noticed that the Department of Transport, in the recent Supplementary Estimates, wanted almost another $300,000 because it uses something like 3,000 different forms and needed to replenish the stocks. One can see how the paper war can take over.

The Opposition, the Liberal and National parties, would ensure after consultation with interested parties that uniform standards apply where necessary, such as in relation to pure foods, building codes, traffic rules and the inspection of products. We would co-ordinate action with the States in reducing inefficient regulation and removing unnecessary duplication and substitute, where possible, joint operations providing one-stop regulatory requirements for inspection of goods and services. We would establish continuing deregulatory task forces within the appropriate Cabinet department. We would review regulations on a regular basis. We would prepare and issue advance notice agendas of proposed regulatory activity by government. We would prepare and issue draft regulations for comment by and prior consultation with interested parties. We would establish a regulatory review committee of the House of Representatives and increase the Parliament's scrutiny and review of regulatory activity.

The coalition's commitment to deregulation and reform of the regulatory process is in marked contrast to the Australian Labor Party's commitment affirmed at its National Conference last July. This is the difference and the nub of the matter: We have a positive policy which we had started in government, and which we will continue after the next election, for deregulation and for reform of the regulatory process to reduce the cost and to increase the competitiveness and the growth in the economy, whilst this present Government, the ALP, subjected to domination by its Conference, has a policy which 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.

Fundamental to the interventionist policies required is a planning mechanism.

That is what this Government has insisted that it requires from its policy makers. If one looks at the prices and incomes accord, one can see the basis for that policy, because the accord states:

The ACTU and ALP have agreed on the importance of implementing a comprehensive industry development policy which reflects a number of key characteristics including those summarised below:

. . . .

fundamental to the interventionist policies required is a planning mechanism.

It continues to talk about closely monitored, comprehensive interventionist policies which are necessary to bring about growth. It continues for pages to discuss the intervention which is involved in industry policy so far as this Government is concerned. That is the accord of which it is so proud. That is the accord by which it is bound and that is the interventionism by which it is bound. The difference is that, while some people talk about deregulation and do not do anything about it, others have a positive policy to do something about it and, when in government, had instituted actions which had already commenced a form of deregulation.

The present Government is giving the appearance of action without taking action. The difference, I think, is exemplified by what the Tasmanian Liberal Government has done. It has actually acted and has set up a deregulatory body which is in full operation and which is operating extremely successfully.

Senator Button —So has the Victorian Government; so has the New South Wales Government.

Senator PETER RAE —Senator Button will make a speech in a minute.

Senator Button —No, I am not.

Senator PETER RAE —Well, I note your interjection.

Senator Button —I am just trying to improve your speech. You can make the point that a lot of State governments have done it.

Senator PETER RAE —The Tasmanian Liberal Government led the way in taking this action, and the Federal Liberal Government had a policy in relation to it. There was the formation of the razor gang and the rest of the things that were done as part of the deregulatory process. Under the present Government a tripartite inquiry is taking place over a very lengthy period which is costing those who are participating a considerable amount of money and is unlikely to get anywhere because the Australian Council of Trade Unions will not let it.

Senator Cook —We have economic growth as well, something we did not have under you.

Senator PETER RAE —I do give the Government credit for what it has done in implementing deregulation in the financial area. We have discussed that quite recently. The point, of course, is that we started the Campbell Committee of Inquiry into the Australian Financial System. We started the inquiry which led to the deregulation of the financial sector. But at least this Government did do something. It did go ahead with the recommendations, or many of them, which were made and the action which we had already started to implement. In approaching this whole question, speakers from this side of the chamber will talk about what has happened generally as well as in the wages area-in the other business area, in the mining area-and will refer to the difference which our policy brings, as a firm, clear policy which people can understand, which they can see and which is in favour of deregulation and reform of the regulatory process.

As opposed to that, we find that this Government, from which we hear some mouthings about deregulation occasionally, in fact has adopted corporatism as its basic approach. It is the new form of regulation which we find started with the summit. The Government then created the Economic Planning Advisory Council. That body arose out of the summit as another form of regulation. Then the Government found that it was necessary to have a Steel Industry Authority, an Automobile Industry Authority, the Prices Surveillance Authority and all the other bodies that have been created to intervene in the business area at a cost to those who are endeavouring to effect growth and limiting the opportunity to make choices of those who are trying to manage.

We have the adherence to centralised wage fixing which is such a determined part of the accord and of this Government's corporatist approach. The Government has made proposals with regard to the Trade Practices Act which will impose a cost on industry. If all of these proposals go ahead, as if feared, the effect will be even greater regulation. This Government managed in its first nine months in office to create 25 new quangos. That is more than one a fortnight. This Government, which created one new statutory authority every fortnight during its first year of office, talks about deregulation! If one wanted to one could look through the list to see what sort of quangos were created. However, I do not think we need to take the time to do so. They are typical of what a Labor government would create.

The Government has further proposals. There is one before us now for the creation of a sports commission. Why do we need to have a sports commission as such? Why does such a body have to be a statutory authority? Why does it have to have the power to regulate? Why does it have to regulate sport? We are all in favour of developing sport. The former Government did a great deal to develop the Australian Institute of Sport. But it did not say: 'We are now going to turn around and regulate everything that you do in relation to sport'. The same thing applies in respect of the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission. Certainly there is a need to pay attention to the area of occupational health and safety. Certainly there is a need for action to be taken by government, by industry and by all of those involved to ensure that the very serious damage done to individuals in the community and industry is reduced as a result of the efforts which can be taken through an appropriate body. But what is wrong with the National Safety Council which is already in existence and which is made up of safety councils from each of the States? With some development, that body could do the job. Why does the Government have to create a new qango? Oh no, the Government wants to create another new qango-an overseas trading corporation. So far we have not heard any denial about any intention to go ahead with that.

The Government's Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce (Senator Button) often talks in this place and elsewhere about deregulation. But what do we find that he does about deregulation? What has he done about penalty rates? What has he done about the problem, which he agrees exists, about wage on-costs which have reached something like 45 per cent? What has he done about achieving the uniformity of which the Australian Labor Party has talked at great length in all of its policies and speeches? The Labor Party has said that it will concentrate on reducing the cost of non-uniform regulation in Australia. But what has it achieved in this respect? I will be very interested to hear any Labor senators list the Government's achievements in that aspect of compliance cost.

The Government talks about reducing one of the great regulatory mechanisms and forces in Australia and one of the disaster areas in Australian business-that is, the huge and disproportionate power of the trade union movement in Australia and of organisers of that trade union movement. The Government talks about the amalgamation of unions. But what has it done? So far there have been only four amalgamations; that is not a very good achievement record.

What are the sorts of things that also have been going on? The business area has been drawing attention to the fact that the national food legislation needs review and deregulation, because a lot of it is absolutely unnecessary and not compatible, and that State credit legislation needs to be reviewed. This Government has done little to achieve that sort of central impact, as it promised. The census and statistics Act is in urgent need of review because of the cost to industry. We have such things as the financial institutions duties which have been brought in by Labor governments. We have other problems-and I will not go through all the rest of the State legislation in respect of which the Government apparently has done nothing to honour the promises it made to ensure that State governments got together to review these matters in order to remove or reduce the impact on business.

When one looks at other aspects of regulation, one finds that this Government is not only supporting but expanding the monopolies and the privileges of quangos. What does one find when one looks at Australia Post? The Prices Surveillance Authority investigated the efficiency of Australia Post and found that particularly in New South Wales it was inefficient. What happened to the price? The price charged by Australia Post went up by 10 per cent for letters and by 15 to 20 per cent for other articles-double or quadruple the rate of inflation. Yet this Government approved that. Australia Post reintroduced Australia Post Courier, one of the least competitive and least justifiable organisations one can imagine. The Government reintroduced a body which does not have to pay excise duty, sales tax or any of the costs borne by its competitors, but it does have to pay, according to the Public Service Board, award rates and conditions in relation to its employees. Its contribution to revenue is much less than if the function were carried out by the private sector, but its cost to the revenue is much higher than it would be if it were carried out by the private sector.

I refer to some of the other matters in this context. I would like to know what happened to the Australia Post efficiency audit which was carried out by the Auditor-General's Office and why it has not been published. I understand that an investigation, costing some $500,000, was undertaken to try to improve the efficiency of Australia Post. But what happened? The monopoly was preserved and many of the suggestions made by the audit department have not been adopted. In fact, as I understand it, the audit report has been quietly swept under the carpet.

Furthermore, the matter of Trans Australia Airlines and the two-airline agreement is another great area of regulation, but no indication has yet been given of notice to terminate that agreement. Labor promised to take action to make TAA more commercial, yet the Government repealed the legislation we introduced to commercialise TAA. The Australian Industry Development Corporation is another example of a body which is regulatory in its impact and serves no particularly useful purpose, as was demonstrated by a recent article in the Australian Financial Review by Toni Whitmont. The Australian National Line is another body supported by a web of regulation. It has managed to achieve a negative capital of $4m and a superannuation liability for employer's contributions which at 30 June 1983, nearly two years ago, was estimated at $55m; so it has more than $60m of negative capital at present. Telecom has a web of anti-competitive regulation which exists to support it. Its impact is dramatic as to what is happening to technological change and development in Australia. Because there is a monopoly, because there is restriction by regulation which supports Telecom's monopoly, this has the effect of achieving a reduction in the possibilities for competition.

All this amounts to an urgent need for the Government to take steps to ensure that the amount of regulatory impact in the business area is reduced; that there is a program for business deregulation; that businesses are given urgently an opportunity to reduce their costs to become more competitive so that they are able to play their part in restoring the Australian economy to one of full growth on a proper trading basis-not one that is achieved by devaluation, with its inherent impact of pushing up interest rates to an impossibly high level, which of course will adversely affect business development.

As this Government squeezes in one area, it creates a distortion. As it squeezes in another area, it creates a further distortion. Regulation is distortional. We believe that regulation must be reviewed down and out as soon as possible. We need those regulations which are the bare minimum and no more. We need effective regulation. We need regular review of regulation. We do not believe that this Government is doing what it ought to do and what the country needs to achieve that purpose.