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Monday, 13 May 1985
Page: 1808


Senator VANSTONE(4.00) —We are discussing today the urgent need to implement an effective program for business deregulation. We are not discussing whether or not previous governments, both Liberal Party of Australia and Australian Labor Party, did all they could to achieve deregulation of business. What is past is past. This Government claims to have a vision for a better Australia, to have great plans for the future of this nation. It is therefore appropriate that we remember what we are discussing and not get waylaid in pointless arguments about who did what and when in the past.

Having said that, I thank Senator Maguire for his historical discourse and ask him to bear my remarks in mind. Senator Maguire said that he was not too sure what this discussion was all about-was it about deregulation of business or did it apply to consumers and employers and employees? I can tell him that this discussion is about deregulation of business and that means any area where there is unnecessary regulation. If we remove the unnecessary and excessive regulations, we will be left with the necessary ones, the ones that are needed to protect people in some way.

I thank Senator Jack Evans for his contribution. I agree with him that there will be some disagreement as to which areas need deregulation as a priority and which need it at all, but what the coalition wants to highlight by this discussion today is the need for an effective plan to deregulate business-a plan or mechanism that as a matter of priority will help identify where we need to move and where we do not need to move. We simply cannot continue to put it in the too hard basket.

It is generally accepted in the community, especially in the business community, that government red tape is costing this country millions of dollars a year. The Australian Chamber of Commerce estimates that it is as much as a billion dollars a year. I remind honourable senators that $1 billion is exactly the amount this Government is claiming it will save by trimming its Forward Estimates of spending. It is pleasing to see the Government is proposing to cut its extravagant spending. It is a saving if the money is not spent, but the opportunity is there for a real billion-dollar saving, not a cutback on estimated expenditure but a cutback on real and unnecessary expenditure incurred because of government red tape and restrictions that are currently emasculating the business community. There is an urgent need to implement-not to talk about and not to look at-an effective program for business deregulation. Business can then have lower costs, be more innovative and experience new found freedom. With that will come new ideas, new jobs and consequently lower unemployment.

I am reliably informed that the Lord's Prayer has 65 words, the Gettysburg Address has 3,560 words and the laws relating to the distribution of cabbages in the United States have 26,793 words. I admit that is a light hearted example from the United States, but what a depressing story it tells. Fortunately for the Americans, they are well on the way to remedying some of the ills of excessive regulation and they have the political will to do that, especially in the wages area. Europe, on the other hand, is suffering under excessive regulation, and particularly excessive regulation of its labour laws. Several years ago a German economist, Herbert Giersch, coined the phrase 'Eurosclerosis' which he said was 'to describe the gradual stiffening of Europe's economic joints through rigid labour laws, welfare programs and governmental red tape'. This disease has spread to this country and it has become Aussiesclerosis. It is to industry what acquired immune deficiency syndrome is to the gay community-an infectious disease that strikes horror in the hearts of its potential victims. Aussiesclerosis and AIDS have other aspects in common. They both spread globally and they are both in a sense a function of the environment that we find them in. Both these diseases need to be recognised and eradicated to reduce the suffering in the community. Effort will be required, especially in the wages area.

I acknowledge that the Business Council of Australia and the Confederation of Australian Industry have made submissions to the Government on deregulation. The Business Council of Australia has also released a comprehensive study-I am told of some 300 or more pages-which attacks the structure of penalty rates in this country. The study was undertaken by Peter Dawkins from Flinders University in South Australia. If I may be excused for being a weeny bit parochial, that university has a reputation for imaginative and relevant research and that reputation grows daily. Its reputation for excellence is, to my knowledge, unblemished.

This Mr Dawkins, not the one in the Parliament, estimates that employment would increase by 4 per cent if penalty rates were completely eliminated. The report goes on to say that it is unrealistic for industrial relations reasons to proceed along that path. I suspect that is simply a disguised way of saying that the unions and this Government would not wear it; nonetheless the report suggests some alternative options. It suggests reducing penalty rates, setting them in absolute terms rather than in percentage terms. It suggests not indexing penalty rates or paying them as time off rather than in cash. The report goes on to say just how advantageous it would be if our wage setting system were flexible enough to allow employers, unions and employees to negotiate arrangements suitable to their particular circumstances-in other words, to take account of local conditions and to take account of the capacity to pay. A Liberal government would deregulate the labour market.

It is interesting to note that the Chairman of Westpac Banking Corporation, Sir Noel Foley, in New York last month at a seminar sponsored by the Westpac Bank to sell Australia said:

I see the continued retention of full wage indexation as one of the greatest potential threats to Australia's longer-term economic future.

What is to be done? We need an effective program for deregulation and we need it urgently. Governments need to get off the back of business. This Government must act, and act quickly. I acknowledge that there are some areas where the Government has moved but what the coalition is asking for in this debate is a plan, an organised mechanism to move forward. Senator Jack Evans is right-we cannot deregulate haphazardly; we must plan. The intent of this discussion is to highlight that fact.

This Government cannot hide behind the need for consensus and the consequent delays. I use the entry of foreign banks into Australia as an example of the farce that the alleged consensus of this Government is. I quote the Managing Director of Westpac, Mr Robert White, who said:

You know of course, that we in Australia are strongly united in the national interest and for the common good by consensus and consultation. You will not therefore be surprised to learn that I discovered the details of this momentous announcement-

that is the deregulation of the banks and which ones were coming in-

in exactly the same way as you did.

In other words, he discovered it in the newspapers. So much for consensus. What the Government does not appear to realise is that there is a degree of consensus about what has to happen. When the Government finishes deliberating on the submissions of the Business Council of Australia and the Confederation of Australian Industry it will see quite a degree of similarity in a number of areas. There are strong similarities in three areas in particular. The first is in identification of current excesses of regulation and red tape. Secondly, there is a consensus in identification of areas of potential further intrusion of governments that are regarded as excessive and must be prevented. There is also a degree of consensus on the suggested method of achieving deregulation in both the above-mentioned areas. If this Government could bring itself to look at the coalition's deregulation policy-something that it would have to do because it does not have one itself-it would see the enormous similarity between the CAI and BCA papers and the coalition's views. I accept that to identify the excesses of regulation and the potential but unwanted further areas of regulation business must be consulted, but the mechanisms by which we achieve that deregulation are much more properly the province of government alone.

The coalition has laid down the mechanisms it would use. It did so before the last election. The Australian Labor Party, of course, did not release many or, dare I say, any policy documents at the last election. It was not prepared to let Australia see what it was going to do. Some say that it did not know what it was going to do and some say that it still does not know what it is going to do. For the benefit of honourable senators opposite I will detail some of the specific coalition suggestions for mechanisms to deregulate and highlight the consensus between the coalition's views and the submissions the Government has received from the Business Council of Australia and the Confederation of Australian Industry. The coalition has identified the need for consultation and for advisory committees on page 8 of its policy document and the same thing is to be found on page 4 of the submission from the Business Council of Australia and page 91 of the submission from the Confederation of Australian Industry. The coalition, at page 9 of its policy document, identifies the need for what it refers to as advance notice agendas and one sees a similar sort of thing on page 4 of the Business Council's submissions, which recommends the publication of legislative agendas, and on page 91 of the paper from the Confederation of Australian Industry.

The coalition wants to introduce-it will do so when it gets back into government-regulatory impact statements very similar to the prior assessment requirement proposed by the Business Council of Australia on page 4 of its submission and even more similar to the requirement of the Confederation of Australian Industry for regulatory impact analysis statements. The coalition would like to see regulatory guidelines specified in legislation to ensure that regulations are succinct, necessary and consistent with the legislative objectives-just the sort of thing the Business Council of Australia was seeking. The coalition in its policy document also wanted to see sunset clauses inserted, as did the Business Council of Australia and the Confederation of Australian Industry. I could go on and on through these papers citing consensus about the way to go about deregulating in a planned and effective manner. I want to know when this Government will see the urgent need to implement an effective plan to deregulate business.