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Thursday, 22 November 2012
Page: 9615

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (20:59): I thought I should respond to Senator Cash's amendments. First, in relation to some of the comments about deregulation: a number of the senator's assertions are quite incorrect. I do not wish to take up the Senate's time by going through them. I would make the point that she might want to look at a report—I think it came out today—which talked about the time taken in compliance for small business; the largest single component was in fact the GST which, of course, was introduced by the coalition.

I think her figure of $4 billion, in terms of the Productivity Commission's assessment of the benefits of deregulation, the cost reduction, is actually referring to a Labor agenda. It is actually referring to the various components of the seamless national economy reforms which COAG signed off on in 2008 and which Minister Bradbury and I and other ministers are working on. And it was those deregulation and harmonisation initiatives—introduced by a Labor government, and being worked through in painstaking fashion, because that is, unfortunately, what is required, with state governments of both political persuasions—which were assessed by the Productivity Commission as giving rise to the reduction in business costs of $4 billion.

I think the senator did introduce all of her amendments, so I will just give her and the chamber the courtesy of indicating briefly the government's response. The government does not support these amendments.

On amendments (1) to (5): these amendments seek to reinstate the waiving provision and remove the personal information provision. The government does not support the reinstatement of the provision enabling the agency to waive public reporting requirements. In the consultations carried out for the review, waiver was not well supported across business or the community more broadly. It is administratively burdensome for both the agency and business.

To streamline the administrative burden the government has the new online simplified reporting system to which I referred earlier, which makes reporting once a year consistent across all employers. If select organisations were to be waived from reporting annually, the integrity of the data would be undermined. Really we are looking at, I suppose, an annual health check on gender equality, and I think it is not an unreasonable proposition.

We are not sure why the coalition would be doing so, but one of the amendments, I am advised, involves the removal of provisions relating to personal information. The government considers that this provision is important to ensure the privacy of individual employees and is consistent with the provisions of the Privacy Act, and so does not support the amendment.

On amendments (6) to (7): these amendments seek to remove the capacity for the minister to set minimum standards in relation to gender equality indicators. What the amendment proposes to do is to remove all reference to how minimum standards are set. One wonders how that is in fact pro-business and how that would be transparent. Without this provision, it would seem rather strange to consider how a minimum standard would in fact be set. The minister, under the government's approach, is required to consult with appropriate organisations and persons, and in considering the consultation the minister will consider the nature of the instrument. So the amendment, I am advised, makes neither legal nor practical sense. In the consultation process, business asked for the assurance of a disallowable instrument, and this is what section 19 provides.

As to amendment (8): this amendment seeks to make public the names of relevant employers who regularly submit reports which comply with the act. We believe this amendment is unnecessary. Section 15A is already being amended by this bill to explicitly enable the agency to publish reports by electronic or other means. Recognition of good gender equality practice is a key part of the agency's functions, and this will continue.

Amendment (9) seeks to have the minister repeal an existing legislative instrument imposing a requirement on employers when a new instrument imposing a requirement is made. The government does not support this amendment. The legislative instrument referred to in the bill would not contain requirements. The requirement to report is contained in section 13, in relation to gender equality indicators not in the legislative instrument. The specification of minimum standards in relation to gender equality indicators, I am advised, is not a requirement. Similarly, the minister cannot cause a legislative instrument to be repealed. A legislative instrument is required in order to revoke an existing instrument. As for all disallowable instruments, it is tabled in the parliament and subject to disallowance. The government believes this ensures an appropriate level of scrutiny.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN ( Senator Boyce ): The question is that amendments (1) and (2), and amendments (4) to (6), (8) and (9) on sheet 7263 moved by Senator Cash be agreed to.

Question negatived.