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Wednesday, 29 October 2014
Page: 12381

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Mr BURKE (WatsonManager of Opposition Business) (10:00): What we just saw was extraordinary. We had government members en masse voting to take themselves off the speaking list. That is what they all just did. We had about eight people from the opposition on the speaking list so it was all going to happen within the time allotted anyway and we would have voted earlier. The only thing that happened with the gag motion was that government members made sure that they did not have to speak. Government members made sure that they were not forced into the humiliating position of having to defend all the hype that the member for Kooyong has attached to today, because today will be as big a fizzer as the last repeal day was.

We have today, for a full day of parliamentary sittings, a grand total of $1.8 million of savings. That is what they are here boasting about in the same week they have added $5.1 million worth of compliance costs onto motorists throughout Australia. More than double additional compliance costs have been put in place in the same week of their big repeal day that delivers only $1.8 million. And you really have to ask some questions about the $1.8 million.

The role of one of the bills we have in front of us is to change punctuation. Its role is to remove hyphens, semicolons and commas and to return commas to other places. It will correct a spelling error that was made in 1995 that the Howard government had not picked up on and we did not pick up on. The member for Kooyong has found it so we need to set aside a day to be able to deal with the additional costs associated with this!

We are dealing with a number of bills today. The first one is the Omnibus Repeal Day (Spring 2014) Bill 2014. This one amends or repeals legislation in the Agriculture, Communications, Environment, Immigration and Border Protection, Industry, Prime Minister and Cabinet, Social Services, Treasury and Veterans' Affairs portfolios. The majority of the measures in this bill are not contentious and in fact the majority of them have zero deregulatory savings attached to them. There is nothing in the majority of the measures to suggest that there is some great burden of regulation that is going to be lifted from small business as a result of their implementation.

Let me give you some examples of what we are getting rid of with the omnibus repeal day bill. We are getting rid of the Fishing Industry Policy Council, which was established by law in 1991 and has never met.

Mr Frydenberg: So why keep it?

Mr BURKE: We had from the member for Kooyong, 'So why keep it?' We are relaxed about getting rid of it but it is not worthy of the fanfare. It is not worthy of setting aside a day in parliament to say: 'There is something no-one has noticed since 1991. Let us all look at it now and make the member for Kooyong seem incredibly important, because the entire fishing industry will no longer be weighed down by a body that they did not know existed and had not met.'

This bill is amending acts in the Agriculture portfolio to reflect the fact that programs and payments described in those acts are no longer operating or being paid. So no-one is getting the money and the program is not operating any more. By all means get rid of it, but this is like asking for congratulations for being able to queue to get a cup of coffee. It is like being asked to be praised for doing the ordinary work of government. What we have today on these issues is nothing more than the ordinary work of government.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority will now be able to publish certain notices in a variety of methods, including on its website, instead of just the Commonwealth Gazette. Fine. That is an ordinary part of the ordinary business of government.

There is the repeal of an act in the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio that relates to particular tariff decisions made between 1996 and 1999 that are no longer relevant and the repeal of the Patents Amendment (Patent Cooperation Treaty) Act 1979 that amended the Patents Act 1952. The amending act was spent once the amendments passed into law. So in 1979 it had its impact and the amendments took place so you do not need it any more. But that is not worthy of fanfare or an entire day in the parliament to say, 'Great, we are now doing this.'

I just do not know why on earth we are not debating this in the Federation Chamber, but I do know that every time the government comes forward now saying something is not controversial and asking, 'Will you please send it to the Federation Chamber,' we will have today to compare it with when we make the decision as to what is controversial and what is not. The government has set a very strange standard here in deciding what the view of the House is on what is controversial and should be sent to the Federation Chamber. Issues only go to the Federation Chamber by mutual agreement. The government have set a very unusual standard of what the threshold is for what is considered controversial.

It is repealing the Skilling Australia's Workforce Act 2005, which has already been superseded, repealing the Home and Community Care Act 1985, which was made redundant when the review agreements were deemed national partnership agreements in 2009, and removing social security payments by amending several acts to reflect the fact that no-one has been able to qualify for them since 2000. It is repealing two acts in the Treasury portfolio relating to the termination payments tax. The last termination payment subject to the tax occurred before 1 July 2005. Here is something that is going to be a big relief to small business—repealing the Papua New Guinea Loan (International Bank) Act 1970, which had approved a Commonwealth guarantee on a loan made to Papua New Guinea which has been fully repaid anyway.

With all of these measures there are no deregulatory savings attached. The government want to talk about how much burden we are taking off small business and they give you the total number of acts they are repealing. Overwhelming all the measures I have just referred to are just tiding up, as government does from time to time and as we did. In fact, there are only five measures in this bill that have any deregulatory savings attached to them, worth a total of $1.3 million. These measures are: abolishing the Product Stewardship Advisory Group; amendments to the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000, which, among other things, removes the requirement of importers, producers and suppliers of fuel to provide an annual report to environment, saving $30,000; amendments to the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act, saving $130,000; simplifying key personnel notification requirements for approved aged care providers, saving $1,160,000; and assisting research and analysis using protected information, saving $5,000.

They are all savings worth having but, make no mistake, the decision of the government that they would dedicate a full day of the House of Representatives debating it means we will spend more money by the parliament sitting than we will be saving. It means the net cost to the budget is a negative because they were not willing to deal with this in the way that we would normally deal with noncontroversial run-of-the-mill legislation.

We do not take issue with the majority of measures contained in the bill. There are some advisory groups within the environment portfolio in particular where there will be a Senate legislation committee inquiry. We just want to confirm that those advisory groups are no longer playing a relevant role, so we will check that. But, other than that, we are completely relaxed about what is in front of us. We will vote for it when the vote comes up later today and we will reserve our right on a couple of those committees while the Senate inquiry determines whether or not a couple of those advisory bodies were in fact playing a relevant role. These include the Product Stewardship Advisory Group, the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council and measures in the hazardous waste act. Understandably, we are taking a cautious approach to ensure that the government's claim that these groups are no longer relevant is in fact valid.

We are committed to an organised and ongoing effort to minimise, simplify and create cost-effective regulation. We are not interested in doing it in a way where the Commonwealth comes out with a net negative on savings that were only being ascribed to the Commonwealth anyway. So for some of these groups, the only savings are not to small business but to the Commonwealth and the cost to the Commonwealth, by insisting we have to have the debate in this chamber, is more than what will be saved. This is reminiscent of a government that as soon as they came to office, having spoken about debt and deficit, decided they would double the deficit and make debt unlimited. In the same way, they came in saying that they wanted to get rid of red tape because red tape costs money and in one day they spend more than they will save. In the same week, they more than doubled the total savings that are allegedly going to come to small business by adding a new compliance burden to every petrol station in the country—$800 per petrol station in Australia on the government's own figures.

The second of the bills is the Amending Acts 1970 to 1979 Repeal Bill 2014. It repeals 656 acts from the period 1970 to 1979 that are of no consequence at all. They have decided to do this in a staged way. So on repeal day No. 1, we dealt with everything up to 1969 and now we appear to be going a decade at a time so we can work through each decade as we get closer to the next election. In doing so, we will continue to waste entire days of parliamentary sitting time when there are real issues to debate, when there are issues that are genuinely contentious because the government decided they needed to waste a day in here when a noncontroversial debate can very easily happen in the Federation Chamber and none of this is time critical. If it went through a few weeks later, it would make no difference to anything other than their media strategy.

The bill for the amending acts is filled with the repeal of amending legislation. When you have got a principal bill, an amendment bill comes in to change the bill. The moment the bill is proclaimed and the original bill itself has been amended, the amending bill ceases to be relevant. So all they are doing here is just getting rid all at once of bills that technically remain on the statute books that have done their job. You could do a global search on every piece of legislation containing the word 'amending' and get rid of them all at once. But they have decided to make it look like they are going through this methodically. Every amending bill, once proclaimed, has had its impact. There is no reason to do these a decade at a time. This is so the member for Kooyong can claim to have a three-year program.

I must say, I very rarely read political memoirs from anyone on either side of politics. But if the member for Kooyong brings out a book on his time as parliamentary secretary, I am not going near it. There is no way in the world I am going to read a chapter on redundant legislation followed by a chapter on commerce and finish off with the grand chapter on hyphens for his crowning achievements on deregulation.

Mr Frydenberg interjecting

Mr BURKE: He is referring now to a global figure that he wants to point to, none of which is ever relevant to any of the repeal days that we are allegedly meant to focus on. The Navigation Act 1970 amended the Navigation Act 1968. The amending act became redundant once the amendments passed into law. So, okay, we are going to repeal it. It will make no difference to anyone—other than it may form an additional page in a chapter of the memoirs of the member for Kooyong. The Book Bounty Act 1970 amended the Book Bounty Act 1969. Book bounties themselves were repealed in 1990. So with the principal legislation being amended, gone, the amending act technically remains on the statute books. Now we are going to dedicate a day to getting rid of something like that as well. The Home Savings Grant Act 1975 which, amended the Home Savings Grant Act 1964, itself was repealed in 2006.

So with the substantial acts being repealed, obviously the amending acts are no longer relevant. If you want to clean them up, by all means clean them up. But why on earth is this meant to be an important day in the history of the Federation for a bonfire of regulation for amending acts that have not been relevant for years and, in fact, ceased to be relevant within moments of them being proclaimed decades ago?

The Poultry Industry Assistance Amendment Act 1979 amended the Poultry Industry Assistance Act 1965. Having been a minister for agriculture, I looked at this and thought, 'Well, why was I never briefed on this when I was minister for agriculture?' The answer, of course, is the 1965 legislation, which provided for the grant of financial assistance to the states for assistance to the poultry industry, was itself repealed in 1996. It has been gone since 1996, and we are meant to be excited here that we are cleaning up the records, getting rid of red tape for an amending bill when the principal legislation has already gone. The explanatory memorandum on the amending acts says it all:

None of the corrections makes any change to the substance of the law .

Notwithstanding that, the bill has been calculated to generate $100,000 in deregulatory savings. Exactly how you reconcile those concepts and exactly how you have none of these changes making any difference to the substance of the law, but it saves $100,000, is impressive accounting. I look forward to the member for Kooyong addressing this in his later remarks. Thanks to the vote gagging his own members, they will not get to speak, but he will still get a chance to come back into the House later today to let us know how, when none of the changes make any difference to the substance of the law, you can save $100,000 by doing it. Maybe he can factor that against the cost of parliament sitting today, given that this is the only issue we are dedicating ourselves to.

The Statute Law Revision Bill (No. 2) 2014, otherwise known as the punctuation-led recovery bill, fixes up incorrect cross-references, punctuation errors and spelling errors and places words in their correct alphabetical order—all reasonable things to do at some point in time but hardly worthy of saying, 'We're going to dedicate a day in parliament to this.' What other issue do we dedicate a day in parliament to? We do not dedicate a full day in parliament to talking about what the government wants to do to the pension. We do not have a day in parliament dedicated to which side of politics is committed to the future of Medicare. But we do have a day for getting rid of legislation which makes no difference to the substance of the law and which corrects alphabetical order and punctuation! In terms of the priorities of this government, today can only be described as madness.

There are deregulatory issues to be dealt with, but they are not in front of us today. The only thing that is in front of us today that is significant in terms of deregulation is rhetoric and a media release. For example, the Statute Law Revision Bill changes the expression 'servant' to 'employee'. I am glad that change is being made. It may or may not be changed back during later industrial relations ideas that might come from those opposite, but it happens over 49 pieces of legislation and is, obviously, not an unreasonable change—but, once again, it is part of the ordinary housekeeping of government.

The bill changes gender-specific language to gender-neutral language in seven locations in the Acts Interpretation Act and 87 locations in the Defence Act. This is something that should happen, and I am glad it is happening, but it is certainly not making a difference to small business compliance. I do not know where they get that rhetoric from. It also inserts a new dictionary into the Veterans' Entitlements Act. Again, the explanatory memorandum in this bill says it all:

None of the corrections make any change to the substance of the law.

Notwithstanding that you have that statement, 'None of the corrections make any change to the substance of the law,' the bill has been calculated to generate—wait for it!—$420,000 worth of savings. So none of the corrections makes any difference to the substance of the law but—bingo!—you save $420,000 on the way through. It is true! Getting better cross-referencing in legislation is the right thing to do, but how changing semicolons to full stops, capitalising 82 words, bolding and italicising six phrases or removing erroneous commas contribute to $420,000 in deregulatory savings is a mystery to me—an absolute mystery to me! And I gather, from the text messages currently being furiously sent by the member for Kooyong, that it was a mystery to him until this moment as well.

Our record has been about deregulation without the fanfare. We repealed 16,794 acts and legislative instruments when in government. It is part of the ordinary routine functions of government. Examples of the types of repeal of redundant acts that we undertook were: the repeal of the Treaty of Peace (Germany) Act 1919—the one for implementing the Treaty of Versailles—which was still around when we came to office. It was not a disaster that the Howard government or the Fraser government or anyone had not got rid of it, and we never tried to have a grandstanding day. It was silly that it was still on the books, so, as it came to our attention, we got rid of it.

Similarly, in 2012 we repealed the Administrative Arrangements Act 1987, as part of modifications and amendments it had made had already taken effect and there were no instruments or regulations in force under the provisions of that act. So we got rid of it. There was the repeal of the States Grants (Beef Industry) Act 1975. That act had provided for financial assistance to be payable to a state in relation to beef producers. It was redundant. No financial assistance had been paid since 1977. It was redundant and it was repealed in 2011. We also did a routine clean-up of the statute books, in the statute law revision acts of 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, the statute stocktake appropriation acts of 2012 and 2013 and the Statute Stocktake Act 2011—without the fuss or fanfare.

But then there was the greater deregulation agenda—the deregulation agenda that mattered—which was the Seamless National Economy. That was an agenda aimed at reducing costs for business in complying with unnecessary and inconsistent regulation. That was about dealing with red tape that affects people, not red tape that you have to search dusty old books in the library to try to find, because it is not actually affecting anybody.

Completion of only 17 of the Seamless National Economy reforms was estimated by the Productivity Commission to reduce business costs by $4 billion a year—$4 billion a year! That is roughly double what the government are claiming they are going to be able to achieve. And I have to say that, in terms of their numbers, if they are claiming dollar values for punctuation, I think the numbers they are pointing to need to be viewed with a high degree of suspicion.

The Productivity Commission also estimated that full implementation of the Seamless National Economy reforms would increase productivity through increased gross domestic product by $6 billion a year. Those figures are in stark contrast to the $1.8 million that we are debating today. What we are dealing with today is the ordinary work of government.

I said after the prime ministerial statement last week that I hoped the next repeal day would be better than the last. The last was pretty bad, but it takes a very special parliamentary secretary to say, 'That level of humiliation wasn't enough,' and that he can go one step further! And today the member for Kooyong has delivered. Today the member for Kooyong has made the last repeal day look constructive!

I got stuck into the last one at the time, but it at least did better than $1.8 million—it at least did better than that. Make no mistake; some of what they called 'deregulatory reform' last time round was removing essential protections and having changes that actually hurt people. Nothing was clearer than when they referred to getting rid of red tape, but what it meant was to in future cut the wages of Commonwealth cleaners. That was part of what happened last time.

Mr Frydenberg interjecting

Mr BURKE: While the dollar figures where higher, the reality was that they dressed up as deregulation what actually amounted to cutting the wages of some of the lowest-paid workers, including the very workers who clean the offices for the people who did it to them.

I want to remind the House of what happened, because when these bills got to the Senate we made it clear that if our amendment was carried we would insist on it. The government ultimately accepted the amendment and we let the bills through in good faith, only to find that within 24 hours they had found another method to still cut the wages of Commonwealth cleaners. If this government want to talk about the total savings, they need to be honest about the irrelevance of most of the measures that we talk about and the real harm that they have done against some of the lowest-paid workers in Australia. There is nothing this parliament should be proud of when the last repeal day meant future wage cuts for the people who serve all of us, and every department, in some of the lowest-paid jobs.

To hear the interjections that have happened during this part of my speech from the parliamentary secretary, saying, 'Oh, it is all deals with unions', I say that the members of those unions are paid a lot less than us. The members of those unions are serving all of our offices and all of the public service and are doing a hard-day's work or hard middle-of-the-night's work. For their pay cut to be part of the fanfare of so-called 'getting rid of red tape' shows a contempt for those individuals in a way that I had hoped this parliament would never show, no matter who was in office. It is one thing for those opposite to say that they do not agree with those rules and that they want a tender process that allows the lowest bidder, whether or not they are keeping to the guidelines, but the audacity of claiming that cleaners getting better wages was an example of red tape—no, it was not red tape; it was their livelihood. It was not red tape in some small business burden. It was how much money the people who clean our offices had to take home.

The policy that the government adopted was bad enough, but to dress it up with the rhetoric of red tape—and I use the term carefully in this place—was offensive. It was just out and out offensive to claim that better wages for low-paid cleaners was an issue of red tape. If the government wants to pursue lower wages for people, they should have the courage and the guts to do it head-on. But do not have a situation where you dress it up as part of a red tape repeal, reach an agreement with the opposition and then find a side way of doing it anyway within 24 hours. The government treated people with contempt, they then did a deal that gave people hope and then, within 24 hours, they trashed that hope again—and in the rhetoric after said, 'Oh, but everyone will still be paid the same amount at the moment'. Well, they will not be after the next tender, and their wages will be cut because of a deliberate act by this government that was dressed up within the rhetoric of the red tape repeal because the government did not have the courage to deal with it head-on. Decent wages for cleaners should not be viewed as red tape. It should never have happened. The behaviour of the government on the last repeal day was appalling. It is something that will not only affect the view of people in the cleaning industry towards this government; it is also something that will be attached to the character of this government for a very long time to come.

I have gone fairly broadly across the issues relating to red tape repeal. I have done so largely because the rhetoric surrounding this bill goes a long way beyond the actual contents of this bill. Obviously we will be voting for the second reading, but I» «move» a second reading amendment:

That all the words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading the House notes that:

(1) repealing spent and redundant acts and regulations is part of the ordinary, routine function of any government and the former Labor Government repealed 16,794 acts and regulations during its time in office;

(2) the former Labor Government had a strong record of deregulation reform which significantly improved the competitiveness and productivity of the Australian economy and, in particular, the former Labor Government through its Seamless National Economy reforms was delivering significant cost savings to businesses—just 17 of these reforms were estimated to lower business costs by $4 billion per year with the full reforms to increase Australia's productivity and deliver a $6 billion boost to GDP per year;

(3) the three bills being debated together provide claimed deregulatory savings of $1,855,000, or just 0.1 per cent of the figure claimed by the Government, with a vast majority of the changes in this bill having no impact in terms of costs or regulatory burden on businesses, individuals and the community sector in Australia; and

(4) the commitment to deregulation should not be used as a cover for threatening fairness, workplace safety, or the protections of our environment."

The principle of deregulation and getting rid of red tape is one that we should be able to have a mature debate about. Unfortunately, the significant issues in red tape are not before the parliament today. And just watch for the people who have tuned into the radio or today or are watching the telecast because they know that this is the member for Kooyong's big day and the parliamentary ratings will quadruple. The people who are paying attention should listen to the arguments that are put up by the remaining speakers from the government. There are not many of them because most of them voted to get them themselves off the list before the debate commenced. But listen to the arguments and you can bet one thing: their speeches will not be about the bill before the House. Their speeches will be about other issues, because what is in front of the House today is almost entirely inconsequential.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Mitchell ): Is the amendment seconded?

Ms Brodtmann: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The original question was that this bill «be» «now» «read» «a» «second» «time . To this the honourable member for Watson has moved an amendment to the Omnibus Repeal Day (Spring 2014) Bill 2014 that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. If it suits the House I will state the question in the form that the amendment be agreed to. The question now is that the amendment be agreed to.