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Thursday, 26 November 2015
Page: 9134

Behavioural Economics

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (14:51): My question is to the Cabinet Secretary, Senator Sinodinos. Does the minister stand by his statement that behavioural economics is economic and social regulatory engineering? Is that why he failed to announce the Turnbull government's new 'nudge' unit on Monday night and sent a parliamentary secretary in his place?

Senator SINODINOS (New South WalesCabinet Secretary) (14:51): I thank the senator for the question and for her interest in 'nudge' economics. It is a new branch of economics which seeks to influence behaviour by changing, for example, the way a question is asked or by the choices you give people. Rather than have people opt into something, you give them a chance to opt out—for example, on a workplace pension scheme.

What the good senator is referring to is that some years ago I attacked a Labor initiative to do with nudge economics because of my concern that, under a government that was increasing the amount of regulation in the economy, nudge economics would be used in order to increase social engineering of a Labor variety. But on coming to government, and in the context of an agenda to reduce regulation, with appropriate terms of reference, the government has decided to put together a behavioural economics unit, because, rather than be black and white about these matters, we are prepared to have an open mind and test these concepts in a way that is consistent with our broader deregulationist philosophy.

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (14:53): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the minister stand by the claim contained in his media statement 'Nanny state wants to nudge you!' that the coalition is not in the business of nudging the Australian people in any particular direction? If so, has he told the head of Mr Turnbull's new nudge unit?

Senator SINODINOS (New South WalesCabinet Secretary) (14:53): Again, I appreciate the question and the spirit in which it is asked, but it reminds me of the very fact that a core promise of this government on coming to power was to reduce the extent of the nanny state. That is what we are about. We believe in individuals. We believe in freedom. We believe in giving people the capacity to get out there, earn a living and get a proper return for their enterprise and their activity. That is what distinguishes these two great streams of Australian politics, and to my dying day people on this side of the House will stand up for a lower-tax, lower-regulation, prosperous economy that promotes economic opportunity for all.

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (14:54): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. How much taxpayer funding will be required to support this nudge unit in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet given that it has already been comprehensively rejected by Senator Sinodinos?

Senator SINODINOS (New South WalesCabinet Secretary) (14:55): My recollection is that this unit will be set up within existing departmental resources, but I will check to make sure. That is what we try to do. Where possible, we try to reorder our priorities; we try to keep the level of spending under control. I will check. And while I am on my feet, I will say that the Assistant Cabinet Secretary did an excellent job of delivering that speech, because he is an even greater lover of freedom than I am.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Canavan?

Senator Canavan: Just give me one second; I will find—nope—

The PRESIDENT: If you do not ask your question it will have to go to the opposition. Or Senator Bernardi?

Senator Wong: Mr President, a point of order: we gave the senator some time. Senator Moore was on her feet. She ought to have been called.

The PRESIDENT: I will call Senator Moore.