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Address to Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Annual Dinner, Canberra

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20 November 2013




When I said on election night that Australia was under new management and, once more, open for business, I was acknowledging an iron law of public policy.

You cannot have strong communities without strong economies to sustain them and you can’t have a strong economy without profitable private businesses.

Making it easier for businesses to start, to grow, to employ and to invest is at the heart of this Government’s policy to build a stronger and better Australia.

Without successful businesses, invariably private businesses, no goods can be produced, no services can be delivered, no wealth can be created and - ultimately - no other fine ideals can be realised.

That’s why I salute the businesses of Australia: those who start them, those who work in them, those who invest in them, and those who run them.

I salute not only those who run them but also those who represent them, such as this Chamber and, especially, your retiring Executive Director and my former senior workplace relations adviser, Peter Anderson.

I particularly salute the small businesses of Australia and everyone who puts his or her house on the line to start a small business: to serve our community and to employ our fellow Australians.

The people who start businesses and who keep them going are the largely unsung heroes of our society - especially as the obstacles they must overcome and the burdens they must carry have become harder and harder.

There’s the notorious case of the major resource development project in Gladstone that required 4,000 meetings and 12,000 pages of environmental reporting before it was finally approved - only with 1,200 state and 300 Commonwealth conditions, plus 8,000 sub-conditions.


Now, delay and expense on such a scale ill becomes even a $15 billion project, lest those investing such astronomical sums choose to go where their money is more welcome and their good intentions less suspect.

But it’s not just massive new projects that are subject to regulatory strangulation.

Opening and running a child care centre should hardly be a bureaucratic ordeal.

Yet the national childcare law introduced by the previous government is almost 180 pages long and is accompanied by 345 pages of regulation and several hundred more pages of guidelines.

No one could reasonably be expected to keep abreast of this.

So what’s the point of such prescription other than to give officials a permanent stick with which to beat entrepreneurs or, to put it bluntly, to give wealth consumers a permanent upper hand over wealth creators?

So, the job of the new government is to ensure that Australia really is open for business because that is the only way that Australians can have the jobs, the services, the prosperity and the financial freedom that is at the heart of a good life.

That means getting taxes down, getting regulation down, and getting productivity up.

It means ensuring that government lives within its means so that there is scope for sensible tax reform.

Above all, it means a preference for smaller government over bigger government and for freer citizens over more regulated ones.

And, yes, it means keeping our commitments: the tough ones like ending the schoolkids bonus as well as the easier ones like abolishing the carbon tax.

The new government, I believe, has made a good start.

We’ve saved the car industry from Labor’s $1.8 billion fringe benefits tax hit.

We’ve saved teachers, nurses and salespeople from Labor’s tax on self-education expenses.

We’ve declared that most of the nearly 100 announced-but-not-enacted tax changes won’t go ahead.

We’ve established a once-in-a-generation Commission of Audit to consider the size, scope and efficiency of government and we have the chairman of that Commission, Tony Shepherd of the BCA, with us tonight. It’s good to see you looking so enthusiastic for your many tasks!

And we are passing legislation to abolish the carbon tax and to abolish the mining tax.

As things stand, the mining tax forces 145 miners to keep books for a tax that only 20 of them actually pay and forces the ATO to spend $100 million to collect a tax that’s raised just $400 million!

But there’s good news because tonight, the mining tax repeal bill is passing the House of Representatives.

Tomorrow, the House of Representatives is likely to pass the carbon tax repeal legislation, thus forcing the Labor Party in the Senate to decide whether it really does, like the Greens, want electricity bills to be $200 a year higher than they should be.

We are fully restoring the Australian Building and Construction Commission to be a strong cop-on-the-beat in a tough industry.


We’ve closed some 21 non-statutory boards and committees as a down payment on the substantial reduction in the size of government that is yet to come.

We’ve signed Memoranda of Understanding with New South Wales and Queensland to establish one-stop shops for environmental approvals.

More importantly and crucially, in the eight weeks since the Government was sworn in, Environment Minister Greg Hunt has given the environmental go ahead for projects worth $160 billion.

This is a very, very substantial down payment on cutting businesses’ red and green tape costs by $1 billion a year, every year.

And tonight, I announce that the former Commonwealth Bank boss and Future Fund chairman David Murray will chair our financial sector inquiry.

This is designed to make financial services more competitive and ultimately more fair - with lower costs, lesser fees and greater efficiency in the use of capital.

Almost everything this government does is directed towards making doing business easier - because that leads to more jobs, higher wages and greater prosperity.

Abolishing the carbon tax will remove a $9 billion a year hit on the economy.

Abolishing the mining tax will not only remove the sovereign risk cloud over resources investment but will also remove $13 billion in unfunded expenditure from the budget.

These are just the first big steps towards reforming our economy.

Tax reform, for instance, begins with abolishing the carbon tax and the mining tax, but it doesn’t end there.

The White Paper on tax reform, due within two years, will canvass all of the credible options for lower, simpler, fairer taxes and will shape the further tax mandate that the Government will seek at the next election.

The Productivity Commission inquiry into workplace relations will consider how Australia can have the world’s best paid workers by also having the world’s most productive workers; and, again, will inform the further workplace relations mandate that the government will seek at the next election.

Our objective is to maximise productivity and to maximise participation so that we can maximise pay and maximise the number of jobs.

Because, especially with an ageing population, we just can’t afford to lose 200,000 people from our workforce - as we have over the past three years.

That’s why we are introducing a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme so that women can better combine having a family with maintaining a career.

That’s why we’re establishing a Productivity Commission inquiry into childcare so that parents can maximise their participation in a 24/7 economy.

One of the issues we will have to tackle is the steady build-up of working age people on the disability pension, most of whom only leave it to go onto the old aged pension.


So early in the New Year, the Government will be considering proposals to get back into the workforce people with conditions which are not always long-term: such as many types of mental illness; or not always incapacitating, such as muscular skeletal deterioration.

Another issue that an infrastructure prime minister will have to tackle is the extraordinarily long lead times for vital infrastructure projects.

The official advice, for instance, is that normal planning for the Gateway Motorway upgrade in Brisbane could take up to two years - even though this is simply widening an existing road!

So, one of the issues I will be asking premiers to consider at the Council of Australian Government meeting in December is special legislation for vital projects: so that WestConnex in Sydney and the East West Link in Melbourne are not indefinitely delayed by professional objectors.

I am determined to ensure that we are a country that builds things.

The argument about Sydney’s second airport that’s raged since Gough Whitlam first proposed Galston, should fully and finally be resolved well within this term of government.

Of course, this will require new habits of mind from everyone.

It will be necessary to reconsider the need for 130-plus national regulators and some 350 state and territory regulators that tend to justify their existence by finding ways to say “no” or “maybe” rather than “yes”.

With such a regulatory superstructure, it’s hardly surprising that Australia’s ranking in the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness index has fallen from 12th to 21st; and that Australia’s ranking for government regulation has fallen, would you believe it, from 68th to 128th - that’s 128th in the world - over the past six years.

No one wants to see corners being cut in environmental best practice or anywhere else.

Still, we need to remember that projects’ proponents are citizens as well as builders who normally have to live in the communities they want to develop.

They would hardly imperil their own futures or trash their own reputations.

We need to remember that eliminating risk normally means eliminating initiative, too, and to resist the urge to regulate every time something goes wrong.

Freedom can never be untrammelled but the urge to create, to build and to innovate should never be suppressed if our people are to enjoy the prosperity that we all want and deserve.

If Australia really is to be open for business, people have to be trusted to get on with their own jobs.

People have to be trusted to get on with doing what only they can do.

Looking at business, indeed looking at the people here tonight, the new government not for a second sees people who are naturally inclined to rip off customers, to persecute workers or to despoil the environment.

That, I’m afraid, is how the former government tended to look at people in this room.

The new government looks at this room and we see people whose intention is to serve the community, to employ millions of Australians and to build a better and more beautiful world.


We see people like you - who deserve to be encouraged and admired.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I am thrilled to be here. I did feel when I listened to Tim’s lovely speech at the beginning of tonight, that he was stealing a little bit of my own thunder; making many of the points that I was going to make myself.

But these points are worth making again and again and again.

Without productive businesses, particularly without productive, innovative and creative small businesses, nothing else that we value is possible and all of the recognition and rewards that we are so rightly ready to give to people who we see as philanthropists, would be very difficult if we didn’t have people in our midst who are not seen as philanthropists and who don’t see themselves as philanthropists, who are every bit as important to the functioning of a good society.

You are the building blocks of a good society and I want to make sure that your morale is high, that your reputation is high, and that your ability to do best what you want to do is not hampered by the folly of government.