Deregulation

I want to talk about the vexing issue of red and green tape. Before I do that, however, I will digress for a little bit. Today is a sad day for the Liberal-National Party in Queensland. Over the past few weeks, we have seen some longstanding Liberal-National Party members of parliament announce their retirement. In a future debate, I will talk more about their achievements, but tonight I thank Rosemary Menkens, first elected in 2004; Ted Malone, first elected in 1994; Vaughan Johnson, first elected in 1989; and Howard Hobbs, first elected in 1986, for their service to Queensland and their local communities. I hope their retirements are long and that they understand that we will never forget their work over their many years. They all leave big shoes to fill.

Tonight, however, I want to talk about red tape and the growing need to further reduce red tape in order to support small businesses and the economy. As I have travelled throughout Queensland, I have spoken often about the burden of red tape and have had many occasions to listen to people's concerns about red tape. Just a few weeks ago in Gympie, at a Gympie First forum with Tony Perrett, our Liberal-National Party candidate, I heard firsthand further examples of the damage that red tape and green tape are doing to local businesses and farmers in the Gympie district. Gympie is in my home region of the beautiful Sunshine Coast, and local businesses, community groups and community leaders there are calling for further action on red tape. They acknowledge that the state government has done some sterling work in reducing red and green tape. They also acknowledge that the federal government has also done some fantastic work—which I will come to later—in this area.

But red tape and overregulation are destroying confidence. In a region that needs jobs and economic growth, I—like my fellow Liberal and National Party senators—have a very strong interest in ensuring that these unnecessary barriers are removed. Sadly, it is a big task. The Australian economy is drowning under the weight of red and green tape. The volume, complexity and duplication of red-tape requirements are stifling innovation, investment and productivity. This overwhelming regulatory burden is exacerbating cost-of-living pressures on Australian families and increasing uncertainty about job security and job creation. Australians can no longer afford to waste thousands of hours on pointless paperwork, compliance and regulation. This applies to almost every sector—from small business to big business, from aged care to education, from the not-for-profit sector to agriculture.

Just last year, the Queensland Chamber of Commerce estimated (1) that red-tape compliance costs are equal to 10 per cent of a local independent supermarket's daily takings, (2) that red tape adds an additional $20 to $30 per head to the cost of a wedding at a function centre, (3) that red tape adds approximately five per cent to the average cost of a meal at a restaurant, and (4) that red tape and government fees and charges represent approximately a quarter, 25 per cent, of the ticket price for a regional tourist attraction. A report by Jobs Australia found there were over 3,000 pages of Job Services Australia rules. Indeed, these rules required paper records to be kept of all applications made through Job Services Australia. This left one provider requiring over 330 filing cabinets.

With universal support for a reduction in red tape, the previous Labor government left an appalling legacy of inaction. Kevin Rudd and Labor promised before the 2007 election that, for every regulation they brought in, they would abolish one regulation. You might think, 'That sounds promising'—and Labor did abolish over 220 regulations. You might think, 'That's pretty good; they probably get a gold star for that.' But, in little more than 5½ years, Labor introduced 975 new or amending pieces of legislation and over 21,000 additional regulations. A current secretary of state in the UK, Eric Pickles—whom everyone here should know I have a bit of man love for—does not have a one-in one-out policy. At the moment his record is that, for every regulation he brings in, he is getting rid of eight regulations. I think that sets the benchmark this government should be aiming for in getting rid of red tape.

On Labor's watch, Australia's ranking in the World Competitiveness Yearbook declined from seventh in 2008 to 15th in 2012, and ABS data showed that the country's productivity fell by three percent between July 2007 to June 2012.

In contrast to Labor's record of all talk and no action, the coalition government is ready to deliver a paradigm shift in Australia's approach to regulation. Already, this government removed over 10,000 pieces and 50,000 pages of legislation and regulation during its first-ever repeal day in March this year. This historic event alone has delivered savings of over $700 million in compliance costs.

Pull out your diaries, get very excited about this, tell your kids and your grandkids and tell your staff: another very exciting repeal day is coming up, scheduled for 29 October. Josh Frydenberg, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, is leading the charge on this. I think he deserves a lot of praise and a proper gold star for the work that he is doing to reduce regulation and red tape. This is just one part of the coalition government's red tape reduction program.

The government is committed to cutting over $1 billion in red and green tape each year. To do this, the government will focus on five key areas. Firstly, we are going to tackle the volume of regulation, which is clearly already too high. Secondly, we are going to work to eliminate the extensive duplication and regulatory overlap that exists between the different levels of government. Thirdly, we are going to improve the quality of consultation between government and those to be affected by any new regulations. Fourthly, we will ensure that there are rigorous and mandatory post-implementation reviews to determine how effective new regulations have been. Fifthly, we are going to ensure that regulators are at all times transparent, accountable and efficient in administering regulations.

Regulators are at the front line of this debate and it is our strong view that we have to bring them along as part of any sweeping new cultural change. Australia is home to over two million businesses, many of them family-run operations that create jobs and opportunities in our communities. I, like my coalition colleagues, want to see a strong and prosperous Australia. These important measures to reduce red tape will deliver unprecedented changes to the regulatory landscape in Australia. They will help those over two million businesses and help create jobs.

I have previously made a commitment to personally monitor our progress of red tape reduction to keep the government, which I am a proud member of, and my party, the Liberal Party, on track. I repeat that commitment today. I will be doing an annual red tape report. I will further update the Senate on this progress at a later date. This area of reform is critical for Australia's future. Done correctly, the government will support growth, build confidence and create an environment full of opportunity. This is certainly an outcome that I hope all of those who dislike red and green tape—those on the other side might like it—would agree with.