BILLS;Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2014) Bill 2014;Second Reading – 22 Sep 2014

I will start by saying that even the name of this bill is one of the silliest that has ever entered this place, the Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2014) Bill—come on, really. The Omnibus Repeal Day stunt was lame and pathetic back in March; it is lame and pathetic now. Apparently, the government wish do this every six months, so we will be doing the same lame and pathetic charade into the future as well—two days every year, said Senator Seselja. For those who remember back to March when this bill entered the House, the coalition tried and failed to create widespread public jubilation at the introduction of this bill—a bit of razzamatazz, a bit of rah, rah, a bit of build it up. They called it the Omnibus Repeal Day—a title their team of spin doctors must have spent months agonising over. It was going to cut ‘mountains of red tape’; Senator Seselja talked about all the red tape that it was going to cut. It is not really surprising that there were no street festivals celebrating Omnibus Repeal Day, because the importance that those opposite attached to this bill is utterly absurd.

On the Labor side of the chamber, we have absolutely no problem removing legislation when it is no longer appropriate, when it is out of date or when there are better legislative arrangements that have the same effect. That is part of the normal function of this place and of the other place. Over the nearly six years in office, we repealed 16,794 spent and redundant acts, regulations and legislative instruments from the statute books, but never once did we try to have a special day to celebrate it. Not once did we go so low as to put the name of our stunt day into the title of a bill before this place. Maybe that is why the government have not repeated this trick because it was such an abject failure politically.

The government could have had other special days and titled the bills appropriately—maybe they could have even had some honest ones. Budget day could have been ‘Target the least well off in our society day’. They could have had ‘Removing effective action on climate change day’—that would have been a good one. They could even have gone as far as having ‘Removing any department or agency that gives expert advice we do not agree with day’—I think that would have got a few. That is what this government have tried to do time and time again to stifle public debate in this country.

If the government was serious about reform, they would not have tied a piece of legislation of this nature to such a pathetic stunt as repeal day. They would not have padded this bill out to 98 pages to make themselves look serious. Parts of this bill are completely ridiculous. We have 33 instances of replacing ‘facsimile transmission’ with ‘fax’. We have 47 instances of replacing ‘e-mail’ with ’email’. We have 50 instances of grammatical and spelling errors—missing commas, forgotten capital letters, the occasional missing hyphen and the rest of that type of thing. Apparently, we are amending one act to remove an accidental second comma that follows the first comma that is actually needed. I am all for correct grammar but, really, this is the sort of farce that a great deal of this bill is about. It is a far, far cry from the ‘biggest bonfire of regulations in our history’, as the Prime Minister described it.

If the government want to waste the time of this place and the other place to make these changes, that is their right, but they should not overclaim and overreach that they have some big compliance cost savings. Do not come into this place and tell the Australian people, who cannot afford to buy a house or see a doctor, who do not have enough money to spend on food and rent or are unable to find work because the government have not kept their promise on job creation that repealing ancient and long-forgotten legislation is the best way to improve the lives of everyday Australians. It is not and the government should realise that it is no longer in opposition and take responsibility, grow up and not engage in such stunts as this bill.

This Abbott government have the responsibility of addressing the needs of Australians. Do they care at all about the needs of the Australian people? Looking at this bill, it is clear that they do not care. If they cared about the Australian people, they would take seriously the job of governing, without attributing undue importance to farcical bills like the ones we are debating today.

Can someone in the government, anyone, please tell me how schedule 2 part 4 of this bill, ‘Amendments relating to the Advanced Mobile Phone System’, is going to change the life of Australian people by changing ‘Telecommunications Act 1997’ to omit the words: ‘The Advanced Mobile Phone System is to be phased out by 1 January 2000’? How is that going to help one Australian man, woman or child? For those who are not familiar with the Telecommunications Act 1997, or different mobile phone technologies, schedule 2 part 4 of the bill we are debating today removes a reference to the phasing out of the old analog mobile phone system that was indeed phased out by 1 January 2000 anyway—nice work getting rid of red tape, those opposite!—removing references to abolishing an obsolete network that has not been in existence for over a decade. Why are you wasting the time of this place? Did you seriously come into government with such little vision that you have to fill time in this place getting rid of provisions referencing the abolition of things that have already been abolished?

Let us see what this bill does in the Finance portfolio. The 12 acts in the Finance portfolio referred to in this bill are old appropriation acts from 2010-11 and 2011-12. These financial years have already occurred and Commonwealth government agencies have already been provided with the appropriations, as stated in those acts. So, once again, removing them off the statute books really has no tangible effect on the everyday lives of Australians, no effect whatsoever.

In the Industry portfolio, we see the repeal of two acts that ceased to have effect by the end of 2011 and the inclusion of the word ‘former’ in three locations in two acts—hardly something that would lift the regulatory burden off people. But this is the Abbott government’s great vision. Is this what those opposite fought so hard for to get into government, to repeal acts that have not had any effect for years? If the government want to be taken seriously, they need to treat this place seriously.

In the Employment portfolio, the government want to repeal an act that administered an agency that was abolished nearly 20 years ago. Aren’t those opposite embarrassed by this bill? Surely, the government should have been working on cutting actual red tape for business if that was their desire, and that is certainly what Senator Seselja seems to think is happening. Removing hyphens in the word ‘e-mail’, changing ‘facsimile’ to ‘fax’ and adding a few capital letters to flesh out a bill is a disgusting waste of parliament’s time and of public servants’ time. Surely the resources that went through all these bills to find such minor changes could have been set on achieving real productivity growth and real decreases in regulation, where appropriate, rather than this stunt.

The government wants to change the Medicare system so that people are charged $7 each time they have to see their bulk-billing doctor; yet they are wasting their time on commas, hyphens and capital letters. The government wants to leave unemployed people under 30 who are not studying with no money for food, rent, electricity or any of the costs associated with getting a job; yet the government is wasting its time on commas, hyphens and capital letters. Is the government prepared to tell the Australian people how many hours of departmental staff time, how many dollars, this stunt has actually cost?

It gets even more absurd. When the government introduced the Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2014) Bill 2014 to the House, they also introduced two other bills to be debated with it. These were the Amending Acts 1901 to 1969 Repeal Bill 2014 and the Statute Law Revision Bill (No. 1) 2014. At least these bills have slightly more serious titles. The Amending Acts 1901 to 1969 Repeal Bill 2014 was used as a filler to make the number of acts the government was cutting seem higher. It passed this place earlier this year. The acts that were repealed by this bill were so ancient that nobody, absolutely nobody, was affected by them. They were expired, they were superseded, they were redundant. The Distillation Act 1918, the Spirits Act 1918, the Naval Defence Act 1918, the Defence Act (No. 2) 1918, the Lighthouses Act 1919, the Northern Territory Acceptance Act 1919 and the War Service Homes Act 1919 are some of the acts that were deleted by the Amending Acts 1901 to 1969 Repeal Bill 2014 and the Statute Law Revision Bill (No. 1) 2014. Can anyone opposite tell me how much money small businesses would have saved as a result of the repeal of those acts? For example, the repeal of the Northern Territory Acceptance Act 1919—how much money has actually been saved by small business? Are those opposite not embarrassed that their bonfire of red tape was a fizzer, an absolute fizzer filled with nothing but legislation like the Dried Fruits Export Charges Act 1927, which altered the Dried Fruits Export Charges Act 1924 so that:

The Governor-General may, from time to time, by order published in the Gazette, after report to the Minister by the Dried Fruits Control Board constituted under the Dried Fruits Export Control Act 1924, exempt dried currants, dried sultanas or dried lexias from the charges imposed by this Act.

I ask you!

Of course, if they had gone back to the original Dried Fruits Export Charges Act 1924, they would have found it was already repealed by act No. 49 of 1991, making the whole exercise a complete waste of time, a completely moot point. I ask again: is this really your bonfire of regulation? Is abolishing acts that have themselves been superseded for decades the best you can do? Do those opposite really treat this place and the other place as such a joke? What a disgrace! Do they really think that no-one will read the bills that they bring into this place? The Omnibus Repeal Day was a stunt, and this bill was a stunt, albeit a fizzer.

Labor had a greater deregulatory agenda that was aimed at reducing costs of business in complying with unnecessary and inconsistent regulation—the Seamless National Economy. In its final report on the Seamless National Economy in early February 2014, the COAG Reform Council said that by the end of 2013 completion of most of the reforms had meant cost savings to Australian businesses worth billions of dollars per year. The Productivity Commission estimated that completion of just 17 of the Seamless National Economy reforms had lowered business costs by $4 billion per year. The Productivity Commission also estimated the full implementation of the Seamless National Economy reforms would increase GDP by $6 billion per year by improving productivity. These are real reforms. These are reforms that have made things easier for businesses around the country. It was Labor that instituted policy measures that are making a difference to lowering business costs and improving productivity.

That is what a genuine, serious government does. It does not introduce joke bills like the one the government has brought to this place today or like the Amending Acts 1901 to 1969 Repeal Bill 2014 passed by this place earlier this year. I must admit: I have never seen a government like this one. It is as if they have completely and utterly disconnected from reality. Black is white and white is black if you are on that side of the chamber. Getting rid of superseded acts that affect no-one is cutting red tape! The government can save money by abolishing agencies that make a profit on abating carbon emissions! To better inform public debate, government agencies are prevented from releasing assessments on projects! If the government disagrees with the science, then the science is wrong. If they have to cut funding to science rather than change their point of view, so be it.

It is as if they have twisted the truth for so long that they just do not know what is real. It is utterly Orwellian. They fought so long and so hard to get into government that they did not think about they wanted to do when they got there or how they were going to do it. Did they really fight that hard so that they could repeal the Dried Fruits Export Charges Act 1927? Did they fight so hard to get into government so they could introduce a paid parental leave scheme to give millionaires $50,000—a scheme that most government senators do not agree with and have not supported for four years? Do those opposite have any idea of why they are here? I will give them a little reminder. They are here to serve the Australian people, to protect the most vulnerable in our society and to ensure that all Australians, no matter what their background is, have the opportunity to succeed and prosper for the benefit of all—which is why the other reforms they wish to make to cut red tape are so cruel and so twisted.

Their desired abolition of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission is a cruel change which shows their own twisted priority. Unfortunately, too many Australians are scammed each year by unscrupulous opportunists who want to take advantage of the generosity of the Australian people. As the former chair of the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety, I was told many stories of people being scammed, including by people pretending to be from existent or non-existent charities.

Those opposite want to remove the body that regulates the charity sector, one that is comprehensively supported by the sector, actually reduces red tape and protects the public from fraudulent and scamming behaviour. Did you really fight that hard to get into government so that you could help people get scammed by bogus charities or to callously strip away basic consumer protections under the government’s proposed changes to the future of financial advice laws, which will put at risk the investment savings of millions of Australians? Is that really what you fought so hard for—to help Australian retirees and retirement savers be conned out of millions of dollars by dodgy financial advisers, to introduce reforms that not only financial planners but also the industry superannuation sector, much of the business press, pensioner groups, consumer groups and high-profile commentators like Alan Kohler oppose? It is as though the Abbott government is acting in the interests of a handful of large financial service providers rather than in the interests of the Australian people. I wonder why that would be—she says with some sarcasm. How have your priorities become so twisted that you want to protect the people who racially vilify others, rather than to protect the rights of people to live without being racially vilified; to allow the rich and powerful who own newspapers and radio stations to attack anyone they want to with the huge resources that have? How is that a way to build a better society?

Senator Brandis says that people have the right to be bigots. I say people have the right not to be abused, discriminated against or vilified. For those opposite, removing red tape simply means helping their mates exploit others at the expense of ordinary, everyday Australians. It means removing protections against hate speech, against exploitative employers or against dishonest financial advisers, at the expense of ordinary, everyday Australians. Let me reiterate.

The Labor Party believes that redundant acts, regulations and legislative instruments should be removed from the statute books. We did it while in government time and time again. But to do it as this government did through a stunt like the omnibus repeal day is a childish act which is below what the Australian people expect from their government.

The government needs to start taking seriously the act of governing. It needs to treat this place and the Australian people with respect. It needs to actively work to improve the lives of Australians, rather than moving redundant commas and clauses to show off what a good job it is doing in removing red tape.