Bill [Small Government]

Senator BERNARDI:  I wish the best of 2018 to all our colleagues here and welcome back. I’m very happy to be making my first contribution to the Senate for 2018 on this particular topic, which is deregulation. I mean, I would say how sweet that smell—we’ve been starved of it since the successful repeal days of bygone years. I have to say that the title of this bill is particularly attractive to Australian Conservatives, because smaller government is actually one of our core pillars. It’s a pillar that we wish every other party would grasp hold of and uphold, because they both seem to have jettisoned it in the way of political expediency.

While this bill does in places deregulate, it is worth contrasting it with past behaviour and, in particular, with the behaviour of significant others. There’s no more significant other in the deregulation space currently than US President Donald Trump. President Trump in just his first year has led the US Republican Party to succeed in repealing or delaying 1,500 regulations and implementing a policy that sees his government cutting 22 regulations for every one enacted. That has kickstarted confidence in the US economy. It has kickstarted investment in the US economy, and he’s living up to his motto, which is to make America great again. Why can’t we make Australia even better by deregulating, repealing and cutting taxes? That’s a question for those who are ruling the Treasury benches and the opposition who seem opposed to making Australia an even better place to be.

But let’s reflect on the better days, the repeal days. Two years ago, on 4 February, 2016, the Turnbull government had their mission accomplished moment on red tape. They scrapped the twice annual red tape repeal days even though, when elected, the coalition had promised to repeal $1 billion a year in red tape. The Turnbull government declared mission accomplished; nothing more to do here. Of course, the first significant repeal day—an unofficial one, which was easily missed—came with the election of the Abbott government. It was the abolition of the carbon and mining taxes, and I was a very proud supporter of getting rid of those taxes.

When you now go to the website address cuttingredtape.gov.au, the modesty of their aspirations and goals today is apparent. It’s a very modest page. Its focus apparently is on saving taxpayer money. I would suggest it’s a very modest page because not much is actually happening. This page lists four repeal days as its claim to fame, and they were in the autumns and springs of 2015 and 2016. The last report, entitled 2015 Annual red tape reduction report,on that website indicates red tape reduction decisions had totalled $4.8 billion in red tape to be axed as of 31 December 2015. Clearly, the deregulation agenda, the cutting of red tape, the cutting of green tape, the cutting of costs and limiting of the size of our government has disappeared—mission accomplished. We’re only absenting ourselves in Prime Minister Turnbull and his Air Force jumpsuit and an aircraft carrier for him to claim it.

There’s been zero progress on this, because the page has clearly been orphaned under the Turnbull administration. I’m not even going to say it’s been archived, because it’s still live, so someone is still paying for it to be up there; there’s just nothing happening—more waste of taxpayers’ money. The government said in their report of 2015 that it had overachieved on red tape repeal and would—and I will paraphrase a little here—now go a little more under the radar, have a little more innovation in its red tape repeal. I would suggest it’s so stealthlike, so under the radar, that you cannot even see it happening.

When it comes to red tape, I want to credit the extensive work of that fine institution, the Institute of Public Affairs, on this topic. Their latest report, entitled Barriers to prosperity: red tape and the regulatory state in Australia, includes chart 8, which gets worse every single year it’s published. It’s about the number of pages of Commonwealth legislation. From Federation through to about 1956, this place passed no more than 1,000 pages of federal legislation every year. It started rising rapidly, to a rate of about 3,000 pages a year by 1986. In 30 years, it had tripled. Since then, it has really taken off. It reached 8,000 pages of legislation passed annually at the height of Labor’s frenzy for red tape in 2012, and it fell to a more sane but still extraordinarily debilitating 4,000 in the last reporting year. It’s still far, far too high.

I simply don’t buy what the government’s peddling when it says, ‘Mission accomplished on repeal days and getting rid of red tape’. There is much more to be done. If our economy is to become more successful, more competitive and more attractive to investment, and if we are to stimulate Australia’s prosperity, we need to look across the Pacific and see what can be achieved where the will is in place to do it. The Trump administration is delivering what it promised, and the proof is in the pudding when you look at the economic growth and the jobs growth in America and the investment that is going on there. Meanwhile, this government is fiddling as our economy burns.

Around the time of the National Commission of Audit, the Institute of Public Affairs found our economy would be $176 billion, or 11 per cent of GDP, larger per annum if red tape repeal were taken seriously. What more incentive do you need? When you consider that, at that time, income tax revenue was around $10 billion less per annum than it is today, you realise that red tape repeal must remain a constant focus for whomever is in government.

The National Commission of Audit identified 99 of 194 Commonwealth primary bodies that should be abolished, merged, privatised or consolidated. I accept that some progress has been made on this front, but there is so much more that can and should be done. This would save millions upon millions of dollars for the Australian taxpayer and free up the government to focus on what it should be doing rather than all the extraneous things that it does to satisfy the whims and demands of very small groups of people. The National Commission of Audit also noted that a further 700 bodies—boards, committees and councils—ought to be rationalised. I wonder what has happened to that. The Commission of Audit never really saw the light of day. It’s been abandoned, just as red tape repeal days seem to have been abandoned. I wonder if the government is just claiming ‘mission accomplished’ on that too.

I’d like to reflect also on the ASADA Advisory Group, which we’re dealing specifically with here. Schedule 4 abolishes the ASADA Advisory Group because it’s not active and has no current members. That’s a pretty good reason to abolish it, so we’re not going to argue about that. We support that. But I want to reflect on the history of this group and particularly on drugs in sport. I have a particular interest in the sporting arena. I was on the board of the Australian Sports Commission. I thought it did some excellent work. Stamping out performance-enhancing drugs and drug abuse in sport is really critical.

Back in 2010, the ASADA Advisory Group was formed. It was announced in May 2012 that former sports minister and Home and Away star Mark Arbib would announce appointments to the committee, which had already met twice during the financial year. There was an accomplished list of people on it: Mr Brian Ward, OAM, who would chair the advisory committee; Ms Kate Palmer; Mr John Drury; Professor David Handelsman; Ms Anne Gripper; and Mr Steve Moneghetti. These are very notable and exceptional people, all of whom have achieved a great deal and were appointed to an advisory board in good faith by a government minister, who I’m convinced was doing the right thing. In its inaugural year, the committee had costs of about $15,900, including fees paid to its members—very modest. By its concluding year, it incurred just $1,100 in costs in the final reporting year.

So it hasn’t cost a great deal of money, but it’s cost Australians and the Labor government in particular a great deal of credibility, to be frank. Remember: this committee was the one that was used by the Gillard Labor government to justify the ‘blackest day in the history of Australian sport’. That was one of the blackest days in the misuse of sporting legends by a government desperate to distract attention from the lacklustre—and that’s being very generous—performance of its leader. That was the day, you may recall, when ALP ministers Lundy and Clare declared that organised crime was behind the increased use of performance-enhancing drugs in Australian sport and was seeking to infiltrate our beloved national pastimes.

Many people have come to the conclusion that this blackest day, as it was described by former head of ASADA, Richard Ings, was nothing more than to a stunt to steer attention away from flailing leadership of Ms Julia Gillard, who was in the dying months of her prime ministership at that stage as the faceless apparatchiks within the Labor Party—including Mr Bill Shorten, I have to say—were plotting to knife her in the back and reinstate the person they all said they hated: Mr Kevin Rudd. There were people who had integrity and refused to be part of a second coup to counter the earlier coup, but in the end these same people are at work today plotting now against Mr Shorten.

Mr Shorten has been exposed as a hollow man. We know that Mr Shorten is vacuous and empty, and that’s why he makes a lot of noise, but we also know that Mr Albanese is much more popular than Mr Shorten. He probably has less confidence in himself than Mr Shorten. I’m not sure whether or not that is justified. We also know that amongst the ALP rank and file Mr Albanese has the numbers but it’s the faceless powerbrokers of Labor who are desperate to prop up Mr Shorten, because that will prop up their own interests. So will we see another quasi attempt to divert the people from the failures of Mr Shorten, say, ‘There’s nothing to see over here,’ and in the same moment seek to besmirch another one of our great contributors to our national psyche: the sporting codes in this country. We don’t want to see another blackest day in Australian sport—that claim, that falsehood just for political expediency. But I digress.

The ASADA Advisory Group’s closure was announced on 15 December 2014 and yet, extraordinarily, here we are, three years later and now abolishing it. So we’ve closed it, it sat there on the statute books and the government is claiming this is the smaller government bill of 2017. It is much ado about nothing. We’re saving 1,100 bucks and we’re closing the book on a very unsavoury chapter, and that’s the extent of smaller government for 2017 for this government. What a shameful indictment. There are so many things we could be ripping into to save the taxpayers billions of dollars. The government could live within its means rather than mortgaging the future of our children, rather than intergenerational theft, spending cash, borrowing money today and expecting our children to repay it with not much to show for it.

Shamefully, I think the government has given up the ghost in this space, as many on the government benches will attest to. But I think the reason they have had to throw in the towel is that, when you look across the crossbench here and look at the Labor Party, you see there is no will whatsoever, with one or two exceptions who have been consistent on the record—and I will credit Senator Leyonhjelm here at the risk of condemning his status with my praise. But at the very least he’s been consistently standing up and saying government is too big and it costs too much money. We’ve had others on the crossbench here who say they’re conservatives but who are prepared to throw an extra $5 billion into education with no measurable outcomes. They say that’s a good result. That’s not. Be accountable. Have targets and know what the money is going to be spent on. Then you can make an accurate assessment of it. As it is now, you just take a pot of money to the education department and say, ‘Spend it how you like, and we’ll see.’ That hasn’t worked in the past; it’s not going to work now. It won’t work until you say, ‘You’ve got to deliver increased literacy and numeracy for our children.’ Then you can maybe justify spending a bit of extra money—when the outcomes are known, the expectations are known and the performance is known.

Here we have a circumstance where the government is flailing around for stuff to introduce on the first day. It wants to claim the mantle of smaller government, even though we know it’s not true. I see the wry smiles on the faces of some government members. I will not name them, because I know they’re embarrassed by the lack of performance on this. I merely say that the IPA is a great training ground for ideological warriors, for those who truly believe and understand the need to reduce the role of government. When you cross that Rubicon, if I may, from the ‘People’s Republic of Victoria’ into the ‘People’s Republic of the ACT’ something happens. It’s like a closed shop. I left that shop because I think the door needs to be open for a better deal for Australian taxpayers. I would say to everyone: if you believe, like I believe, that deregulation is important, that cutting the cost of government is important, that giving taxpayers a fair go is important, and that governments living within their means, just like we expect every family and every household to do, is important, then the Australian Conservatives is the party for you. My door is always open to you, James. Sorry, my door is always open to anyone that’s committed to that sort of agenda, because, honestly, that’s what our country needs.

We cannot continue this frenzied love affair, if I can put it like that, that Labor, the Greens and, unfortunately, too many within the coalition government have with micromanaging everybody’s lives, with installing regulations, red tape and blue tape and green tape—whatever sort of tape you want to use—that inhibits or impinges on the ability of every individual and every business in this country to do their absolute best. It hasn’t worked in the past. It’s not going to work in the future.

So, however modest the claim for the Statute Update (Smaller Government) Bill 2017 is, it allows us to highlight the fact that the process of deregulation is far from mission accomplished. There are billions more dollars that could be saved on behalf of the Australian people that would enable them to get on with their lives as well as they possibly can; deliver the best possible outcomes for their employees and their businesses; generate more tax revenue for the government, ultimately; and stop this money shuffle which is crippling our economy.

The merit of this initiative is good. It is lip service to a much bigger and broader problem, and I can only hope it will be a catalyst for the government to actually get their act together in this space rather than pretend they’ve achieved everything they need to.

Attributed to Parliament of Australia website/ Chamber Senate on 5/02/2018 Item BILLS – Statute Update (Smaller Government) Bill 2017 – Second Reading Speaker :Bernardi, Sen Cory/ website is provided under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia licence.