House of Representatives Speech- Treasury Legislation Amendment (Repeal Day) Bill 2014

The Treasury Legislation Amendment (Repeal Day) Bill forms part of the government's repeal day stunt. The government makes a lot of grandiose claims about their deregulation agenda. We have heard feverish talk of a 'bonfire of regulations'. The government claims that they will achieve savings in compliance costs of up to $1 billion dollars from their repeal day theatrics.

The Treasury Legislation Amendment (Repeal Day) Bill forms part of the government's repeal day stunt. The government makes a lot of grandiose claims about their deregulation agenda. We have heard feverish talk of a 'bonfire of regulations'. The government claims that they will achieve savings in compliance costs of up to $1 billion dollars from their repeal day theatrics.

There is more rhetorical nonsense from the member for Bass, who is one of the chief culprits in this area. They are not able to say where this fanciful figure of $1 billion, or the fanciful figure of $2.1 billion, was plucked from. Much of repeal day is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. With tremendous fanfare and much boasting—including from the member for Bass, who is one of the more boastful of those on the other side about the supposed marvels of the deregulation activity that the government is engaging in—on each of its two repeal days this year the government has introduced a statute law revision bill and an amending acts repeal bill. With all of the talk of bonfires and wars and slashing red tape on the part of the Prime Minister and the member for Kooyong—the leader of this exercise, according to the member for Bass—and their colleagues, you would think that pieces of legislation like this contained some kind of bold reform. You would be wrong, though. The statute law revision bills are nothing more than housekeeping exercises. Every year Australian parliaments pass these bills, which correct typos, update drafting, and improve formatting and numbering, among other things. Is this the Liberal Party's idea of slashing red tape? How many businesses are held back by typos in obscure Commonwealth acts of parliament? How many Australians feel burdened by numbering errors in old statutes? Given the pomp and ceremony attached to the repeal day media stunt, you might be underwhelmed to discover that one of the bold reforms this government is progressing is the removal of the hyphen from the word 'email' wherever it appears in Commonwealth law.

The amending acts repeal bills are even more farcical. I am sorry that the member for Bass, after all the rhetorical froth we just heard from him, has left the chamber and is not here to hear what is actually going on with this repeal day stunt. All these bills do is to repeal legislation which amends or repeals prior legislation. Technically, these bills are still on the books—but they have no effect. Their operation is spent. Their removal has not one scintilla of real legal consequence. Indeed, the repealed bills will remain on the Commonwealth's legislation register in any case as historical acts! The only purpose of these bills is to let the Liberal government crow about the number, not the substance, of regulations they have repealed. What hollow numbers they throw around. When the Liberal government says they are repealing 10,000 pieces of legislation, they neglect to mention that the vast bulk of those pieces of legislation have not been in force for decades. We should expect nothing more from a government already, just a year into its term, known for its disingenuousness.

Of course, the Labor Party has a genuine belief in lightening the load of regulation where that is appropriate. We are the party of meaningful deregulation. We are the party of banking sector liberalisation, sweeping competition reform, the floating of the dollar and the slashing of tariffs. We do not shy away from removing regulations which do not serve a worthwhile purpose. We believe, unlike the government, that we need regulation to protect our environment, to protect labour standards and to protect consumers, but we have never supported regulation for its own sake. So, when the government puts forward measures like those in this bill, we are happy to support them.

This bill amends several acts dealing with taxation, superannuation and shareholdings in certain financial sector companies. The member for Riverina, when speaking to this bill, compared it to removing 'small grains of sand from an engine'. It does remove a small number of regulations and makes some mechanical changes to some legislation.

Schedule 1 to this bill amends the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 to repeal the pay slip reporting provisions. The pay slip reporting provisions in the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act, the SI(S) Act, require employers to include in employee pay slips information prescribed by the regulations. There is no political party in Australia that has done more to boost the retirement savings of Australians than Labor. Unpaid superannuation liability is a problem that some Australians have to face. Recent estimates place that figure at approximately $1.3 billion, so it is right that there are measures on the statute books that try to remove that problem and that try to ensure that superannuation which is required to be paid is paid. There are current protections under the Fair Work Act for the reporting of superannuation liability on pay slips. These require the payments either made or liable to be made to be reported on the pay slip, and they are not being changed.

The requirements for superannuation guarantee payments to be made within 28 days of the end of a quarter are also not changing. The provisions that this bill is removing were enacted in legislation—that is, in the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act—but have never been a practical reality for businesses because the regulations that were needed to enact them were never put in place. Just to make that clear, there are current protections in the Fair Work Act; that is good. The government is not changing those current protections. What the government is doing here is removing a legislative requirement that never actually came into effect for any Australian business because the regulations that they called for were never put in place.

There is no doubt that the intentions of the original changes were good. The reality for employers, particularly small businesses, was potentially increased costs via software and other upgrades. It is arguable if the requirements being repealed would have any effect at all on those negligent and unscrupulous employers who intend not to pay superannuation. Employees will still be able to check with their fund if payments have been made by their employer. Labor intends to closely monitor the issue of unpaid superannuation payments. We will examine closely options to ensure that compliance by employers is insisted on, because we believe in the superannuation guarantee as a means of boosting retirement savings of Australia. But let us not overstate the effect of the repeal that is occurring here. There are already protections under the Fair Work Act. That is good thing; they will remain.

Schedule 2 makes some mechanical and non-controversial amendments to the Taxation Administration Act 1953 to consolidate duplicated provisions, repeal redundant laws and move longstanding regulations into primary law. It is not something that one could point to as having a dramatic impact on Australian business.

Schedule 3 to this bill amends the Financial Sector (Shareholdings) Act 1998 so that persons who do not hold a direct controlling interest in a financial sector company will no longer be deemed to have a stake in that financial sector company solely as a consequence of their associates' direct control interest in the company. Under the existing law, a person must obtain approval from the Treasurer to hold a stake in a financial sector company of more than 15 per cent. A stake is defined in clause 10 of schedule 1 of the act as the aggregate of the direct control interest held by that person and the direct control interest held by associates of that person. 'Associates' is widely defined in clause 4 of schedule 1 of the FS(S) Act to include a person's relatives, partners, related companies and other parties.

Where a person acquires a direct control interest in a financial sector company of more than 15 per cent, the associate of the person is also required to obtain approval to exceed the 15 per cent shareholding limit. This can be despite the associate holding no direct control interest or, indeed, any interest in the financial sector company. This imposes a burden for associates to reasonably comply with the law, particularly where associates are not aware of the requirement to seek the Treasurer's approval.

The amendments in this bill will mean a person who does not hold a direct control interest in a financial sector company will no longer be deemed to hold a stake in that company solely as a consequence of their associates' direct control interest in that company. Only where a person holds a direct control interest of any size would the interest be aggregated with that of the person's associates to determine the total stake held. For an associate holding a direct control interest in a financial sector company, the associate's stake is equivalent to the aggregate of their own stake and other associates, including the person acquiring the actual direct control interest. The associate is required to seek the Treasurer's approval where the aggregated stake exceeds the 15 per cent shareholding limit.

Schedule 4 rewrites provisions in the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 and the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to unify the definition of 'Australia' for tax purposes. This is a non-controversial, mechanical change without any fiscal impact.

The member for Riverina's muted description of this legislation is appropriate. These are worthwhile, if not earthshattering, measures. Labor is happy to support them. But we must complain when the passage of legislation like this, with our support, is used as an excuse by those opposite to grandstand about the supposed regulatory overreach of the last Labor government and to tout their own supposed credentials in deregulation. Perhaps we can forgive the coalition for forgetting about the at least 6,000 redundant or obsolete regulations repealed by the last Labor government. We did not feel the need to throw a stunt like Repeal Day to celebrate this achievement. The use of a light touch in regulation, the removal of regulations which no longer serve their purpose, and keeping a keen eye on any unintended effect of regulation on business and the community are part and parcel of how modern Labor governs.

If you ignore the rhetoric of the Liberals, the facts indicate that Labor governments are not in any sense prone to overregulation. The Liberals like to say that the last Labor government was responsible for some 21,000 new regulations. But, again, their numbers are deceptive.

Fully 4,200 of these regulations were, in fact, tariff concession orders—regulations that reduce costs for businesses and that were requested by businesses. More than 3,400 of these regulations were airworthiness directives, which address safety issues.

Are tariff concession orders requested by business the kinds of regulations that the Abbott government thinks are holding back our nation? Is that the kind of regulation that the Abbott government thinks is holding back the country? Are airworthiness directives the kinds of regulations that the Abbott government thinks are holding back our country? Is anyone from the Liberal Party seriously saying that we do not need airworthiness directives to uphold air safety standards in our country? I doubt it. It simply makes the point that, at all times, in the case of all regulation, it is necessary to examine the purpose that is being served by the regulation.

This kind of mad incantation of raw numbers gets us nowhere, because it removes attention from the purpose for which the regulations were created. The mad incantation of: 'We have repealed 1,000 acts,' or 'We have repealed 10,000 regulations,' as I have attempted to make clear in this speech, ignores the actual substance of what is being repealed. Repealing amending acts of parliament from 1901 to 1967, which was the exercise on the first repeal day, or repealing the amending acts passed by the parliament from 1967 through into the seventies achieves precisely nothing, and the Liberal Party should not boast or pretend that it, in fact, has achieved something. In fact, if we must throw around raw numbers, the all-time record year for added pages of regulation was not under either of Labor prime ministers Gillard or Rudd but in 2006, under the Liberal Prime Minister John Howard.

As I have said, Labor is happy to support measures like those in this bill. When the government proposes real, useful deregulation, we are happy to work with them. But it is hard to stand the self-congratulation, the media stunts and the misrepresentation of Labor's record which has come alongside the government's supposed deregulation bills. I commend the bill to the House.