House of Representatives Speeches- Deregulation 2014

For some time now we have been subjected to a numbing barrage of platitudes on deregulation from the Prime Minister and the member for Kooyong. In opposition, their trite slogans were more like those of an overenthusiastic Young Liberals branch meeting or an American Tea Party rally than of a party with pretensions to become the government of the Commonwealth of Australia. And of course, most of this sloganeering has been based on nonsense suppositions of a kind that were the stock-in-trade of the Abbott opposition and that, very sadly for our nation, continue to be the stock-in-trade of the Abbott government. The truth of the matter, demonstrated by numerous independent reviews and studies, is that Labor governments are not in any sense prone to overregulation.

For some time now we have been subjected to a numbing barrage of platitudes on deregulation from the Prime Minister and the member for Kooyong. In opposition, their trite slogans were more like those of an overenthusiastic Young Liberals branch meeting or an American Tea Party rally than of a party with pretensions to become the government of the Commonwealth of Australia. And of course, most of this sloganeering has been based on nonsense suppositions of a kind that were the stock-in-trade of the Abbott opposition and that, very sadly for our nation, continue to be the stock-in-trade of the Abbott government. The truth of the matter, demonstrated by numerous independent reviews and studies, is that Labor governments are not in any sense prone to overregulation.

Time after time, the Liberals have bandied around the notion that the last Labor government was responsible for some 21,000 new regulations. It seems that the coalition is not capable of any analysis more nuanced than a self-serving scratch tally of the legislative instruments enacted between 2007 and 2013. Had they bothered themselves with the content of these instruments, they would have found that 4,200 of these regulations were in fact tariff concession orders—regulations that reduce costs for businesses and that were requested by businesses. And more than 3,400 of those regulations were airworthiness directives, which address safety issues. Are these the kinds of regulations the Abbott government thinks are holding back our nation?

The coalition might be forgiven for overlooking the at least 6,000 redundant or obsolete regulations repealed by the last Labor government. We did not feel the need to confect a media stunt like a 'repeal day' to celebrate this achievement. This is a task that we consider routine statute book clean-up but that the coalition apparently consider brave deregulatory reform. Labor knows what brave deregulatory reform is, and it is not the routine repeal of redundant regulations that are no longer enforced. Labor has achieved real deregulatory reform like banking sector liberalisation, sweeping competition reform, the floating of the dollar and the slashing of tariffs.

A real commitment to light-touch regulation might see the coalition, as their own 'red tape reduction manual' counsels them, adopt a market based climate change policy rather than a half-baked command-and-control scheme that even after four years they cannot explain. A real commitment to light-touch regulation might see the coalition support a fiscally responsible paid parental leave scheme rather than an inequitable, bloated program funded by a levy on business.

But this is all apparently too complex for a government addicted to slogans in place of policy. This is a government that seeks to hide from the fact that even by their own simplistic measures, the all-time record year for added pages of regulation was not under Labor Prime Ministers Gillard or Rudd but, in 2006, under Liberal Prime Minister John Howard. And if the one-dimensional rhetoric of the Abbott coalition is actually carried into effect, they will reveal just how out of touch their wild-eyed libertarian views are with the reality of Australian life. Australians do not believe that regulation by its nature is a bad thing. They know that the foundations of our safe, peaceful and prosperous society rest on reasonable and appropriate legislation put in place in the national interest by its democratically elected government.

Australians know that it is a strength our society that it exists under the rule of law, not a weakness. Australians know that criminal laws keep our streets safe, they know that health regulations keep our air clean and our water safe to drink. They know that economic regulation keeps our workplaces fair, our marketplaces competitive, and our retirement savings secure from the worst impact of events like the global financial crisis. Australians know that what the Abbott government derides as 'green tape' needing to be cut is in fact the environmental protection that generations of Australians campaigned for, that saved the Franklin wilderness, that ended the slaughter of whales by Australian ships, and that continues to require that companies do not destroy the precious environmental heritage of our nation's children and grandchildren for the short-term profits of today.

Australians should be concerned as to what Repeal Day is really about, beneath the glib rhetoric and populist grandstanding of the Prime Minister and his acolytes, because what Repeal Day is really about is the tearing away of many good and responsible protections that Australians rely on and trust their governments to enact and enforce.