The Federal Government has announced the end of its ‘Repeal Days’. The term, borrowed from US Tea Party rhetoric, referred to the ripping up thousands of pages of regulations which it said were nothing but red tape, and which were stifling the well-known Australian entrepreneurial spirit.
In an op-ed piece in the Coalition-friendly The Australian, Assistant Minister for Productivity Peter Hendy said “the present approach of biannual repeal days has been useful, but its effectiveness in repealing legislation into the future will be limited as we’ve now done the major work to clean up the statute books.”
Mr Hendy said that the Repeal Days will be replaced with annual reports that “will assess our performance to date and set a course for reform over the next year. We will build on our commitment to be transparent and accountable to the Parliament.”
Mr Hendy, the Liberal member for marginal seat of Eden-Monaro and a former head of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was appointed as a junior minister after Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister. It was in his house in Queanbeyan that the plot to topple Tony Abbott reportedly began to take shape.
The Repeal Days were actually legislated. On 19 March 2014 Tony Abbott’s Government introduced the Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2014) Bill 2014, to repeal and range of regulations to telecommunications, water resource management, aged care and environmental protection, and 43 “spent and redundant acts.” 26 March 2014 was the first Repeal Day, and there was another one later in the year.
As a result of all of this repealed legislation, Malcolm Turnbull when he was still Communications Minister said that the Government had removed 1000 pages of regulation from the telco industry, for a saving of $35 million a year. In an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars, that is hardly a lot of money. $35 million is a rounding error – a fraction of one tenth of one percent of the industry’s turnover.
What he failed to mention, of course, was the massive new regulations imposed on the industry through data retention legislation and more stringent copyright laws, not to mention all the legislation around the NBN. The Abbott Government consistently argued for less regulation – in financial advice, freedom of speech, environmental protection, and many other areas.
The message was that regulation is bad, and is nothing but ‘red tape’.
No mind that many of the regulations were introduced for a good purpose. Many may have been redundant, but they were not all bad. Many protected consumers, and many were designed to ensure due process and transparency in a whole range of transactions and processes.
But regulations are bad, according to the Coalition (unless they help the copyright industry or make it easier for government to spy on us).
The Government said at the time that it had the goal of removing $1 billion in the cost of unnecessary regulation from the economy each year. Again, this sounds a lot, but it is miniscule. Australia has the world’s twelfth largest economy, worth about $1.7 trillion annually.
Again, the amount mentioned (which was always impossible to verify) is less than one tenth of one percent of the economy. Regulations come and go as technology and business models change, and according to political fashion.
The Repeal Days were a political stunt substituting for real action, which is badly needed in many areas. It is good to see them gone, but there is little to celebrate.
Government surveillance of the citizenry has been greatly increased, customs and immigration has been militarised, copyright and intellectual property restrictions – which are a real growth constraint – have been strengthened.
Government is not getting smaller. Freedoms are not being increased. Nanny state restrictions on everyday activities abound, and nothing tangible has been done to improve the Australian business environment and the ability of Australian companies to become more innovative.
“In this age of rapid change, it has never been more important to rethink our approach to regulation,” said Mr Hendy in his article. “We need an approach that ensures our regulatory frameworks remain fit for purpose and support productivity, new ideas, and entrepreneurship — not hamper them.”
Like all the hoohah around the Repeal Days, these are empty words, at odds with the reality of life in 21st Century Australia.