Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (13:27): The opposition looked forward to this debate with great anticipation. When in government we repealed over 16,000 acts and regulations. We thought this was the business of government each and every day and not just something you consign to one particular day of the year, preceded my mountains of press releases and lots of hyperbole.
Mr Nikolic: Why didn't you do it?
Mr STEPHEN JONES: I hear the member for Bass. He sat down short when he had time to speak on this matter. He did not use all of the time allocated to him, so the dignified thing for him to do would be to be quiet now that someone else is at the dispatch box.
We had great expectations when we were told that repeal day was coming up—19 March was going to be one of the most anticipated days in the parliamentary calendar. They banged on about it for weeks. They were going to be stripping billions of dollars of regulatory burdens from small businesses. It was going to remove the weight of legislation holding the country back. Understandably, we came to this debate in parliament, on 19 March, with great expectations. They were promising fireworks.
An honourable member: A bonfire.
Mr STEPHEN JONES: A bonfire.
Ms Rishworth interjecting—
Mr STEPHEN JONES: You can imagine our disappointment when they promised us fireworks, but, when we got here on 19 March, instead of fireworks we were all handed a few sparklers. There was nothing in the legislation. It was a great fizzer.
SPEAKER: Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing
order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.
Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (16:27): Before the debate was interrupted, I made the point that, in the lead-up to 19 March, the chamber, the House and the Australian community were given great expectations of the contents of this omnibus repeal bill. We were going to be invited to a bonfire, and it was as if every kid in the neighbourhood was going to be witnessing a magnificent fireworks display. You can imagine their disappointment when they turned up on 19 March and, instead of fireworks, all they received was damp sparklers. It was a great flop. If only it had been only the kids that were let down, but I have to say that it was millions of small businesses as well.
If you had listened to the rhetoric of the parliamentary secretary, if you had listened to the rhetoric of the Prime Minister, you would have been led to believe that after 19 March a yoke of government regulation and unnecessary red tape was all of a sudden going to be lifted from the shoulders of millions of small-business men and women around the country. Can you imagine their relief when they picked up a copy of the Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2014) Bill 2014 and they turned their eyes to magnificent sections such as the repeal of the Flags Act 1953, which redefines the size of the Commonwealth star on the Australian flag? It has within it those overburdensome regulations that the federation flag should be three-tenths the size of the width of the flag. You can imagine the excitement of the fish and chip shop down in Dapto! They would be saying, 'We'll double the order of flake. Good times are upon us. Free pineapple fitters for everybody, because we are no longer going to be weighed down by the burden of the Flags Act, this horrendous government regulation which is stopping the queues forming outside our shop every day.'
But it did not end there, because those guys over there are modernisers. They wanted to ensure that they removed from our statute books every anachronism that was standing in the way of small businesses in this country. They wanted to ensure that the Commonwealth legislation kept up with the most modern in electronic communications. That is why they have ensured that the word 'fax' is consistently used in Commonwealth legislation instead of 'facsimile'. You can imagine companies right throughout the country, on receiving news of this, all of a sudden were putting 'Positions Vacant' ads in their local newspaper: 'We are being freed up from this burdensome red tape! Thank God that this regulatory burden has been lifted from our shoulders!"
But it did not stop there, because we know that regional Australia has not been left out. Those North Queensland MPs have been on the job as well. They have indicated the importance of repeal day having something in there for them and ensuring that government gets off the shoulders of tourism operators in Cairns and Port Douglas. They are now anticipating a bumper year, because they are going to their boards and saying, 'We've got good news. The government is on the case and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act had a typo removed from it to ensure that the word 'committed' is now spelt with two t's instead of one.' It is a manna from heaven for those tourism operators in North Queensland. Never mind the fact that climate change is having a dramatic impact on the tourism operators in North Queensland, there is bleaching of the coral and there are unexpected weather events. These are small and trifling issues when it comes to the things the government should be focusing on. Running a spellcheck through our Commonwealth statute book is far more important on repeal day than dealing with the big issues.
This morning I had the great benefit of attending a policy breakfast hosted by the remote rural doctors network. They presented me with a lot of useful information, including this document here, which shows the number of forms that a doctor has to fill out before they are able to gain access to a Medicare provider number. If you look at this document, which contains these forms, you will see that there are well in excess of 15 to 20 forms. I can only imagine what those doctors would have thought, if they were in the chamber on the day that the parliamentary secretary, invoking the spirit of Sir Robert Menzies's great speech in 1946, declared: 'We want fewer forms and more reforms,' and said that these were the ethics that motivated this government. Far from fewer forms and more reforms, far from removing red tape, they are running a spellcheck through the statute books but doing very little, when it comes to removing red tape and removing regulation.
So we are led to think: what is the purpose of all of this? When you have a look at the contents of this legislation, the only conclusion that you can make is that it is a huge smokescreen for their intent to reform the future of financial reform legislation that was introduced by the previous Labor government. They did not like the fact that, when in government, Labor made it a requirement on financial advisers that they must honour a statutory obligation to act in the best interests of their clients. They did not like the fact that we got rid of conflicted remuneration, kickbacks and trailing commissions. They made a promise, before the election, that they were going to reintroduce it. In fact, we were told that over $1 billion worth of savings was going to be realised as a result of these reforms. They were terribly unpopular. The United Investors, indeed financial advisers themselves and many others within the community, are against the minister and against the government on this issue. Despite the fact that these were being trumpeted as their big reforms with $1 billion worth of savings, it has all collapsed like a house of cards. So that is the reason for the omnibus reform bill. If the whole reason is that it is a smokescreen for getting through this unpopular legislation, you have to ask yourself: what is it all about?
There is serious work to be done when it comes to looking at the regulatory burden on businesses. We should be focused on the big issues that are impacting workers, their families and business itself. We should be ensuring that workers are paid a living wage and that dignity at work and retirement are looked after for all Australians. Fairer funding for schools, reliable access to decent broadband and keeping health care affordable for all Australians: these are the big issues. You will not see any of them dealt with in the omnibus reform legislation. All of it is just a huge smokescreen, a damp squib, to get through unpopular reforms contained in the FoFA repeal legislation. The only way it makes sense is that the whole thing is a great charade, a series of press releases covering up the fact that there was no policy substance whatsoever.
Obviously the government has a plan to win government but not a plan to govern, because otherwise we would be seeing more substance in the omnibus repeal day legislation. There is no substance whatsoever. There are no big ideas, no reform agenda, no legislative agenda. Their big initiative of the week is to reintroduce royal honorifics, such as the titles of Sir and Dame. Commas, hyphens, typographical errors and honorifics are as good as they could come to.
What people are left with is a pretty empty piece of legislation—far from a bonfire and far from fireworks. There are a few damp sparklers. The people of Australia, let alone the people of Western Australia, who are going to the polls very soon, must be asking themselves: is this the government that we were told we were going to be electing? I am sure that they will be concluding: the fact is, no. There are no big ideas. They had a plan to get into government, but no plan to govern.
The government have talked up this omnibus reform bill as the answer to small business's woes and problems, but there is nothing in there for small business. Particularly, there is nothing in it for the residents of Western Australia. Is it any wonder that, when the voters go to the polls in Western Australia in a few weeks time, on 5 April, they will question if they did the right thing in voting the coalition into government at the 2013 election. I am not the only person saying this, because we can see that Western Australians themselves, including members of the coalition, are running away from the Prime Minister at a great rate of knots. The Prime Minister was not able to add to the coalition vote in the by-election for the seat of Griffith, and he probably assisted in losing the Liberals the state election in South Australia. It is little wonder, when you cast your eye over some of the paraphernalia the coalition candidates will be handing out—the how-to-votes, for example—that in a few weeks time at polling booths in Western Australia you will not see a picture of the Prime Minister on anything. He is in witness protection. The people of Western Australia have realised, as the coalition parties in Western Australia have realised, that he had a plan to win government but no plan to govern, and that the people they elected were not the government they were told to expect. The government's priorities are all wrong and their policies are hyped-up hyperbole with no substance, and we see that in the legislation before the House today.