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WEDNESDAY, 19 MARCH 2014
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
Labor have always believed in making it easier for business to do business. We have always believed in competitive, productive and profitable enterprises. We believe in successful enterprises that provide Australians with good jobs. We have always believed in competitive, productive and profitable enterprises—successful enterprises that provide good jobs, secure jobs, fair pay and decent conditions. We understand the importance of small business. We need no lecture from those opposite. We appreciate the massive contribution that nearly five million Australians who own and work in small businesses make to our economy. That is why when Labor was in power we established a Minister for Deregulation. That is why, previously, despite this sense of 'golly, gee, discovery' from the Prime Minister, that somehow he is the first Prime Minister to ever talk about repealing legislation, we repealed more than 12,000 pieces of redundant legislation, including 7½ thousand in 2013. That is why Labor initiated the most comprehensive COAG deregulation process to remove much of the unnecessary constraints on our economy across different levels.
Labor understand the importance of increasing productivity, increasing efficiency and helping put downward pressures on prices for small business. We are committed, in a bipartisan spirit, to the organised and ongoing effort to minimise, simplify and create cost-effective regulation. But, indeed, I must say—and I do not believe the Prime Minister necessarily spoke to this point as much as I expected him to—that we balance against our desire for the goals which I have just outlined to ensure that through our regulatory system we improve competition in this country; that we have quality standards, that we have consumer protections, in particular against fraud; that information is sufficient for people in Australia to be able to operate and make informed decisions in our markets; that we have a clean environment where we tackle pollution; and that we have wide access to services across the whole of Australia not just our cities.
We understand that we should have a regulatory system which encourages the start-ups of business, that when people are seeking construction development approvals they are not tied up in unnecessary green tape.
We understand the importance of making sure that our utilities in very strategic parts of our economy provide services and opportunities for the businesses that have to deal with them, and the consumers. We are most committed to ensure that, in markets where there is some form of regulation, be it telecommunications, financial services or insurance, there are in fact proper information sets available for business—in particular, small business—so they can make the comparisons which allow them to benefit from the benefits of competition. We are very conscious of state regulations as well—property registration and the like—which can be an obstacle towards businesses succeeding. That can include a range of issues, from registration at state titles offices right through to retail tenancies. We understand the importance of credit being able to flow through our economy and making sure that that is not impeded by unnecessary regulation. We are most committed to reforms which will see people spending less time filling out their tax requirements, which will make sure that people can spend more time making a profit and less time filling in forms.
This matter should not be about partisan point scoring or ideology. We believe repeal should be diligent, not ideological. That is why this talk of bonfires and war is so remarkably overheated.
We do not want important protections to be lost under the guise of deregulation. We should have regulations to make sure that our consumers are safe. We should make sure that we have regulations that protect mum and dad investors—a point I will return to. We should have regulations that preserve our pristine natural environment. These are vital. On the substance of the bills before us as opposed to the high-blown rhetoric of the Prime Minister, the statement of motherhood principles, let me talk first of all about the government's proposition to abolish the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission. I am concerned that the government is proposing to repeal a body that not only has the support of the sector that it regulates but also reduces red tape.
To repeal the Australian charities commission, you would think the charities sector would be calling for its removal and shouting about the red tape burden, but the reverse is true. Today the Abbott Government has managed to unite 54 leaders from the charities sector. This government loves their charities; they will turn up at the opening of a charity. There is no doubt that when it comes to the photo opportunity, those opposite are charities' best friends. But when it comes to red tape and protection of charities: missing in action, no appearance. We have 54 leaders from the sector taking the unprecedented action of issuing an open letter to retain the current framework. Let me say that this is courageous by these charities. We know what a vindictive, critical, punishing mob those opposite are. Those 54 charities have dared to disagree with this mob opposite. We will be watching you to see if you punish them, because that is your form guide. Indeed, some opposite seem to think that the charities sector is in love with their propositions.
The Minister for Social Services says it is only 54 out of all of them. Minister for Social Services, say nothing. Let me go through what some of these 54 have said. The Minister for Social Services, who deals with them, so disrespects their right to have a separate opinion to his own. Tim Costello says:
The Commission is actually working for us and it gives the public confidence, it underpins the consumer benefit to charities.
Watch out for World Vision's funding, I would say now, in light of that comment. Professor Myles McGregor-Lowndes, Director of the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at QUT, states:
During its short history, the ACNC has played a positive role in the overall regulatory environment of charities, and it is well-placed to continue that role. In the short term, it provides the infrastructure for a ‘one stop shop’ for Commonwealth regulatory requirements, and a dedicated force to work with other Commonwealth agencies to streamline their present arrangements. Its stellar improvement in terms of timeliness, consistency of decision making and responsiveness to emerging issues of previous ATO functions, surpasses the sector’s original high expectations.
Then we have all sorts of other groups. David Crosbie, Chief Executive Officer of the Community Council for Australia, has said:
The ACNC is more efficient than the government regulators it replaced, is doing good work and deserves a chance to achieve its three goals of reducing red tape -
A goal which the Prime Minister rhetorically dedicated himself to this morning
- Increasing public trust and strengthening the charities sector.
I know the Prime Minister is a strong rhetorical supporter of our charity sector; I congratulate him on his Pollie Pedal. I should just say that David Crosbie did not congratulate him; that was me. David Crosbie continued:
Axing the ACNC would be a very clear sign that government is not interested in the considered views of the charities sector.
There we go. Louise Walsh, the CEO of Philanthropy Australia—no doubt another nest of Marxists, according to the ideologues over there—says:
Since the ACNC’s establishment as an independent charities regulator, Philanthropy Australia has consistently supported the ACNC’s important role in our community. The ACNC has only existed for just over a year – so far the progress is promising and we want it to be given the opportunity to realise its full potential.
There you have it. That is what the 54 people that the Minister for Social Services just dismisses. What did these people ever do to be dismissed by you, except dedicate their lives to looking after other people? What an arrogant chap you are! This charities commission goes on to show that, when it comes to this government evaluating the beauty parade between ideology and pragmatic, moderate common sense, pragmatic, moderate common sense never wins.
In August 2013, a pro bono survey—there are more than just 54 here! This might change the random remark that the Minister for Social Services made before—of over 1,500 members of the not-for-profit sector found that 81 per cent supported the ACNC. That would be more than 1,200, Kevin. Only six per cent of the survey respondents in the charitable sector supported a return to the ATO as a default regulator. The not-for-profit sector employs over 1 million Australians, turns over about $100 billion, involves almost 5,000,000 volunteers and is the heart of all our communities. The Productivity Commission and the Henry tax review recommended a national charities commission. The Productivity Commission, so beloved of the government, declared the previous regulatory framework to be complex, lacking coherence and transparency and costly to charities. Abolishing the charities commission is an insult to taxpayers who want to see whether donations go. It is an insult to charities, who will lose their visibility and governance support. It is bad for the public, who will be vulnerable to more frauds and scams. So on the charities commission we have on one hand the government with high-blown rhetoric talking about how much it wants to cut red tape, but when it has a chance to turn its words into deeds they—the Abbott Government and the Prime Minister—do not live up to their own rhetoric.
But there is a second example of where the Government is inconsistent with the rhetoric of the Prime Minister's opening speech and yet when it comes to turning good words into good actions they go missing. I talk of course about the future of financial advice legislation. What a disturbing proposition from the Government. The Assistant Treasurer, with the support of the Prime Minister, is determined to reduce the protections of mum and dad investors. The Assistant Treasurer was up-front during Senate estimates about his game plan to prescribe new regulations to dismantle the current consumer protection laws as soon as the parliament rises next week with immediate effect so there will be no parliamentary scrutiny of these changes—none. Putting aside Labor's concerns about the substance of the Assistant Treasurer's changes, we are most aggrieved with the process. This is all about pulling the wool over the eyes of Australian investors. Just as bad, the financial services sector faces a very real prospect of having to deal in a short period of time with competing different regulatory regimes. The regulations that take effect from 27th and 28th of March; the current laws, if the regulations are disallowed in the Senate; and whatever legislative landscape we end up with after 1st of July when the Parliament has dealt with the Government's legislation. This is a red-tape nightmare dreamt up by the fevered imagination of the Prime Minister of Australia.
The Assistant Treasurer appears to be proceeding in a ham-fisted manner, without any regard to the outcomes. Labor went through numerous rounds of consultation refining our policy. For the benefit of some of the new members of the Coalition, who might not have been in Parliament with the events that triggered this current round of consumer protection law which Labor put in place, it followed the collapse of the Storm Financial, Bernie Ripoll's PJC inquiry into that and we put legislation into parliament that it debated and inquired into, passed. So having seen the lessons of Storm Financial, those people opposite turn their back on the experience of history and I cannot say when the next financial disaster will happen and I cannot say who the victims will be, but I know one thing: because of what you are doing, you are guaranteeing another Storm Financial and upon your heads it will rest. And we will hold you responsible for your abandonment of basic common sense when it comes to consumer protection.
This is dodgy law done in a dodgy way which will lead to dodgy outcomes. If you want to make the changes, make the case via legislation. Front up and have a parliamentary inquiry. We saw what happened in Storm Financial; we saw what happened in Westpoint—high-profile collapses where in certain instances, investors were lured into these investment products because financial planners were receiving hidden commissions to promote these products. Our financial laws, which you are seeking to dismantle, would protect consumers with a best-interest duty. There would be opt-in measures, requiring advisers to get their clients to opt in to receive ongoing service every two years, and annual disclosure—somehow annual disclosure is a bad idea. And then there is conflicted remuneration.
We put the government on notice, that on one hand they want to reduce red tape, and I have outlined why we think as a principle that is sound. We put this Abbott Government on notice that we do not want to effectively decriminalise and deregulate financial fraud in this country. We are a constructive opposition. We will give the package they put forward careful consideration. We support the repeal of redundant 1901 legislation. We will not allow important protections to be recklessly cut. Labor stands for the protection of consumers, for the protection of workers and the protection of investors. Markets are fundamental, but one economic lesson which we all know in this place is that markets periodically need the help of government. Regulations protect against abuses. We’ve a proud record of removing the unnecessary regulations, but we will be guided by the interests of all Australians, not just blind ideology.
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