Red tape ritual doesn't help

The Abbott Government is holding it's second Red Tape Repeal Day this week. But don't believe their hype - if it's anything like the first one back in May, their changes won't amount to much.

Red tape ritual doesn't help, The Australian, 27 October

This week the Abbott government will hold its second red tape repeal day. Since the first one just six months ago, it has passed more than 690 regulations. But then, defining red tape is a little bit like defining art — people know it when they see it, and they often see it very differently.

When the government held its first repeal day, parliamentary secretary Josh Frydenberg crowed about liberating Australians from thousands of items of costly and unnecessary regulation. On closer inspection, that included 39 individual amendments changing the term “electronic mail” to “email”, and several hundred amendments adjusting spelling, grammar and punctuation. It also encompassed the repeal of business obstacles such as the Dried Fruits Export Charges Act 1927, the Lighthouses Act 1949 and the Nitrogenous Fertilizers Subsidy Act 1969.

Frydenberg evidently takes a surrealist approach to defining red tape. So we can expect more fuss about them amending commas and typos. In office, Labor repealed over 16,000 redundant acts, regulations and legislative instruments. But we didn’t declare war on bad punctuation. Fixing typos is simply part of the background work of government.

There are a handful of big changes the government is making under the guise of red tape reform, but they won’t be talking about those ones on repeal day.

For a start, the government has gutted Labor’s Future of Financial Advice consumer protections. Those reforms set new professional and ethical standards for financial advisers and reduced the lifetime cost of receiving financial advice. We did that to prevent another collapse like that of Storm Financial, when thousands lost their life savings because of bad financial advice. The government appears to believe reducing consumer protection is more important than protecting the retirement savings of workers.

In a similar vein, the government is trying to kill off the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. Labor set up the commission to oversee charities that receive generous tax breaks. With not-for-profit organisations generating $110 billion in income each year and employing almost one million people, we thought more transparency was needed within the sector. And the sector agrees.

By watering down the financial advice laws and working to axe the charities commission, the government is dramatically reducing protections for consumers.

Of course we should aim to make it as straightforward as possible to run a business, charity or corporation. But when changing regulations, the question must always be asked: will the majority of Australians be made better off?

The Coalition’s approach to red tape repeal fails that test whichever way you look at it. Cutting redundant bills and moving commas around won’t save anyone a single cent or make any business more productive. On the other hand, gutting Labor’s financial advice reforms and scrapping the charities commission leaves Australians much too exposed.

The government claims its red tape measures are necessary and significant. They’re right. It’s just a pity that the necessary ones are trivial and the significant ones are unfair.

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