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28 Feb 2017

Statutes Amendment and Repeal (Simplify) Bill

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN (16:46 :59): I rise to speak to the Statutes Amendment and Repeal (Simplify) Bill, which was introduced in the other place by the Premier late last year. In the minister’s second reading in this chamber, which mirrored the second reading in the other place, the government has described this bill as a first significant step in removing unnecessary red tape. One would have thought, after so many years on the treasury benches, we would be well past the first step in achieving reform in this important area. If one reflects on it, it shows where the government priorities lie.

Nevertheless, the opposition, on behalf of which I am speaking today, is supporting the second reading of the bill, as we too are committed to minimising unnecessary government intervention. This includes reducing red tape and removing unnecessary and redundant legislation. In fact, we note for the benefit of this chamber, the idea for this policy reform was first canvassed by the Liberal opposition in 2013. The Liberal opposition took this policy to the 2014 state election by committing to have a repeal day aimed at removing redundant legislation.

I flag, at this stage, that the Liberal opposition has filed one set of amendments concerning the Fisheries Management Act, and may file other amendments as the second reading debate progresses, and perhaps also in committee.

As I said, Mr President, this bill represents part of the Labor government’s attempt to reduce red tape and simplify regulation for business and consumers. When reflecting on the provisions of this bill, I was reminded of a very good paper entitled ‘Reducing the Regulatory Burden: the way forward’ by Gary Banks, chairman of the regulation taskforce and productivity commission. For the benefit of the chamber I extract some important quotes. When reflecting on Australia, Mr Banks says:

In short, having made important progress in many policy areas, Australia risks undermining these gains through burgeoning regulatory imposts on business. It is important both for business and the wider community to introduce reforms that can provide relief on a sustainable basis.

The paper is quite extensive. He goes on to say:

A fundamental driver of the demand for regulation in recent years has been increasing ‘risk aversion’ in many spheres of life. Regulation has come to be seen as a panacea for many of society’s ills and as a means of protecting people from inherent risks of daily life. Any adverse event—especially where it involves loss of life, possessions, amenity or money—is laid at government’s door for a regulatory fix.

The paper goes on to say:

In responding to such pressures, governments themselves are often attracted to regulatory solutions as a tangible demonstration of government concern. Regulatory solutions are also more convenient politically, because the costs are typically ‘off-budget’, diffuse and hard to measure.

In a further paragraph he says:

In this climate, a ‘ regulate first , ask questions later ‘ culture has developed within governments.

So, it is very pleasing for the opposition to see that this government is taking seriously the need to reduce the regulatory burden on its citizens. I note that in order to generate ideas for the Simplify Day agenda, the government conducted a 30-day consultation period during which it sought ideas for legislative and regulatory changes from business and the community. The bill seeks to implement its policy objective by four key methods. These are:

1.Repeal of legislation;

2.Amendments to legislation;

3.Regulatory changes; and take

4.Future reforms.

I now turn to the first category of legislative repeals. The bill repeals a number of acts that have become redundant or no longer needed, such as the Debits Tax Act, the Gift Duty Act, and the Naracoorte Town Square Act, to name a few. Another example is the repeal of the Mount Gambier Hospital Hydrotherapy Pool Fund Act, which was introduced back in 2009. The purpose of that act was to permit donations for the construction of a hydrotherapy facility at the hospital. Construction never went ahead, yet the act has remained on the statute books.

Similarly, the Wilpena Station Tourist Facility Act was enacted to support the development of a tourist facility that never proceeded. There are numerous other examples of acts which are no longer required or have become obsolete.

The bill also makes a number of amendments to numerous acts covering a broad range of industries and economic activity. Many of these amendments were based on suggestions by stakeholders in the engagement process. These amendments include reforms to fees, licences, permit notifications and compliance. For example, the bill amends the Electronic Transactions Act to enable the government to issue documents by electronic means. It is envisaged that these amendments will enable the future transition to digital licences, permits and other authorisations of documents.

The requirement to affix a registration label to a heavy vehicle will also be abolished, removing this unnecessary administrative task on businesses. The Building Work Contractors Act will also be amended to permit the commissioner to exempt unlicensed contractors from being subject to licensing conditions. This is so that a non-active business partner, such as a spouse, does not have to be licensed. They are just a few examples of the tightening of the legislation that the Liberal Party supports.

There are also a number of amendments that will be made to various regulations, for example, the updated Australian Standard for child restraints in vehicles we referred to, rather than the current reference, which is to an outdated standard no longer used and applied in Australia.

Other changes to regulations include repealing the requirement for reporting on new motor vehicles to be done exclusively by police officers, by expanding the range of persons permitted to carry out this regulatory activity.

When introducing this bill, the government flagged its intention to continue reform in this area, and that there are a number of changes that are being developed, which the government has committed to implementing during this year. These include areas of work health and safety, the Surveyors Board of South Australia code of practice, reviews of the dangerous substance and explosive laws, incorporated association laws reviews, transport reform and various other portfolios. To this end, the government has committed ongoing resources by establishing a simpler regulation unit within the Department of Treasury and Finance. The government has asserted that it will continue to work closely with business and industry to continue ongoing reform in this area. We encourage them in this endeavour.

The government has sought public feedback, as I have mentioned, and has advised that the engagement process resulted in over 60 submissions and responses. I query, given the breadth of reform contemplated by such a bill, as to why the government has only decided to allocate 30 days to the consultation period. It seems to me a far too short a period of time. Not all of the submissions are publicly available; however, I have had the opportunity to read through a number of them that are available and appreciate the level of detail and care taken by many stakeholders when providing their feedback. It is important to note that, whilst this bill represents a first attempt by this government at reducing red tape, there is still a vast amount of work to be done in this area. The government has indicated in its Simplify Day discussion paper that during the engagement process there were more than 180 ideas put forward.

The government has asserted that some ideas put forward require further consultation. The government has committed to further progressing these changes over the coming year. I look forward to seeing the second tranche of the reforms, in areas such as transport, health and safety, and licensing of fisheries, that have been promised by the government to feature in this year’s reform agenda.

The government has indicated its intention to report annually on the outcomes of this work, and perhaps the minister, in the second reading summing-up, can indicate to the chamber when we will receive the annual report. I should flag that we have filed in the name of the Hon. Mr Ridgway, leader of the Liberal opposition, some amendments and, as I have flagged, other amendments may be forthcoming from the opposition benches.

Those amendments are to clause 57. Currently, the act empowers the minister to cancel a licence if it has been suspended for more than six months and the minister cannot locate the holder of that licence. Before such a cancellation can occur, the minister must make reasonable attempts to locate the holder of the licence and to identify during the consultation period that there was no requirement in the current act for the minister to notify third parties who may have registered interest in the licence.

During a briefing on the bill which members of the opposition staff attended, we were advised that PIRSA is currently taking significant steps to advise third parties. This notification, however, is not a legislative or regulatory requirement. Rather it is standard practice based on internal PIRSA policy. The opposition has therefore filed amendments to put this policy into the body of the legislation. In doing so, we seek to increase the security of commercial fishing licences and those who have an interest in the same.

As I come near the end of my remarks, I thought I might leave you with a quote, as I know the honourable Leader of the Government in this chamber likes my quotes: ‘The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.’ With those words, I complete my remarks.

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