PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 21980

Joint Press Conference with the Treasurer The Hon Peter Costello MP Parliament House, Canberra

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 12/10/2005

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21980

PRIME MINISTER:

Ladies and gentlemen, the Treasurer and I have called this news conference to announce the appointment of a taskforce to identify practical options for alleviating the compliance burden on businesses from Commonwealth Government regulation. The taskforce will examine and report on areas where regulatory reform can provide significant, immediate gains to productivity and for business. Regulation is necessary to protect the public interest but it can become too burdensome and there has been a growing chorus of concern expressed by both small and large businesses about the regulatory burden. This is a concern that's been expressed to me by a number of the State Premiers, particularly in a discussion I had recently with the Premier of Victoria, Mr Bracks. And the Commonwealth, by announcing this taskforce, is demonstrating its commitment to seek out and identify and remove unnecessary areas of regulation. It's one part of the ongoing reform process. It's part of that race towards the ever receding finishing line.

The taskforce is going to be chaired by Mr Gary Banks, who is the Chairman of the Productivity Commission. It will include Mr Dick Humphry, the former managing director of the Australian Shock Exchange, Mr Rod Halstead, a very respected corporate lawyer; he's a partner with Clayton Utz, and Mrs Angela MacRae, known to some of you as Angela Ryan, a consultant to small business and Chairman of the Independent Contractors Association of Australia.

The Taskforce will be asked to identify particular areas of Commonwealth Government regulation which are unnecessarily burdensome, indicate some areas where regulation can be removed, and examine some non-regulatory options including business self-regulation which might be adopted in lieu of regulation to achieve certain outcomes. And we're going to provide, ask them to provide a report by the 31st of January next year. It's a tight reporting deadline, but our experience with the Moore-Wilton/Fisher/Ergas report on potential regulatory imposts on ports and therefore the export capacity of this country demonstrated that these specifically dedicated task groups with a relatively short reporting line produce very good results.

There is a concern about regulation. We're not going to sweep it all away; that would be unrealistic. And sometimes business itself calls for regulation. But there is a case to be at least heard and examined about whether the burden has not become too strong. We also intend, and we announced today, the introduction of a new annual review process to examine the cumulative stock of Australian Government regulation and identify an annual red tape reduction agenda. And these reviews are to be undertaken by the Productivity Commission and the Commission will call for public submissions on areas of red tape concern based on a direction from the Treasurer and will propose an agenda to the Australian Government. We think this is an important reform initiative and it's one that both the Treasurer and I are very enthusiastic about and the Government is very strongly committed to.

We think the quality of the committee - we have a range of people - Gary Banks is very highly regarded; the Chairman of the Productivity Commission. He understands the impact of these things on the economy and of course Dick Humphry has a formidable business reputation. He's also had a background in the public sector, having been a senior public servant in both Victoria and New South Wales. Rod Halstead has a few peers I think as a corporate lawyer in Sydney. And Angela McRae has very strong background in business and also small business and also a very strong understanding of the impact of tax laws with her accounting background. So I think it's a very, very good committee and I'm grateful they're available and we look forward with great enthusiasm to what they have to say. Peter.

TREASURER:

Well can I just reinforce what's already been said. Over the years as incidents occur you can quite frequently have a regulatory response which is appropriate to a particular incident. But as they accumulate, the sum total of the regulation can become overbearing. And every now and then you've just got to sit back and crack through the regulatory system and if we can get real breakthroughs in the reduction of paperwork, red tape and regulation, this is an important economic reform. Very important economic reform. Most businesses will tell you that over recent years their compliance departments have grown like topsy, that the costs of the people that are working in those compliance departments have become significant to their businesses, and that the cost of business is higher than it should be in Australia. And I think the cost of business is higher than it should be in Australia. So the task is now to reduce it and to reduce it by having a high profile, high level committee identify those areas where we can make concrete gains and make them as a matter of urgency. And I look forward to the report that's going to come from this expert committee because this is serious economic reform.

JOURNALIST:

Will it cover the Tax Act?

TREASURER:

Well if they can recommend some areas in the Tax Act it would be very welcome, very welcome. Can I just say to you that at the beginning of the year I asked the Board of Taxation to have a look at reducing the length of the Tax Act - that's been publicly announced. I'm waiting for their final report but the latest indication that I had from the Board of Taxation; they believe that because there are two Acts there could be 1600 pages of tax law that is never used, that is inoperative. And we're awaiting a final report. But if there are 1600 pages that are inoperative we can begin by repealing 1600 pages.

JOURNALIST:

What about BAS statements?

TREASURER:

Well in relation to BAS statements, we have simplified BAS statements considerably over the years. And to be frank I don't get the level of concern about BAS statements that we did say three or four years ago. But we're always interested in areas where they can be streamlined.

PRIME MINISTER:

Nothing's off the table.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

TREASURER:

Well as I said, look the way in which regulation grows, is it invariably grows in response to some bad incident of public policy. Let's take for example director's duties. After the HIH Royal Commission when a lot of people lost a lot of money there were recommendations to increase director's duties, which the Government acted on. Perfectly proper. We followed the recommendation of the Royal Commissioner. And what happens is you have an incident of public policy and you have a response. But as these cumulate the combined weight can become too great and if the combined weight is too great you've got to do a review and you've got to try and break that weight.

JOURNALIST:

Have you got any response to Senator Joyce's effort last night for each of you, or both of you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well can I just say that the Government remains committed to the amendments to the Trade Practices Act. They are in significant measure, amendments to reduce red tape and the regulatory burden on business and the schedule that the Senate has purported to take out is in fact one that does something that business wants and that is it puts a time limit on government agency responses. I mean one of the biggest complaints I get from businesses, large and small is that they go to the government and it's an eternity sometimes before they get a response and the Dawson recommendation was in fact, as I understand it - I mean Peter is the expert on the Trade Practices Act - but as I understand it, the Dawson response was to say well look we're going to put a time limit on the way in which ACCC, the time in which the ACCC should respond, so we think they are good amendments but we'll continue to talk about the issue inside the government.

JOURNALIST:

So did you try to explain this to him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look we talk about these things in a totally civilised fashion. I'm not going to go into the details of that. Suffice it to say that we are very committed to the legislation that was passed through the House and introduced by the Treasurer. We think it's good reform. I mean one of things in it is a collective bargaining proposal for small business. Now I would have thought that that's...

JOURNALIST:

That got through didn't it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well hang on - this is a totality, this Bill. I mean we are not in the business of chopping it into pieces.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)...flag what he was going to do?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I am not going to go into the internals of all of that. I am simply stating the Government's strong support for the legislation and therefore an unwillingness to accept the changes that have been made by the Senate and we'll continue to have discussions.

TREASURER:

Can I just go over the... there's important background to this. This was a review which the Government announced prior to the 2001 election, presided over by a High Court Judge with business representatives. The review took 200 submissions over eight months and met 47 interested parties. The review recommended a very well balanced improvement to the Trade Practices Act; improved capacity for small business to collectively bargain with less regulation to get there. Improved capacity to hold mergers to formal decisions within time limits and reasons, right? So that you would have to get, so the ACCC would have to give reasons for its decisions and appeal rights. It was put to six states and two territories which supported it, first for consultation, second for voting. It was passed through the House of Representatives in the last Parliament before the 2004 election. Now there has been nothing rushed about this; this has been consultation that has been going on now for over four years and it was a carefully balanced, carefully crafted package and part of it actually is to reduce regulation - a very big part of it.

JOURNALIST:

(Inaudible) what's the other 2 per cent that you are not getting through that you want to get through?

TREASURER:

No, no, I think you are confusing... There are two aspects in relation to mergers; there is a merger area and the authorisation area. At the moment in relation to mergers, you do not have the capacity to ask the ACCC to give a decision. You can't make an application and get a decision with reasons. These amendments would allow you to make an application, to get a decision within a time limit and to get reasons, now if you're in business and a government agency tells you what you can or can't do, you want to know why and that's what this Bill does, it allows you to...(inaudible). The second area is the authorisation area which was the numbers that you referred to. An authorisation is different to a merger, an authorisation is, without boring you with all the technical detail, is where there is no issue of substantially lessening competition, but you seek an authorisation in the public interest.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister you've probably seen published suggestions that the workplace relations changes will be your political swansong...

PRIME MINISTER:

Tricky question...

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer you've seen suggestions that the workplace relations changes may be the Prime Minister's swansong, should they be?

TREASURER:

I was waiting for Steve Lewis.

PRIME MINISTER:

We're disappointed.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister can I ask you about this review? Is there a concern that if you extend the sort of concept of self regulation too far, you will see a repeat of the sort of corporate collapses we've seen over the past few years like HIH?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, Mr Lewis, we won't extend too far... We are simply inviting the group to have a look at the possibility that in some areas it might work and there is no way we are going to extend it too far, but all of these things are a balance and the balance is perhaps not there at the moment and we need to find some ways of reducing the burden of regulation. We are not going to walk away from proper regulation but every time you impose regulation on business, you add to cost, you reduce economic efficiency and you've got to weigh them off against the purported gain. I mean in the end the basis of a strong economy is the capacity of business to operate with relative freedom and in circumstances of rising productivity and we are all interested in a strong economy. If you overregulate it and you have the entrepreneur spending more time looking over their regulated shoulder than actually out there in the market place making a living and employing more people then you are paying a very heavy price.

JOURNALIST:

You've been accused of conning people over public holidays in your statements of a few months ago, could you re-visit that statement and do you still stand by it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have been so accused, wrongly, and grievously in error. What I have said is that public holidays remain public holidays under state law - Christmas Day, Anzac Day...All of these things; they remain public holidays. It is the case now that some people are required to work on public holidays and the circumstances in which they work are governed according to agreements and awards and that will continue to be the case in the future. What I have said is that what has obtained in the past, will continue to obtain in the future so nobody has been conned - Anzac Day remains sacrosanct, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, News Years Day and Eve - and I think we'll probably have one of these every few days over the weeks ahead. I fully expect that, but I haven't conned anybody and I have been grievously misrepresented by those who asserted otherwise.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard there's call for a Leadership spill in the South Australian Liberal Opposition, Do you back Rob Kerin? Should he run for the job?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think that is a matter for our Parliamentary colleagues in South Australia to resolve. Whatever decision they make on those matters, I support the Leader. And the question of what happens in the future? I've always enjoyed a good relationship with Mr Kerin. He's a very decent man. But the question of the future is really a matter of the Parliamentary Party.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) will you be able to get the community on side about the industrial relations changes over time?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I believe over time we will. But it's not an easy reform. It's easy to scare people in relation to something like this and the Labor Party is at its opportunistic best. We just had a wall of breathless negativity this morning. I listened to Mr Beazley on Radio National and it was just a torrent of breathless negativity. It was nothing, no, absolute negativity. We're against this, we're against everything. I mean doesn't he understand how the world has changed? Doesn't he understand that we are not living any longer in the sort of industrial paradigm that brought forth the industrial relations laws of several decades ago? But we will, as we have done with other reforms, we'll persist. There's no point in being in government unless you are willing on occasions to argue the case and ague it tenaciously for significant reform. These are big reforms but they're fair reforms and I believe that when they are through the parliament, and it's our goal for that to occur by Christmas. I believe that when that happens and people begin to experience them, they'll look back on some of the fear mongering from the Labor Party and the unions with distain.

JOURNALIST:

Do you still hold the view that the Government should go further on IR reforms, particularly in the area of unfair dismissals, extend it right through the economy?

TREASURER:

Oh, well, Steve I've answered these questions before and I stand by the answer. Just in case there's any doubt. I have...no, no I answered those questions before, Steve, nice try. I didn't realise how good you were. Can I say that just in case there's any doubt, I think I've probably been arguing for industrial relations reform in Australia for 20 years - long before I hit this place. These are the most significant industrial relations reform that Australia has ever seen and by enacting them and applying them the reality will be that Australia will be a much stronger economy, and they have my full and utter support.

JOURNALIST:

Why did you slap down Malcolm Turnbull so savagely, what has he done wrong?

TREASURER:

No I didn't Malcolm. I was asked to give a briefing to a backbench committee which it did and that was inside a backbench committee. You will have noticed that I haven't said anything publicly.

JOURNALIST:

Do we expect to see the VSU legislation this year?

PRIME MINISTER:

I would expect the VSU legislation would be introduced this year; that's always been the Government's intention.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard is the four pages of ads in today's papers appropriate use of tax payer money?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I defend this campaign. If you look at the detail of those ads they don't contain criticism of a political kind, they don't contain advocacy of a political kind, they contain explanation and these are very significant reforms and the public is entitled to have the unvarnished truth about them. And I believe that the advertisements are defensible and of course as the highest court in the country has ruled, they're quite a valid exercise. Now two more and we better go inside. Louise we haven't had you.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard in the transition period will it be a more complex system?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I don't because (think it will be more complex), because the great bulk of the people who are benefiting from the transitional arrangements are people such as farmers and unincorporated small businesses that will continue to operate under current arrangements.

JOURNALIST:

This is your first joint press conference since the declaration of the last election campaign. Have you got any other joint press conferences planned?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well if there is a policy that calls forth for a joint press conference with any of my colleagues, from the Treasurer down, I'm very happy to do so. I think they're very effective, and they attract a good crowd and I mean we get a good attendance of....

TREASURER:

I've got to say dealing with the politeness that we've seen here, I'd like to do many more of them. I've been missing you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

TREASURER:

I've been missing you.

JOURNALIST:

Are you going to try to persuade Barnaby Joyce...

PRIME MINISTER:

We need to chat with all of our good bloke colleagues.

TREASURER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 21980