Dissenting Report by Labor Senators

Labor's response to the Chair's report on policy and process

1.1        Labor has always had a strong commitment to reducing unnecessary red tape, and has a track record of sensible reforms to deal with red tape.

1.2        In Government, we abolished more than 16 000 redundant Acts and legislative instruments. We also had our Seamless National Economy reforms that lowered business costs by $4 billion a year.

1.3        At the same time, we also understand that regulation plays an important role in ensuring the Australian economy, environment and society remain stable and sustainable.

1.4        This stands in contrast to the Government's approach to deregulation. Its approach to deregulation involved the 'war on punctuation', where a series of bills removed 40 hyphens, one comma and one inverted comma; changed two full stops to semi-colons, one semi-colon to a full stop; and inserted two commas, one full stop, one colon and one hyphen.

1.5        This would be all laughable if it were not for other elements of the Government's approach to deregulation, where under the smokescreen of "red tape" the Government has tried to water down consumer protections through attempts to gut the Future of Financial Advice reforms, and cut the wages of cleaners through the abolition of the Commonwealth Cleaning Services Guidelines.

1.6        Labor understands the benefits of appropriate regulation to ensure safe and fair working conditions, the quality and safety of work undertaken and proper protection for consumers.

1.7        Labor Senators have no issues with a review of regulatory reform in the public interest. Reviews are appropriate but should not be conducted for the sole purpose of deregulation for its own sake.

Labor's response to findings and conclusions in the interim inquiries

1.8        Labor responded to the committee's interim inquiries, as follows and as detailed further in Appendix A:

Inquiry into the effect of red tape on the sale, supply and taxation of alcohol

1.9        The Government should only be looking to consider comprehensive reform of alcohol taxation after there has been a thorough review that encapsulates all relevant tax and health aspects.

1.10      The current Government has thus far proceeded with reform of alcohol taxation in a piecemeal fashion and often without proper community consultation beforehand.

1.11      In relation to the inquiry into the effect of red tape on the sale, supply and taxation of alcohol, Labor Senators believe there should be a thorough review on comprehensive reform of alcohol taxation that includes all relevant tax and health‑related aspects of such reform proposals.

1.12      Harmful consumption of alcohol is a major health issue, contributing to chronic disease, injury and premature death. Labor Senators oppose any deregulatory changes that risk increasing this toll.

Inquiry into the effect of red tape on occupational licensing

1.13      In relation to the occupational licensing inquiry, Labor Senators recommend that a review be conducted to identify where tripartite representation has been removed or is absent from quality, skills and safety advisory bodies and that steps are taken to ensure that appropriately resourced tripartite representation is in place.

Appendix A


Effect of red tape on tobacco retail

1.1         Labor Senators strongly oppose the recommendations in this report.

1.2         Labor's  world-first  plain  packaging  laws,  along  with  its  leadership  on  tobacco  excise  and  other  preventive  health  measures,  have  driven  smoking  to  record  lows.  The recently-released  National  Drug  Strategy  Household  Survey  shows  a  continued  decline  in  daily  smoking,  to  12.2  per  cent  of  Australians.  The  Survey  also  shows  that  just  two  per  cent  of  teenagers  are  smoking—suggesting  that  the  scourge  of  tobacco  could  be  eliminated  over  time.

1.3         But the fight is not yet won. 15000 Australians a year still die from smoking-related disease.  Anything  that  reduces  tobacco  regulation  or  re-normalises  smoking  would  add  to  this  tragic  toll. 

1.4        Labor will  continue  to  follow  the  advice  of  independent  experts  on  this  issue—including  the  recent  advice  of  the  Therapeutic  Goods Administration  and  National  Health  and  Medical  Research  Council  on  e-cigarettes.

Effect of red tape on environmental assessment and approvals

1.1         Labor  is  committed  to  reducing  unnecessary  red  tape  and  we  have  always  taken  a  sensible  approach  to  reducing  red  tape.    In  Government,  Labor  abolished  more  than  16 000  Acts  and  legislative  instruments.    We  lowered  business  costs  by  $4  billion  each  year  as  part  of  our  Seamless  National  Economy  reforms.

1.2         Regulations  play  an  important  role  in  ensuring  the  Australian  economy,  environment  and  society remains  stable  and  sustainable.  Regulation  and  legislation  also  protect  consumers  and  the  community,  as  well  as  promoting  fair  trade  and  competition  by  describing  the  rights  of  businesses  and  business  owners  when  conflicts  arise.

1.3         Environmental  regulations  exist  to  make  sure  development  is  appropriate  and  sustainable  while  keeping  our  fragile  environment  healthy  for  future  generations. Environment regulation also  protects  Australia's  cultural  and  heritage  sites. They  give  business  clarity  and  provide  a  framework  for  decision-making  by  government  and  business.

1.4         The  EPBC  Act  was  introduced  by  the  Howard  Government  and  is  a  well-established  regulation  that  has  been  applied  by  both  Labor  and  the  conservatives. It  is  the  reason  that  world  heritage  properties  such  as  the  Great  Barrier  Reef  and  Uluru-Kata  Tjuta  are  protected. It  is  the  reason  national  heritage  sites  such  as  the  Kimberley  and  Great  Ocean  Road  are  protected.  The  EPBC  Act  also  means  wetlands  of  international  importance  are  not  drained  and  threatened  species  such  as  Blue  Whales,  Flatback  Turtles  and  Koalas  are  protected.

1.5         The  Water  Trigger  in  the  EPBC  Act  means  that  the  impact  of  coal  seam  gas  development  and  large  coal  mining  development  on  Australia's  precious  water  resources  is  carefully  considered.

1.6        Labor  Senators  note  that  the  EPBC  Act  is being  reviewed  in  2019  as  per  section  522A  of  the  Act  and  preliminary  work  by  the  Department  of  the  Environment  and  Energy  has  begun.  While  we  disagree  with  a  number  of  the  recommendations  in  the  Chair's  report,  this  statutory  review  should  consider  opportunities  to  reduce  regulatory  burden,  including  those  identified  in  Recommendations  9,  13,  14  and  15  of  the  Chair's  report.

Effect of red tape on child care

1.1         Labor  Senators  make  the  following  dissenting report  in  relation  to  the  Chair's  report.

1.2         Labor  Senators  support  the  maintenance  of  effective  and  evidence  based  regulation  of  the  early  childhood  education  and  care  (ECEC)  sector,  to  safeguard  the  quality  and  safety  of  all  ECEC  services  and  the  educational  development  of  children.  The  National  Quality  Framework  (NQF)  was  agreed  to  by  the  Council  of  Australian  Governments  in  2009  and  introduced  to  lift  the  educational  and  quality  standards  of  the  sector.  Labor Senators strongly support the NQF.  The  NQF  was  developed  based  on  international  evidence  and  best  practice.  This evidence is regularly reviewed.  The evidence  confirms  that  staff  ratios  lead  to  better  educational  and  safety  outcomes  for  children.  Since  the  introduction  of  the  NQF,  77  per  cent  of  ECEC  services  have  received  a  quality  rating  of  meeting  or  exceeding  the  National  Quality  Standards  (NQS).  The  NQF  is  a  world  leading  system  that  a  majority  of  witnesses  to  the  inquiry  fully  endorsed  and  supported.

1.3         Labor  Senators  believe  that  the  greatest  risk  to  the  viability  of  ECEC  services  is  this  government's  failure  to  adequately  fund  the  sector,  not  overly  burdensome  regulation.  Labor  calls  on  the  Government  to  restore  the  $20  million  it  cut  from  the  NQF  funding  in  the  2018–19  Budget.  This  funding  supports  the  safety  and  compliance  work  in  the  states  and  territories  that  supports  the  NQF.  Labor  calls  onthe  Government  to  commit  funding  to  the  national  preschool  program  for  four  years  olds—the  National  Partnership  Agreement  on  Universal  Access  to  Early  Childhood  Education.  The  Government  has  refused  to  fund  the  program  beyond  the  2019  school  year  and  this is  adding  to  the  difficulties  being  facedby  ECEC  services  and  families.

1.4         Labor  also  notes  the  Government's  new  child  care  system  introduces  greater  complexity  and  red  tape  to  the  system  for  both  ECEC  services  and  families.  Families  and  services  now  have  to  account  for  activity,  income,  hours  of  care,  and  complete  numerous  forms  to  access  subsidies  from  the  Government.  Families  and  services  had  to  re-register  for  the  new  system  launch  in  July  2018  at  their  own  expense,  which  for  services  were  considerable  in  both  time  and  resources.

Effect of red tape on occupational licensing

1.1         Labor  Senators  provide  the  following  dissenting  report  on  Red  Tape  (Occupational  Licensing).

1.2         Labor  Senators  reject  the  premise  of  the  report  that  occupational  licensing  reform  should  start  with  a  presumption  against  licensing.  The  inquiry  heard  strong  evidence  that  occupational  licensing  is  beneficial  and  necessary  to  ensure  the  quality  of  work  performed  and  the  safety  of  both  workers  and  consumers.

1.3         Labor  Senators  consider  that  the  holding  of  a  licence  also  sends  a  powerful  signal  to  consumers,  as  to  the  quality  and  safety  of  a  provider  or  service. Labor Senators  believe  that  a  tripartite  system,  involving  government,  business  and  union  representatives,  is  best  placed  to  consider  the  quality,  skill  and  safety  needs that  are  inherent  in  licensing  arrangements,  and  complemented  by  a  risk-based  regulatory  approach.

Effect of red tape on private education

1.1         Labor Senators strongly oppose the recommendations in this report.

Vocational Education and Training

1.2         Privatisation and deregulation in the vocational education and training (VET) sector has been a dismal failure.

1.3         Experience has repeatedly shown that rent-seeking, and access to government funding in VET with limited regulation, has led to extreme outbreaks of malfeasance by unscrupulous private, profit seeking providers.

1.4         VET FEE-HELP is the most recent, but not the only, example of the runaway rorting by unscrupulous for-profit training providers putting profit before the national interest.

1.5         As a consequence of rorting in the VET sector the reputation of the sector has been marred by: dismal completion rates; increased course costs; burgeoning and unfair student debt; insolvency of major private colleges; and predatory behaviour by unscrupulous registered training organisations to enrol students and access government funding.

1.6         VET FEE-HELP was introduced by the Coalition in 2008 and opened up in 2012. In the five years under Labor, loans totalled $1.4 billion. Under three years of the Coalition loans skyrocketed by a further $5.8 billion.

1.7         The Australian National Audit Office has reported that the Government Actuary assessed that $1.2 billion of loans were wrongly issued under VET FEE HELP. The number of people misled and subjected to unfair debts is yet to be determined.

1.8         It is estimated that close to 75 per cent of all VET FEE HELP funding went to private providers. This included $600 million to just one provider, Careers Australia, which subsequently went into receivership leaving 18 000 students stranded without qualifications and holding unfair debts, 1000 employees robbed of their entitlements, and money owing to suppliers.

1.9         In addition to the scandalous provider behaviour exhibited in the VET sector, there is evidence that privatisation in VET has led to widespread and persistent concerns relating to quality, and in particular the development of low quality training markets driven by low-cost, high-profit provision. For example the prevalence of low cost, short courses was reported in a series of strategic reviews by Australian Skills Quality Authority of the aged and community care, early childhood education and care, and the construction and security industries.

1.10     It is clear that sound and fit-for-purpose regulatory standards are fundamental to ensuring quality delivery and for ensuring consumer protection in vocational education and training.

1.11     If public money is to flow to educational organisations then those organisations must be of the highest standards and the bar for entry must be appropriately high.

1.12     Labor recognises that the current design of the VET system is flawed. The reliance on a market to deliver quality vocational education and valued training qualifications is one of many factors that require close examination and review.

1.13     As such, no amount of regulatory oversight and intervention will adequately correct the current problems in the vocational education system. Importantly, regulation reduction will simply promote reduced oversight and increased exploitation of students.

1.14     In government Labor will establish an independent and comprehensive inquiry into the post-secondary education system, ensuring that public TAFEs and universities sit at the centre of the system as anchoring and publicly accountable institutions.

1.15     That inquiry will make recommendations about regulation and consumer protection, in light of the review of the whole post-secondary education system.

Higher Education

1.16     Australia has a well-established higher education system with a strong public university sector and a number of quality private providers. Unlike VET, public universities have not been subject to the same level of private competition and they have benefited significantly from reforms put in place by a number of Labor governments.

1.17     Labor's policy in 2009 to uncap university places (through the demand-driven system) has been one of the greatest changes seen to higher education in this country in a generation.

1.18     This reform, in conjunction with greater funding for access and equity opened the door of university to more than 200 000 more Australians. Our reforms also saw increased participation from traditionally underrepresented groups. Between 2008 and 2016, we've seen:

1.19     Not only did we boost participation, the demand-driven system drove innovation in modes of delivery and industry collaboration. This was noted by the Liberals' 2014 review of the demand-driven system.

1.20     In 2011, Labor introduced a national system of regulation with the creation of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency – fundamentally streamlining regulation of the sector, reducing the number of jurisdictions from nine to one. The regulatory system was also designed to be proportionate and risk-based.

1.21     Labor believes the national regulatory system in higher education needs more time to mature. In order to ensure the settings continue to be fit-for-purpose, we will examine regulation as part of our once-in-a-generation national inquiry into post secondary education in Australia.


Effect of red tape on pharmacy rules

1.1         Since  1990,  the  location  rules  have  been  an  important  part  of  the  regulation  of  community  pharmacy.  Labor  supported  the  extension  of  these  rules  in  2015  and  recently  supported  legislation  removing  the  sunset  clause  on  the  rules.

1.2         Labor  notes  the  concerns  of  some  stakeholders  about  the  collection  and  remittance  of  GST,  and  the  associated  paperwork  burden.  The  Howard  Government  introduced  the  GST  in  1999,  and  the  tax  took  effect  on  1  July  2000.  The  nature  of  the  GST  is  such  that  collection  and  remittance  of  GST  is  tasked  to  business,  particularly  small  businesses.

1.3         Labor  is  sympathetic  to  the  notion  of  reducing  red  tape  for  small  businesses.  However,  caution  should  be  exercised  in  proposals  that  seek  to  prioritise  one  sector  of  the  economy  over  others.

Effect of red tape on health services

1.1         Labor  Senators  make  the  following  additional  comments  on  the  Red  Tape  (Health  Services)  Report.

1.2         Comment  on  Recommendation  2 — Labor Senators  are  committed  to  improving  preventive  health  and  primary  health  care,  to  help  keep  Australians  healthy  and  out of hospital  wherever  possible.  However,  Labor  Senators  note  concerns  that  allowing  insurers  to  cover  out-of-hospital  care  could  undermine  the  universality  of  Medicare  and  create  a  two-tiered  primary  health  care  system.  Labor  Senators  also  note  concerns  that  introducing  a  second  major  payer  into  primary  health  care  could  have  an  inflationary  effect,  driving  up  costs  for  patients  and  taxpayers.

1.3        Comment  on  Recommendations  3  and  4— Labor  has  proposed  a  Productivity  Commission  inquiry  into  the  private  health  system,  which  would  be  the  most  significant  review  of  private  health  in  20  years  (since  the  then Industry  Commission's  last  review).  Pending  its  terms  of  reference,  which  Labor  will  develop  in  consultation  with  experts  and  the  sector,  the  inquiry  could  consider  cost  drivers  for  private  health  insurance,  the  regulation  of  the  prostheses  market,  and  other  reform  proposals.  Labor  Senators  urge  the  Government  to  adopt  Labor's  proposal  for  a  Productivity  Commission  inquiry.

Senator Murray Watt
Deputy Chair 

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