BREAKING POLITICS – FAIRFAX MEDIA
WEDNESDAY, 19 MARCH 2014
SUBJECT/S: Regulatory repeal day, charities commission, e-safety commissioner, FOFA; Changes to refugee assessments; Arthur Sinodinos
CHRIS HAMMER: Well as part of the Government’s campaign against red tape, they’ve released this handy guide for public servants, The Australian Governments Guide to Regulation. There’s red tape, there’s some scissors there you might not be able to see. One of the problems though is Labor is claiming that a large part of it has been lifted from a document that they released as recently as July last year. Well to discuss that and other issues, I’m joined by Michelle Rowland, Labor member for Greenway in Western Sydney, good morning Michelle.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM; SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Good morning Chris.
HAMMER: Clearly in government Labor was concerned with red tape, the present government is following through; everyone’s on the same page aren’t they?
ROWLAND: Every government should be concerned to ensure that its statute books are kept up to date. What we don’t need is a government that’s choosing to use this so-called regulatory repeal opportunity as a stunt that will, firstly have some retrograde effects in some areas that I’ll discuss, but also is actually not achieving what it is supposed to set out to do, and again I can mention some of those. I think it is very notable that yes, a lot of this is taken, some of the key points in particular, when you look at the key points of regulation. In my former life I was a competition and regulatory law specialist in the communications field, and there are some golden rules of regulation and many of those Labor set out in its previous document and these have been replicated here. But I think it is very important to make the point that today a number of bills are being introduced, some of them are going to have retrograde affects, and some of them that are going to come up in future are going to be contrary to what the government is proposing to do in reducing red tape.
HAMMER: So essentially you’re saying you’re going to throw the baby out with the bathwater on some occasions, can you give a couple of specific examples of where you think worthy regulation is going to be eliminated?
ROWLAND: Sure, well the proposal that getting rid of the Australian Charities Commission body that Labor set up – under the guise of reducing red tape – is in fact going to have the opposite effect. Until this Act came into place it was the Australian Tax Office (ATO) that was responsible for determining charities’ eligibility status and it was thanks to the previous government consulting with the charities and not-for-profit sector that we established this new body. And you only have to look at the open letter that was written by, I think something like 40 of these groups, including very eminent people, Tim Costello amongst others, saying this body is having the desired effect of removing red tape. So by eliminating this body we are simply going to install more red tape by putting these powers back into the ATO.
HAMMER: And you’re also saying that despite the Government’s rhetoric on this issue that it is in some ways introducing more regulation, I think the e-safety commissioner was the example you wanted to give there?
ROWLAND: Certainly. No one can argue with the fact that we need to make sure that the rules we have in terms of cyber-safety, particularly in protecting children, are as robust as possible, but also as effective as possible. Now there has been a discussion paper floating around since late January by the Parliamentary Secretary for Communications, which details plans and calls for submissions on the establishment of this e-safety commissioner. And you’ll recall this was also something mentioned in the Governor-General’s Address, so it is obviously a key part of this new government’s election platform. The thing we need to remember here is: what are we actually desiring as an outcome here; and is this process being proposed going to be the most effective outcome? I will look at a couple of things. Firstly, we had a significant report in the last parliament on cyber-safety, a specific standing committee on cyber-safety. None of its recommendations included the establishment of this body, the focus was primarily on education. We have existing laws in place in the Criminal Code Act, so I don’t think anyone should think that there aren’t any laws there already. It’s already a crime to bully people online. And the other thing is, is this new regulation that they’re proposing going to have the desired effect? For the last couple of months I have been speaking to a number of groups in the industry, people who’ve made submissions to this. I note that the Children’s Commissioner has made a submission in which the Commissioner opposes what is being put forward here. But I think the upshot of this is we need to make sure that it actually achieves the desired effect. My concern is that it won’t work. This is going to be new regulation that won’t work. I am waiting to see all the submissions to made public, my understanding is that was going to be done this week, I haven’t seen them yet, but I would point also to the fact that even within the government there are serious concerns being raised about the effectiveness of this proposal, but also on delivering more layers of red tape. If you introduce more layers of red tape in the technology sector you are going to have the impact of slowing down effectiveness, that is my concern.
HAMMER: So back to the big picture. Your suggestion is that it is part of the normal workings of government to introduce new regulation when it is needed, to deregulate wherever it’s possible, this is what governments do on a day-to-day basis anyway and the government’s kid of gilding the lily if you like by announcing this big repeal day.
ROWLAND: I think that is certainly true. In the last parliament I was a regular speaker, I think I spoke on nearly every Statute Stocktake Bill, Sunsetting Provisions, because I am very interested in this area. I didn’t see the Prime Minister speak on it, I didn’t see Josh Frydenberg going to the lengths that I did speaking on it. You would need to repeal as a matter of course in any government, you would need to keep abreast of what you are doing, the Office of Parliamentary Council needs to be consulted, but you also need to make sure you are not getting rid of some areas of law and regulation that could have unintended consequences. I am particularly concerned about this regulatory repeal process in the area of financial services, the FOFA reforms. Now that is one thing that is proposed to be removed here that I think is a terribly retrograde step. I think it is terribly backward looking to not put the onus on financial advisers to act in good faith and the fact that all of this has been hidden amongst all these other items that are being repealed. I think that that is tricky, I think that it should be given proper scrutiny and people need to understand that this is about serious issues of consumer protection that were built up with serious consultation with the industry over a long period of time. The idea that this simply gets removed in this one fell swoop in this repeal process is a very bad step.
HAMMER: Okay, let’s change subjects now, you are the Shadow Minister for Citizenship, there are reports that the Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison is trying to assume greater ministerial powers, what the issue here?
ROWLAND: Well I have seen that it’s contained in Senate Committee recommendation that for certain people who might not necessarily be classed as refugees, but are fleeing their countries because of things such as genital mutilation or torture.
HAMMER: Honour killings -
ROWLAND: Honour killings. These are aspects where the Minister used to have the power to determine their status. Chris Evans, when he was Minister some time ago, made the comment that not only am I “playing God” here, but the workload is so immense that it needs to be given to a body at arm’s length. My understanding is that the Senate Committee has recommended that those powers be given back to the Minister. I do think that would be the wrong thing to do. I think the fact that was from an existing Minister – and who’s ever heard of a Minister wanting less power – so I think it is a very genuine concern that Chris Evans had when he was Minister.
HAMMER: So the concern is here isn’t about Scott Morrison, it’s about any Minister having too much power and not enough time to exercise it properly?
ROWLAND: I believe it is. I do note that this is a Senate Committee recommendation. I haven’t seen any explicit comments from Scott Morrison on this. I am not aware if he has made any comments yet, but I would say that any Minister in this area should not be making these decisions, they should be made at arm’s length because they are very detailed and should be given proper consideration.
HAMMER: Okay, a final subject, Arthur Sinodinos. He made a statement to the Senate in February setting out what he thought were the facts of the matter with Australian Water Holdings. What more does Labor want from Senator Sinodinos?
ROWLAND: Well he will have to answer to ICAC on his own time. ICAC will determine whether or not he has done anything wrong, or make recommendations whether or not he is answerable for anything. ICAC can go and do that, my main concern is…
HAMMER: He says he will appear before ICAC, he’s happy to, he will be vindicated. So until that happens what more can he do here?
ROWLAND: Well my main concern is here is a guy who was taking $200,000 for what appears to be a minimal amount of work. He was chairman of a company that was involved in all of these transactions and he says, “I knew nothing”. Well his integrity is going to be examined by ICAC, my question is: what does this say about his competence? This guy is the Assistant Treasurer. This bloke is the one who is spearheading the campaign to remove FOFA, to remove these essential elements of consumer protection. I don’t know whether or not he has thought about his fitness to hold this role in all those circumstances. I think it raises serious questions about his competence; his integrity will be dealt with in other places, but one has to, by any objective measure, say, really? Is that really the actions and explanation of a competent person who’s a Minister of the Crown?
HAMMER: Okay Michelle Rowland, thanks for your time today.
ROWLAND: My pleasure.