OMNIBUS REPEAL DAY (SPRING 2015) BILL 2015
AMENDING ACTS 1990 TO 1999 REPEAL BILL 2015
STATUTE LAW REVISION (NO.3) BILL 2015
Mr FITZGIBBON (Hunter) (12:54): There is nothing inherently wrong, in principle, with the bills before the House and those that have preceded it in the government's declaration of so-called repeal days. I suppose it gives this House something to do, because it does not seem to have much else to do. Under the tutelage of this government, certainly the Federation Chamber is not operating because it has nothing to do. We seem to spend all of our time these days in this place dealing with bills that are pretty mundane, like these ones, and condolence motions, for example, which are very important but which are usually sent to the Federation Chamber after the first half-dozen speakers or so, but they have been kept here because the government has no legislative program. It is just extraordinary. You wonder what the Australian people are thinking. We are all here, and they are paying for our flights, subsidising our accommodation and paying for the costs of running this building, and yet the House has nothing to do. So I suppose these repeal bills do give the House something to do.
The other question is: what does removing most of these redundant bills mean for business? I ask that question because the government keeps saying that this is about the reduction of red tape or regulation. I ask myself whether it costs the government more in administrative terms to remove the bills than it costs to leave them there. I certainly do not see how business benefits from the repeal of most of the measures contained within the bills we are debating today—for example, repeal of the Wool International Privatisation Act 1999, which privatised one entity to create a new private entity, which itself no longer exists? There can be no better example to demonstrate that that does not help business. That makes no difference to business, and that is true of just about every provision in the bills before us today.
The real crime here is the spin and the attempt to perpetuate the myth that somehow these repeal days benefit Australian business. Of course, we are not opposing the repeal of these redundant statutes on the statute books, but I challenge the government to outline exactly how businesses benefit. The other crime of the government is that they suggest that these bills do no harm and that they are all good news for the parliament and the administration of government and for business, but that is not really true. Many of the measures in these bills highlight the failure of the government to keep election promises and, indeed, the promise to be a government of 'no surprises'. For example, some of the provisions take us to drought measures.
It is very nice to have the minister for agriculture at the table. There is the minister's attempt to move the APVMA out of Canberra to his own electorate, which is always an interesting proposition, notwithstanding the fact that the professionals in the APVMA do not want to move out of Canberra and will not move out of Canberra, I am reliably advised. Those who need to consult with and visit the APVMA are not people on the land or farmers or anyone pursuing those interests; it is the big multinational companies, typically, that market chemicals in this country. They like to come to Canberra. When I am dealing with representations from a farm group or a chemicals company, I like to get the APVMA up the hill and into this place to brief me so I can better understand. I appreciate that the minister is always willing to provide me with that briefing, as I would if I were the minister for him. It is a long way from Armadale when I want a briefing or, indeed, the minister needs a briefing, although he can go home and get his briefing, of course.
It is an extraordinary imposition for the chemical companies to have to go to Armidale, in the minister's electorate, when they need to consult and meet with the regulatory body, which is so important to them.
Mr Joyce: It's along the freeway!
Mr FITZGIBBON: The minister's interjecting. He is saying it is not very far. I know this part of the world very well and, I can tell you, no matter how you get there it is going to take you at least a few hours to get to Armidale from Canberra, from Sydney or from Melbourne, if your company is based in that capital city.
The greater point, in addition to the minister giving himself a big leg-up with his electorate by claiming all these jobs are now coming to Armidale, is that the jobs are not going to come—because the people are not going to move. These highly trained and skilled professionals live in Canberra, have kids in school in Canberra, are more than capable of securing another job and they will not go. This is one of the most important regulatory bodies in this city and it is going to fall apart.
The same can be said for our research and development corporations, which the minister is also insisting leave Canberra. These are bodies that collect money, and make decisions about where research money should be spent, and contract the money out, contract that job out, to another body. It might be a university, for example. This idea that they have to be out there in rural areas contains no logic whatsoever. The minister's proposition that they need to be close to a university is even worse. What we want is contestability. We want those RDCs to have a few choices about who they farm that work out to so that you have contestability and they get value for money. This minister wants to be parked in UNE, for example, so all the work is done at UNE. It is not a very bright idea. But it is great for the minister—all in his own electorate. He has also moved his ministerial office, by the way, from Sydney to Armidale. That gives him two electorate offices: one in Tamworth and one in Armidale. Bingo! Chi-ching! Fantastic!
Mr Joyce: Tamworth? I'm going. I've had it!
Mr FITZGIBBON: You have to give him points for initiative; politically, he is doing okay. With drought measures, this government's draft policy has been a complete failure. Drought continues to wreak havoc in parts of New South Wales and Queensland—in fact, right across the nation—yet this minister gives them nothing but spin, nothing but false hope, a policy that is having no effect for anything. They either cannot access it or it is no good to them whatsoever—as the minister exits the chamber in disgrace and out of embarrassment. I would be embarrassed too, Minister, if I were you.
You are slowly creeping towards being the worst agriculture minister in this country's history. You have a think about it, Mr Deputy Speaker. The minister stands at this dispatch box on a daily basis claiming credit for all manner of things. There was something that happened 20 years ago, I remember, he was claiming credit for this week in the parliament. But what has he done? The big initiative was this white paper—another broken promise because it came so late—completely lacking any narrative or strategic direction, with no goals or objectives. It was just a cobbled together hotchpotch of ideas with a bit of money here and a bit of money there, which is a matter for other portfolio responsibilities. He claims the free trade agreements. It is not his work. If anyone's, it is the trade minister's work—but a culmination of the former Labor government's work. It has nothing to do with the minister for agriculture.
What has he done but attempt to deliver all these riches to his electorate by moving these RDCs and the APVMA to his electorate? What has this minister done? I cannot think of any initiative. He claims credit for commodity prices. He never mentions the commodities that are going down in price, only those going up. The great tragedy of this is that he likes, most often, to talk about cattle prices. We are all happy. The cattle producers are getting a better price. That is a good thing. But he cannot take any credit for it.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Craig Kelly): Order! I would remind the member that this debate is on the Omnibus Repeal Day (Spring 2015) Bill 2015 and I am struggling to find a connection between the issues that the member is raising and the issues in the bill. The member has the call and I would ask him to be relevant to the bill.
Mr FITZGIBBON: I appreciate your intervention. I will not do it, because I want to save you time, but I can promise you that everything I have made reference to is contained within this bill. Drought is the most perfect example, because it is repealing a provision on drought. They are all there, Mr Deputy Speaker; trust me.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I have great faith in the member for Hunter.
Mr FITZGIBBON: Out of deference and respect for you, I will return to something very specific. That is the abolition of the National Rural Advisory Council. It is in here, Mr Deputy Speaker. The National Rural Advisory Council is a statutory body. On that basis, it has all those things you associate with statutory bodies. It has tenure for its members, an annual report, plenty of transparency and accountability. It is chaired by none other than Mick Keogh, a highly regarded agricultural professional in this country. It is gone. I do not recall the minister promising that pre-election. It has been replaced, I concede, by something the minister promised he would do before the election. So I will qualify something I said earlier. He has done something: he got rid of one body and put in another body. That is a big achievement by the minister.
The problem is that the new body, the Agricultural Industry Advisory Council, is not a statutory authority. There is no annual report. There is no tenure for its members. They are there at the minister's whim, hand-picked by the minister and there at his pleasure, and it has no transparency. We asked at Senate estimates, recently, what this body does. The officials did not seem to know very much. I challenge the minister to come back into the House and tell me which things he has done—it is going to be pretty hard because he has not done much—off the advice of this advisory council. He said that is what it was going to do. They were going to consult around the country and advise the minister. As a result, he was going to come up with these new ingenious ideas for the agriculture sector.
There is another interesting thing about the advisory council—and, again, this new body has some very good people on it, many of whom I know personally, and they are very good people, but we need to know, given the expenses involved, what the advisory council is doing. For example, this is very important because in August 2014 they had dinner in Darwin, to do some consultations, apparently; it was $3,042. In April 2015 in Devonport in Tasmania there was dinner and networking; it was $3,916. These may be legitimate expenses. I was not there; I do not know how many people were there. But they are pretty pricey dinners. If the taxpayer is going to be investing that sort of money in an advisory group completely chosen by the minister, made up of members who only serve at the pleasure of the minister—and you know what that implies: it means, 'Don't come to me with ideas I don't like or you might not be on the advisory panel much longer,' and I do not think there is anyone in this House who would deny that the minister is capable of that, having gone through two secretaries or departmental heads, by the way, during his tenure; no-one is going to doubt that the minister would not hesitate to act if he was given advice he did not like—then taxpayers are entitled to know what the advisory council is doing, what advice it is giving and what the bases of these expenses are and so on.
This repeal bill does serve to highlight many of the failings and broken promises of this government. It is a government that has done nothing in agriculture except to claim credit for things it has had no responsibility for and can therefore claim no credit for.