‘Repeal day’ slogan ignores benefits of legal protections

If the Coalition is to be believed, there is more ‘red tape’ and ‘green tape’ plastered around the walls of Parliaments across Australia than there is at Santa Claus’ toy factory.

While the bright red and green tape at Christmas might bring colour and joy to children all around the world when it comes from Santa, ‘red tape’ and ‘green tape’ raises the ire of the Business Council, and therefore the Coalition, like nothing else on earth.

‘Red tape’ and ‘green tape’ are, for the most part, important health, safety, environmental and community amenity protections. Certainly, there are many outdated regulations that no longer serve a useful purpose in contemporary society that should be removed or updated. The reality is this is what has been happening under a process implemented in 2012 under the the Legislative Instruments Amendment (Sunsetting Measures) Act 2012. That process has allowed the careful, considered and methodical repeal of thousands of obsolete laws without any fuss or fanfare.

This Government’s ‘Repeal Day’ is all about whipping up a negative public perception around legal protections, and has nothing to do with good governance. The Coalition’s claim that 8000 pieces of redundant legislation will be repealed when considered against the reality that there are only  2194 current Acts of the Federal Parliament is a little hard to swallow. There are 27,691 Legislative Instruments, but there is no need for a parliamentary repeal day to change any or all of these laws. This can simply be done by regulation under the same process that has been going on quite successfully for the last two years.

It’s not as if this is an orderly and transparent process. No one actually knows what is in the Bills that will be presented to the House of Representatives on 19 March and then put to a vote on 26 March. All we have from a Liberal Party policy document released before the election is that they will “reduce the regulatory burden for individuals, businesses and community organisations by establishing and meeting a red and green tape reduction target of at least $1 billion a year.[1]

There is no further information on any government website, or in any announcement from a Minister, about the detail of the Bills, although it’s fair to assume that there will be much more than just the non contentious repeal of outdated laws that we would all agree should go. Of course it will be hard for most to read 8000 laws in a week let alone actually work out what the full impacts of the wholesale repeal will be.

One thing that we can be sure of is that it is not possible to quantify the economic impacts of the changes and that there will be plenty of double counting and false assumptions to create some big numbers. The Deloitte Access Economics cost benefit analysis of the EPBC Act [2] claims that hundreds of millions of dollars will be saved each year because of reduced delays from the ‘one stop shop’. But this conveniently ignores the fact that, often, the delays are attributable to the state process and not the EPBC Act. Have no doubt: there will be plenty of other claims that are very selective in the numbers they use and completely ignore the reality of what happens in practice.

Ask any CEO and of course he or she will say that ‘red tape’ or ‘green tape’ is a burden on their business. What other answer would you expect? What we really need to be asking is how do important protections of workplace rights or the environment serve the broader public good.

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