Economy

Governments agree on red-tape reform – now to make it happen

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State and federal political leaders have agreed to slash red tape by moving to nationally consistent laws across a range of areas, but business groups say big challenges remain in implementing the reforms.

State and federal political leaders have agreed to slash red tape by moving to nationally consistent laws across a range of areas, but business groups say big challenges remain in implementing the reforms.

 

At yesterday’s Council of Australian Governments meeting in Sydney, the state premiers and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd committed to 14 areas red tape cutting measures including:

 

  • A national system of occupational health and safety laws, to be finalised by 2010.
  • The Federal Government to take over product safety regulation, to take effect by 2010.
  • A national trade licensing system to be decided on by the end of this year.
  • The harmonisation of state payroll tax definitions to begin immediately.
  • More streamlined and nationally consistent property development approval guidelines.
  • Support confirmed for a national business name registration system and national online standard business reporting regime.
  • Accelerated timeline for creation of a national regime for mortgage brokers and non-bank financial services.

 

Speaking after the COAG meeting, Rudd lauded the measures agreed to as “the most significant regulatory reform that we’ve achieved as a nation in more than a decade”, but acknowledged there is hard work yet to be done.

 

“It will it be complex and very difficult. The states now have different systems and they have different concerns, and some of them have been expressed today,” Rudd said.

 

The nation’s business groups, while welcoming yesterday’s announcements, believe the hurdle for state and federal leaders in carrying out that progress will be a key test.

 

“A lot of this is very long term and won’t happen overnight”, Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia chief executive Tony Steven says. “We would like to see it move more quickly, but we also realise the level of detail and work involved in putting these things together is extraordinary.”

 

Occupational health and safety reform could deliver the biggest efficiency dividends to business, but big differences in the different state regimes mean it could also be the area where progress is most difficult to achieve.

 

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson says he is reserving judgement on the OH&S reform effort until further detail is available on the laws.

There is a huge amount of work to do on OH&S, Anderson says. “A national OHS scheme that takes in the worst aspects of Australian OHS regulation and applies it across the country would be a big backward step.”

 

A key issue is the extent to which NSW OH&S laws, widely perceived to be the least business friendly in the country, are incorporated into national laws.

 

The ability of unions to commence prosecutions and derive revenue from fines levied are elements of the NSW laws that must not be retained, according to Opposition small business spokesman Steven Ciobo.

“This perverse New South Wales system actually creates incentive for unions to cause mischief,” Ciobo says. “Labor needs to provide clarity on whether Australia’s 2.4 million small businesses will now be saddled with 100% of workplace responsibility, or whether there will still be a shared responsibility between employees and their employer.”

David Gregory, workplace policy manager at the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry, agrees the role of unions under NSW laws is a “nasty” business that his state would not want to suffer.

Rules that reverse the onus of proof so that employers are “guilty until proven innocent” of OH&S breaches would also be a backward step for Victoria, Gregory says.

 

He argues it may be preferable for those areas to be excluded from national laws altogether rather than have the NSW arrangements imposed on the country.

 

“It wouldn’t be the best outcome in that it would reduce the benefit of consistent national laws, but it might be a sensible outcome to allow 90% of harmonisation as a halfway house to a national system in the longer term,” Gregory says.

 

 

 

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