I rise today in support of the Corporations and Other Legislation Amendment (Trustee Companies and Other Measures) Bill 2011, which continues this government’s commitment to ensuring that business in this country operates, as much as possible, under one regulatory regime. This bill amends the trustee company provisions in chapter 5D of the Corporations Act to make them more effective by facilitating the consolidation of the industry through voluntary transfers. There are currently 11 such trustee companies in Australia that provide a range of services, such as estate planning, administering deceased estates, managing the financial affairs of people unable to look after their own interests and managing charitable trusts and foundations.
Chapter 5D took effect in May last year following a decision by COAG to create a national system for the regulation of trustee companies. However, this has created a need to allow organisations with multiple trustee subsidiaries to transfer into one licensed entity. This bill provides for an administrative process to achieve this end. The bill also improves the so-called compulsory transfer regime by specifying the criteria that must be considered when assessing a trustee company application, and it makes it an offence to falsely represent oneself as a licensed trustee company.
As a former small business owner, I have always been surprised that, while we have been a nation for well over a century now, there still exist up to eight systems regulating the conduct of business in Australia. Just one example is that, if you want to register as a business, you have to register in each state. I had my business operating here in the ACT and I registered in the ACT, but, if I had then wanted to operate in New South Wales, I would have had to go and register there too. You have all this overlay for business—it is $100 a time just to register your business and it is also an unnecessarily burdensome process. It is, I think, essentially just a hangover from the early days of interstate rivalry and different rail gauges.
I am in strong support of the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport when he said in an opinion piece in the Canberra Times: It is 110 years since Federation and Australians now enjoy one of the most prosperous and stable nations on earth. Yet have a look in the statute books of the states and territories and on some issues it’s as if Federation is as elusive as it was for Henry Parkes.
Wise words by the minister. While the minister was speaking about the myriad laws and regulations governing transport, I believe it goes further than that to other industries, particularly business—and I gave you an example of my experience. These differences in regulation and the problems they cause for a seamless national economy are a great burden on business. I believe they cost the economy millions if not billions of dollars in lost productivity and waste in the administration of red tape. There are also the opportunity costs involved when you have your own business, because the time you spend on admin issues and running around paying bills could be spent making some money. It has also led to higher costs for consumers and less competition. It is not an uncommon experience for me to hear concerns from constituents in my electorate about the regulatory burden on individuals and business caused by differences in state regulation. It is of particular importance to the people of Canberra as we are surrounded on all sides by New South Wales. A short trip in any direction and a business person in the ACT will find themselves in another jurisdiction.
I have spoken before in this place on my experiences in India and about seeing what occurs when there is a constant battle between state, territory and national governments. I have seen firsthand the effect of overregulation. I have seen firsthand how economies and innovation can be stifled by too much compliance, red tape and disparity between states and territories. I believe that government and this parliament have a dual role —that is, not only to reduce the regulatory burden on business and the community but also to ensure Australians get the right outcome from its regulations. In 2008, an OECD economic survey of Australia noted: Although product regulation is competition friendly overall, the functioning of markets could be improved, particularly by reducing their segmentation arising from different regulations across the states.
While the bill before us only deals with a limited aspect of regulation, I was nonetheless pleased when the former minister in this area, Senator Sherry, announced at COAG: … the end of multiple, often contradictory, state-based regulations totalling about 300 pages and their replacement with one clear, standard, national regime.
This bill is another step in the process following on from the initial agreement by COAG for one national trustee company regime. This bill is a response to representations from industry, and I am further pleased that this government responds to the needs of Australian business. This is a responsive government, committed to listening to the Australian community and doing what needs to be done to ensure the continued prosperity of our economy and our society going forward, particularly through business. I commend the bill to the House.