Standing up for Canberra

Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2015) Bill 2015

I rise today to speak to the Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2015) Bill 2015, a bill that Labor supports in the interests of reducing red tape and streamlining legislation. The majority of items in this bill relate to the repeal of spent and redundant acts and redundant provisions within acts; therefore, these are, of course, welcome reforms. That does not mean that they require the fanfare that those opposite demand on these red-tape repeal days. All governments have them, and so they should, but they should not demand applause, a standing ovation, for reducing red tape

While I pledge my support for the removal of superfluous legislation, we must thoroughly make sure that that is exactly what it is: superfluous. I think back to when the last lot of repeal legislation was introduced to the House, and I remember a sneaky measure, a really underhand measure, where something was removed that was actually not redundant. It actually mattered a lot. It mattered a lot to many, many people. It mattered a lot to many people who work in this building: people who clean our offices, day in, day out; people who work alongside us—our colleagues.

What was done in the name of red-tape reduction was actually the repeal of the wages and conditions of cleaners who work for the Commonwealth, the cleaners of this building. These are some of the most vulnerable people in our workforce. For many of them, English is their second language, and many of them have few to no qualifications. Many of them are single mothers. This is aside from the fact that they are also some of the most modestly paid. Yet the repeal of the Commonwealth cleaners guidelines means that cleaners in Commonwealth buildings are, on average, $6,837.35 worse off a year. That is a huge amount of money for anyone, in anyone's language, let alone some of our lowest paid workers. It is an absolute disgrace. 

I met with a group of Commonwealth cleaners here at parliament a couple of months ago. They were absolutely distraught, and they were absolutely desperate. They were so distraught that they took strike action out in front on the lawns here at Parliament House because they felt they had no other option, no other way of telling this government that what it has done is just not okay. Some of them are working for $2 an hour less for doing exactly the same job for the same amount of time, at exactly the same hours. And that comes on top of the fact that cleaners' wages have been frozen since July 2012. They deserve respect, they deserve fair wages and they deserve decent conditions.

The fact that the Commonwealth cleaners guidelines were cut as part of a repeal day highlights the need for scrutiny. In the end, it comes back to trust. This government has shown time and time again that it cannot be trusted. It cannot be trusted with hospital funding. It cannot be trusted with education funding. It cannot be trusted with pensions. It cannot be trusted with ADF pay. It cannot be trusted with dental care. The list goes on and on and on. It cannot be trusted with giving cleaners, some of the lowest paid workers in this country, decent pay and decent conditions. This government showed its true colours in last year's budget, and Australians have every right to feel sceptical about this government. That is why, on these repeal days, I also feel sceptical.

This repeal bill in particular includes amendments and repeals covering the Agriculture, Environment, Health, Indigenous affairs, Social Services, Treasury and veterans' affairs portfolios. This was part of a set of bills introduced as part of the government's so-called autumn repeal day. As I said earlier, the majority of the items in this bill relate to the repeal of spent and redundant acts and redundant provisions within acts—for example, the repeal of seven acts in the Agriculture portfolio which are all spent and redundant. Also, the Dairy Adjustment Act 1974, which enabled the Commonwealth to enter into arrangements with the states for dairy adjustment programs, is being repealed. Given that the period for approval of a new agreement lapsed in 1977, no agreements are currently in place and all payments have been made, so this act is redundant.

In the Treasury portfolio, five acts are being repealed, all of which are spent and redundant. For example, the International Monetary Agreements Act 1959, which related to an increase in Australia's quota in the International Monetary Fund and an increase in the capital stock of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, is being repealed. Given that these transactions have already happened, this act is also redundant. In the Social Services portfolio there is the removal of a number of indexation provisions that are spent, as they have passed their date of effect and, as a result, are no longer needed in legislation. These are a couple of items where elements are redundant or spent, and they are no longer up to date.

But there are two items in this bill that do have deregulatory savings. The first relates to the removal of the requirement to sign a statutory declaration when submitting a compensation claim under the Health and Other Services (Compensation) Act 1995. Instead, the claimant is able to declare that the information provided is true and correct, using existing forms required for the process. This is estimated to generate $41.4 million in deregulatory savings.

The second relates to the granting of greater access to aggregated information under certain social services legislation to the public, where that information does not disclose information about a particular person. This will enable greater access to information for use by researchers and the general public. This is estimated to generate $3,000 in savings. So the total amount of deregulatory savings in this bill, $41.4 million, is less than 10 per cent of the $475.7 million in savings that have been reported since the last so-called repeal day, in October 2014.

The last so-called repeal day was when those absolutely outrageous, brutal attacks were made on the cleaners that clean our offices—our colleagues, who work alongside us in this House and who are some of the lowest paid workers in this country. Quite often English is not their first language. Quite often their education levels are not particularly high and, from meeting many of them, I know that a lot of them are doing it tough, on their own, as single mums trying to bring up their kids and to give them a decent start in life and a decent education. What does this government do? It cuts their wages, and it does so under the guise of a red-tape repeal day.

Measures that were described in the Parliamentary Secretary's statement last week—such as the use of electronic devices in flights, removing duplicative record-keeping requirements for psychologists or the removal of the requirement for trucks to have spare spray suppression devices—are not being discussed as part of this bill. The removal of spent and redundant acts, spent and redundant provisions within acts and the correction of spelling and punctuation in legislation is an ordinary process of government. The elevation of this activity to the status which this government gives it is simply not warranted and it is unnecessary.

The fanfare, the standing ovation and the round of applause that is expected when these repeal days occur is just breathtaking. I say: get on with the job of deregulation—necessary deregulation that will not leave people worse off, like last year's sneaky measure that was introduced into the repeal day. It should be deregulation that does not leave cleaners, some of the lowest paid workers in the country, worse off and that does not leave single mothers who are trying to do the right thing by their children worse off. They are working hard, trying to keep food on the table, trying to keep their kids educated, and they are doing it on their own. Do not attack them on repeal days. Do not attack their wages. Do not attack their conditions. For God's sake, be fair to these people who are doing it tough. If you are going to have a repeal day, then please do not bore us with the so-called fanfare about it. But, most importantly, do not attack the lowest paid workers in this country in the process.

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