Prime Minister Scott Morrison has reinforced his intention to remove “regulatory and bureaucratic barriers” that increase costs for companies, closely guided by common complaints about government agencies from business people.
The PM told the Western Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry he believed “the much-needed animal spirits in our economy” were being held back by regulations like environmental protection laws as well as public service regulatory processes, in a speech on Monday.
Following up his victorious address to Australian Public Service leaders asking them to help the government reduce “congestion” in their departments, Morrison said he was building on the policy of “cutting red tape” and light-touch regulation that began under his predecessor Tony Abbott.
“Removing what governments identify as excessive or outdated regulation is one thing. Whether we are really focusing on the barriers that matter to business in getting investments and projects off the ground is another,” the PM said.
Morrison has assigned responsibility for the Coalition’s return to red tape to his assistant minister Ben Morton and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who was also Abbott’s red-tape lieutenant. There would be “a renewed focus on regulatory reform but from a different angle” so public servants would look at the regulatory experience from the perspective of particular kinds of investment or business.
“Rather than setting targets for departments or government agencies, we’ll be asking the wider question from the perspective of a business looking, say, to open a mine, commercialise a new biomedical innovation, or even start a home-based, family business,” the PM said.
“By focusing on regulation from the viewpoint of business, we will identify the regulations and bureaucratic processes that impose the largest costs on key sectors of the economy and the biggest hurdles to letting those investments flow.”
He repeated his previous criticism of the WA Environmental Protection Agency for its implementation of new greenhouse gas regulations for major projects, which also drew the state government’s ire, and said some federal regulators were also unnecessarily impeding investors in similar ways.
Another local example for the WA business people was the increase in regulatory requirements for mining in the state, over a timeframe of over half a century to exaggerate the point.
Morrison noted that in the mid-1960s, “the late Sir Arvi Parbo took the Kambalda nickel mine near Kalgoorlie from discovery to operation in 18 months” while the Roy Hill iron ore mine in Port Hedland had required “around 4,000 approvals” and took about 10 years to get running.
“There is a clear need to improve approvals timeframes and reduce regulatory costs, but in many cases regulators are making things worse,” the PM said. “Look at the WA Environment Protection Authority and the uncertainty it has created over new emissions requirements for the resources sector. Business will also make valid criticisms of many Commonwealth agencies and departments.”
Later, a medical analogy served to explain the new plan to remove and reduce federal regulations. Speaking to the business group, Morrison focused almost entirely on the costs to business and made no attempt to defend the importance of government regulations in general, given they create level playing fields and aim to protect the community, or the fact that business rightly wears the cost of compliance.
“Step one is to get a picture of the regulatory anatomies that apply to key sectoral investments. Step two is to identify the blockages. Step three is to remove them, like cholesterol in the arteries.”
Morrison inspired by Trump’s small-government policies
While Donald Trump’s performance in government is not universally considered inspirational by leaders of other nations, Morrison appears to find plenty to admire in the Republican President’s small-government policies.
He enthused that while he also wanted to cut taxes, like the US President, “it was actually the Trump administration’s commitment to cutting red tape and transforming the regulatory mindset of the bureaucracy that delivered their first wave of improvement in their economy” in his view.
“You can be assured I have begun this term by making it clear to our public service chiefs that I am expecting a new mindset when it comes to getting investments off the drawing board,” he added.
In a segue to the Coalition’s industrial relations policy, Morrison confirmed that unions are the one type of organisation he would like to subject to a greater regulatory burden.
According to the PM, his government now “believes in cooperative workplaces” and Christian Porter will be looking for “impediments to shared gains for employers and employees” in his new capacity as Industrial Relations Minister.