Minerals industry priorities for regulatory reform

A period of wide-ranging microeconomic reform beginning in the 1980s delivered significant improvements in Australia’s policy and regulatory environment. However, industry confidence in Australia’s regulatory performance has declined in the last decade as regulatory burdens have grown and processes have degraded. Through this period there has been no shortage of commitments by governments in Australia to “deregulation”, “best practice regulation”, a “seamless national economy” and “cutting red tape”. Ambitious goals have been set. Yet the regulatory burden on industry has continued to grow, with governments much more effective at increasing the stock of regulation than reducing it. The gap between rhetoric and reality has widened to a chasm in recent years, with negative consequences for productivity and Australia’s international competitiveness.

Between December 2007 and May 2013, some 874 new Acts were passed by the Commonwealth Parliament, while 297 were repealed – a net increase of 577 Acts. There were 18,341 new Commonwealth legislative instruments introduced over this period, while 9,294 were repealed – a net increase of 9,047 instruments. Examples of Commonwealth backsliding on regulation – where best practice principles and good process were discarded – include:

  • Fair Work Act – where new measures have increased trade union power and privileges in workplaces, despite unions representing only 13 per cent of the private sector workforce, and reduced the flexibility of the labour market. Tellingly, both the original Fair Work Act 2009 and subsequent amendments were exempted by government from any regulatory impact analysis.
  • Coastal Trading Act – where an onerous licensing regime for coastal shipping was introduced, one that protects domestic shipowners at the expense of end users, including export industries.
  • Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act – where a sector-specific “water trigger” was inserted into Federal environmental legislation, duplicating existing State regulatory processes for water planning and access. This measure was also exempted from Commonwealth regulatory impact analysis.

The Australian minerals industry welcomes the Abbott Government’s commitment to regulatory reform, including to a year-on-year process aimed at removing unnecessary regulation. Enduring success requires a willingness to tackle regulatory impediments that have greatest impact on business costs and economic growth, a commitment to reform across multiple levels of government in Australia and deep cultural change in the way regulations are thought about and made.

Sustained, high-level focus across government is needed to improve Australia’s regulatory environment. Greater benchmarking of Australia’s policy and regulatory settings against those of other nations would aid the reform process. 

Download complete article