Good morning and thank you very much, Jeremy.
Firstly, can I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the Land and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
It is a pleasure to be opening the inaugural Regulatory Reform Conference and to see so many who are committed to this important agenda.
The Coalition has always prioritised eliminating unnecessary regulation and making it easier for businesses to invest, create jobs and boost the economy.
The goal being to get better outcomes and more output for the same or less effort in an effort to boost productivity.
And I have had first‑hand experience cutting red tape. During my time as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister back in 2013‑14 with responsibility for deregulation.
Our efforts at that time reduced annual red tape costs by over $2 billion, spread across more than 500 deregulatory initiatives.
Today our Deregulation Agenda is led ably by my colleague the Hon Ben Morton, the Special Minister of State, Minister for the Public Service and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
I want to acknowledge his hard work and success in progressing the Government’s regulatory reform agenda and leading our Deregulation Taskforce.
In opening this conference today, I would like to provide an update on Australia’s economic recovery; the Government’s ongoing commitment to cutting red tape; and how the Government’s COVID‑19 response has supercharged regulatory reform.
Two years ago, COVID‑19 triggered the worst global health and economic shock in many generations.
The Government acted swiftly and decisively to save lives and livelihoods.
We put together a plan to keep Australians safe, businesses afloat and people connected to their jobs.
We committed a total of $314 billion in direct economic support for households and businesses.
We introduced JobKeeper – the largest fiscal and labour market program in Australia’s history – and saved more than 700,000 jobs.
When the Delta variant hit, we provided $12.9 billion to more than 2.3 million Australians who lost hours of work due to lockdowns and jointly committed approximately $14.7 billion in business support payments with the states.
While tragically many Australian lives have been lost to COVID, our health outcomes stand in stark contrast to other economies.
Our vaccination rate is among the highest of OECD countries and our mortality rate is among the lowest.
And as the Omicron peak passes, I am confident we will again see the economy surge ahead.
Our economic recovery has exceeded all expectations.
It’s been faster, stronger and more sustained than anybody predicted, including the Treasury and the Reserve Bank.
As I said in a speech last week, Treasury analysis shows that over 1 million workers started new jobs in the three months to November 2021.
By December our unemployment rate had fallen to 4.2 per cent – the lowest in 13 years – and is on a path to a 50‑year low.
And deregulation played an important role in the outcome and our policy response during the crisis facilitated this shift.
Deregulation agenda in the pandemic
Indeed, the pandemic has highlighted both the urgency and renewed importance of the Government’s regulatory reform agenda.
Early in the pandemic the Government introduced temporary relief measures to ensure businesses could continue to operate and meet regulatory obligations.
We gave businesses breathing space with measures like temporary relief from insolvent trading and higher thresholds for bankruptcy proceedings.
We expanded access to ten small business tax concessions for small to medium businesses by lifting the aggregated annual turnover threshold from $10 million to $50 million, providing tax relief and reducing red tape for businesses.
We also made it easier for companies to use technology to communicate with government, regulators and customers, to hold meetings, execute documents and distribute meeting‑related materials.
Within the Treasury portfolio, ASIC and other Council of Financial Regulator agencies helped the financial system to continue to operate effectively with a range of temporary relief measures including:
- relief from requirements relating to the provision of financial advice
- extended reporting deadlines for listed and unlisted entities
- relief from requirements to assist listed companies to raise capital
- reforms to continuous disclosure requirements were made permanent.
In addition, APRA provided concessional capital and reporting treatment to banks who offered loan repayment deferrals to their customers.
Regulators also deferred some of their policy and supervision agenda to enable institutions to focus resources on their operations.
Deregulation agenda in the economic recovery
While deregulation has aided our economy’s transition through COVID‑19, it continues to be a key part of our economic recovery plan.
The Government has now made permanent much of the regulatory relief we put in place for businesses at the height of the pandemic.
Indeed, the Corporations Amendment (Meetings and Documents) Bill 2021 was passed by Parliament last week. This will save around one million businesses around $450m in red tape each year. It will do this by:
- allowing companies to execute agreements and deeds using electronic signatures;
- allowing companies, including ASX‑listed companies, to hold general meetings of their members using virtual technology; and
- allowing members to elect to receive shareholder communications in hardcopy or electronically.
Building on the Meetings and Documents Bill, we are also modernising a range of Treasury laws to enable technology‑neutral communication between businesses, individuals and regulators.
The first tranche of these reforms, which we intend to introduce to Parliament this week, will save these businesses around another $50m in red tape each year. It will do this by further expanding the universe of documents that companies can sign and send electronically to include, for example, documents sent by bidders to shareholders during a takeover and documents sent by lenders to borrowers under the Credit Act.
We are also working in partnership with state and territory Treasurers and Attorneys‑General to make equivalent changes to their laws so other types of businesses, including trusts and partnerships, can sign and send documents with increased flexibility and efficiency.
Over 4.5 million deeds and more than 3.8 million statutory declarations are completed in Australia each year by small and medium enterprises and consumers.
This adds around 6 and 9 million hours respectively to printing, filling out, signing and physically witnessing their execution.
Treasury is also examining the regulatory framework to make it easier to recognise trusted overseas standards for consumer goods, and to allow business to comply with the most up‑to‑date standards recognised in Australian Law.
Tens of thousands of businesses will benefit from these reforms, lowering costs and reducing their regulatory burden.
Consumers will also benefit from having a wider range of products available at lower prices, while maintaining consumer safety.
Additionally, the Government committed over $150 million in the 2021‑22 Budget and MYEFO to reduce the regulatory burden for businesses interacting with government, saving on average around $440 million in annual compliance costs.
We have also made important changes in partnership with our state and territory counterparts.
In June 2021, National Cabinet agreed that deregulation should be a key priority to support economic recovery, with a deregulation agenda to be progressed by federal, state and territory Treasurers.
I am pleased to say that this has seen the creation of a uniform scheme for automatic mutual recognition of occupational licences. This is expected to directly benefit over 168,000 workers each year, particularly those living in border regions. This scheme is also expected to boost the economy by $2.4 billion over ten years.
Some of these were reforms that had been in the too hard basket for more than 20 years.
COVID has been a catalyst for change.
It has accelerated the uptake of digital technology.
Thousands of businesses moved online and digitised parts of their operations.
And our policy response during the crisis facilitated this shift.
Our task now is to lock in those gains. That is exactly what our regulatory reforms are doing.
I have no doubt your discussions over the next two days will result in many new deregulation initiatives being identified. I wish you all the very best for the remainder of your conference.