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Issue #1633      April 2, 2014

Editorial

“Death of Democracy Day”

Wednesday March 26 was the Abbott government’s first red tape “repeal day”. The government presented Parliament with more than 9,500 regulations and 1,000 Acts of Parliament for repeal in one stroke of the pen. One day was set aside for the House of Representatives to read, analyse and debate the proposed repeals. Hidden amongst the 50,000 pages of paperwork are important laws and regulations that seek to protect workers, consumers, democratic rights, the environment, out cities, culture, multiculturalism and much more. What is referred to as “deregulation” is in fact the removal of important protections.

“They are rushing through the Parliament legislation that has so many components to it the real detail is hidden from the people. What we do know is there are bitter pills to swallow amongst it,” Greens Senator Christine Milne said. With Labor also opposing the legislation, it has no hope of getting through the Senate before July, if at all.

We are told they are being repealed to liberate people and business from bureaucracy and red tape. We are supposed to believe the so-called “red tape” is a “tax on prosperity”. Amongst the 9,500 regulations there are probably many that are dated or not relevant to a modern society. Of course those should be repealed. The government has been quick to ridicule a few of the more archaic pieces. Although they could hardly be more outdated than dames and knights!

But what about the rest of them? What is the government hiding from Parliament and the people. Bit by bit, some of the details are surfacing.

The major banks are very excited about the repeal of provisions that require financial advisers to be bound to act in a client’s “best interest”. Restrictions on giving conflicted advice, such as recommending investment in their employer’s products and gaining a commission from their employer would be lifted.

The government is using the “red tape” shield to cover up measures that will further reduce its accountability and undermine democratic rights. For example, it wants to abolish the independent monitor of Australia’s terrorism laws. The appointment of the monitor was seen as necessary because of the draconian nature of these laws. They undermine democratic rights such as the right to a fair trial, to the presence of a lawyer, presumption of innocence and the right to remain silent. They gave ASIO the power to detain in secret for up to a week people who were not even suspected of a crime, but might have useful information. (See Guardian, “Terror laws: End them, don’t amend them”, #1094, 05-06-2002)

Bret Walker SC, the current independent monitor, in his annual reports to Parliament, has pointed out that some of these laws play no useful role in preventing terrorism and undermine democratic values. His advice to repeal some of them has not been heeded. Instead, his position is being abolished!

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will no longer be required to investigate all consumer complaints – another gift to right-wing media commentator Andrew Bolt and Murdoch media outlets. This is described as “lightening ACMA’s workload”. The government is also legislating to liberate the likes of Bolt and the media from section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, so that bigots and the extreme right are free to foster hatred along racial and religious lines without fear of prosecution – a very useful tool for the ruling class to create divisions within the working class. But, just in case anyone still complained, ACMA will be able to ignore their complaints.

Developers, contractors and other companies will be freed from red and green tape. Regulations that attempt to set standards for aged and child care may be thrown out or considerably weakened to make it easier and cheaper for providers to expand their operations. The spin doctors have been very busy crafting Abbott’s lines: “cutting paper work”, “streamlining requirements”, “exemptions from yearly reporting”, etc.

There are, however, a number of laws and regulations that should be repealed that are not on the hit list. For example, the unemployed, single parents, carers, disability pensioners, low income families, and other welfare recipients will still have to complete mountains of paperwork, turn up for endless and pointless interviews, chase non-existent jobs and so on. The many layers of government and private sector bureaucracy which only hurt the most disadvantaged are set to get worse. “Australia is open for business” as Abbott has declared. And this is for business, not for the people.

Next article – WA public sector workers stand firm

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