The Coalition government has put major infrastructure projects at the centre of a new deregulation agenda amid calls to bring forward spending on road, port and rail projects to boost economic growth.
Streamlining state and federal approval and licence regimes for major infrastructure projects — along with tearing up rules that inhibit the nation’s food manufactures, and making it easier for sole traders to hire — would be the focus of the Morrison government’s new deregulation “taskforce”.
Deregulation Minister Ben Morton has used a speech in Canberra to launch the latest wave in the Coalition’s deregulation agenda. “We want to unleash the animal spirits, which excessive regulation is currently impeding,” he said.
Mr Morton said the taskforce would conduct “deep dives into priority areas … on a rolling basis”, prioritising infrastructure, small business and food exporters in the first wave of proposals.
He said the government had a “solid track record of delivering red-tape savings”. “Between September 2013 and December 2016, the Coalition’s ‘Cutting Red Tape’ initiative resulted in $5.8 billion reported as red-tape savings,” he said.
Sluggish growth and declining investment have fuelled calls, including from the Reserve Bank governor and Master Builders Association, for more and earlier infrastructure spending.
On the verge of the first federal budget surplus in more than a decade, the government has resisted, pointing to $100bn over 10 years from this year in transport infrastructure.
“Employing someone can be daunting, with many steps, including fulfilling legal obligations, salary, tax and superannuation and workers’ compensation obligations. The government is committed to helping sole-traders and microbusinesses spend more time growing their business and less time navigating bureaucracy,” Mr Morton said.
The taskforce will focus on infrastructure projects that have national or state significance due to their size, economic value or other potential benefits.
“Such projects are planned, or under way, in every state and territory and have the potential to create many thousands of jobs during construction and contribute to long-term improvements in productivity and economic growth for the benefit of all Australians,” Mr Morton said.
Governments have dramatically accelerated spending on infrastructure, commencing more than $123bn of work since 2015, with a committed forward pipeline of more than $200bn, according to government figures.
The announcement also follows the release of research by the Institute of Public Affairs showing the number of restrictions in federal laws and regulations had increased almost 50-fold since 1975.
“The number of regulatory restrictions in laws and regulations — instances of ‘shall’, ‘must’, ‘may not’, ‘should’, ‘required’, and ‘prohibited’ — has leapt from 2000 in the late 1970s to 95,000 in 2015,” the IPA said in August, on the basis of joint research conducted with the US-based Mercatus Centre.
Mr Morton said the taskforce would “also investigate opportunities to adopt technological … solutions which make it easier for businesses to cost-effectively navigate and comply with regulatory requirements”.