Business Environment Conservation
Hoggett, Jim, Review - Institute of Public Affairs
ONE of the regular penpherals' or election campaigns featured again in 2004. The major parties both recognized the need for a strong business sector for the continuing vitality of the Australian economy-particularly small business. But unlike the natural environment, which is subject to endless agonizing scrutiny, the business environment receives scant attention.
Although the economic news is currently good, it is an excellent time to review the broader business environment.
So what is the environment that governments have created for business in Australia? What is the environment they have created for those starting out on the risky path of new business? What lurks behind all the official programmes designed to advise and assist those brave or foolish enough to enter the competitive race?
A hard look at the facts leaves one abiding impression: that governments in Australia are both actively and passively hostile to business.
THE TECHNIQUES OF OPPRESSION
Over recent decades, governments have adopted and adapted a series of techniques to oppress business. Some of the techniques are deliberate and others are the outcome of policies designed for other purposes. The techniques include:
* Overt and hidden taxes;
* Mandated expenditures;
* Mandated activity;
* Resource and property confiscation; and
* Impossibly detailed and/or discriminatory regulation.
The examples are numerous.
The GST is the classic new tax that was designed to substitute for other taxes. But apart from a few, it has not done much either at the Commonwealth or the State level.
The superannuation levy is a tax under another name. For companies, it is a compulsory payment (tax) made to private-sector tax 'farmers' (superannuation funds). For most retirees it will do little more than substitute for the public pension. The supreme irony was that, having set up this new levy, the government then introduced new taxes on super. They forced people to save for the future then confiscated a significant part of those savings.
The various workcover schemes fall into the same category, as do compulsory insurances for public and product liability. Do we really need $20 million of public and product liability insurance to set up a market stall?
Mandated expenditures are a cunning way of financing government policies while keeping the cost out of the public budget. An example is the compulsory courses which farmers must attend and pay for to certify them to use agricultural chemicals-something they have been doing for many decades by reading the instructions on the package. The courses are provided by third parties and thus never appear as government impositions. Various supplementary compulsory trades certificates for plumbers, builders, etc., are in the same category.
Mandated activities usually come in the form of 1If you want to do A, you must do B'. So, if you want to put up a building, you may have to provide facilities in it that are unrelated to your business. Or, if you want to clear 20 trees, you may have to plant 200. A company exerting this sort of leverage would be accused of third line forcing (blackmail) under s.47 of the Trade Practices Act.
Confiscation of property and resources without appeal or compensation now appears principally as environmental legislation. Green is the new red. Native vegetation and fauna protection laws are designed to lock up private land and resources by forbidding activity over large areas of rural Australia without compensation. The Queensland Vegetation Management Act is just one egregious example.
The list of over-complex, unadministrable and discriminatory legislation is endless and grows every day. Any business, small or large, could present instant examples.
The environmental legislation mentioned above is a prime example. …