The federal government has made much today of its commitment to deregulation, unveiling a little brown book of deregulatory advice for bureaucrats and talking about the good things that await Parliament next Wednesday on “Repeal Day”.

What the government would never admit is that the primary impetus for regulation comes from politicians, not bureaucrats, in response to industry and voter demands. The government’s new “Guide to Regulation” should actually be compulsory reading for ministers as much as for public servants. Of course, once the government decides regulation is required to look after the interests of its friends — such as Attorney-General George Brandis’ threat to force internet service providers to enforce restrictions demanded by the copyright industry — all this hoopla about less regulation will be conveniently forgotten.

If the government wants to demonstrate that it genuinely believes its own deregulatory rhetoric, let’s see less regulation of the internet — currently Australia bans gambling and even discussing certain topics online. Let’s see less regulation of broadcasting, so sports rights holders can sell broadcast rights to whomever is willing to pay the most. Let’s see less regulation of that absurd protectionist furphy — “dumping” — an end to car tariffs for both new and imported vehicles, and an end to the pharmacy lobby’s medicine monopoly. Let’s see less uncertainty and bureaucratic process around foreign investment approvals. Let’s see the removal of aviation protectionism. Let’s have an end to the nonsense of dictating that same-sex couples can’t marry.

Otherwise, it’ll be hard to see this government as any different to previous governments, for whom deregulation was only ever about making life easier for its supporters, rather than for consumers and competition.

Peter Fray

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