22/04/2014 - 15:57

ERA report just the start

22/04/2014 - 15:57

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The reform agenda mapped out last week by the Economic Regulation Authority should become former treasurer Troy Buswell’s greatest legacy to the state.

ERA report just the start
DUE CREDIT: Former treasurer Troy Buswell deserves praise for giving the ERA the freedom to prosecute wide-ranging economic reform. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The reform agenda mapped out last week by the Economic Regulation Authority should become former treasurer Troy Buswell’s greatest legacy to the state.

When Troy Buswell commissioned the Economic Regulation Authority to undertake a wide ranging inquiry into micro-economic reform, the announcement passed without fanfare.

Most people didn’t notice the announcement, in mid 2013, and those who did were not sure what to make of it.

The process was opened up to all comers when ERA chairman Lyndon Rowe publicly asked the question: what should we look into?

Was that a sign of inclusive consultation, or that Mr Rowe didn’t know what to do with his open-ended brief?

Judging by the 356-page report released last week, the boffins in the ERA have seized the day – as much as they can.

The fate of their 31 draft recommendations will rest initially with treasurer Mike Nahan, whose public discourse often seems to reveal a man wrestling with the tension between his past life as a free market think tank director and the ‘realpolitik’ of his current job.

The latter is personified by his boss, premier Colin Barnett, who has never been a great champion of free market reform.

That means he is unlikely to embrace the proposals advocated by the ERA but that is not the end of the story.

Reform advocates need to take a long view on policy making, and have the stamina to keep on pushing for change.

The reforms introduced in recent years to retail trading hours, for instance, did not come easy, but now they are widely embraced by the WA community.

The ERA has given added momentum to the push for more profound reform, saying the state should go further.

Similarly, liquor licencing is another area where reform was difficult but has undoubtedly delivered enormous benefits to the WA community.

A recent review of liquor licencing chaired by John Atkins was disappointing for those who favour more liberal policy settings, but that just illustrates the challenge facing reformers.

The reforms laid out by the ERA turn concepts like productivity and efficiency into tangible policy responses.

Not surprisingly, vested interests have quickly jumped in to have their say.

Potato growers, for instance, remain opposed to the removal of arcane statutory marketing arrangements for their industry.

So-called independent supermarket operators, which currently benefit from extended trading hours, opposed changes that would give their big competitors the same freedoms.

The DomGas alliance remains opposed to changes to the domestic gas reservation policy.

The taxi industry, the Royalties for Regions scheme and traffic congestion charges for vehicles entering the CBD during peak periods are other contentious subjects tackled by the ERA.

It has also tackled land tax and payroll tax, advocating changes that would broaden the base but enable lower rates less exemptions.

Some of its proposals seem like no-brainers to the general public – like subjecting election commitments to rigorous evaluation before they can be included in the state budget.

The state government’s proposed airport rail link would never have made it into the budget if that policy had applied.

A strengthening of the current regulatory impact assessment process, to make it harder for politicians to grant exemptions, is another sensible reform proposal.

The ERA has to be commended for bringing together such an ambitious package in brisk time.

Mr Buswell also deserves praise for giving the ERA the freedom to prosecute wide-ranging economic reform.

Let’s hope the report helps to build business and community support for further positive change.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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