The hidden cost of Australian nanny-state ‘do-good’ legislation is out of control – and you’re paying for it. Only the tiny tip of a giant iceberg is represented by the estimated half a million dollars reported to have been reluctantly forked out (much of it through legalised blackmail administered by the Professor Triggs-led Australian Human Rights Commission) by businesses and even impecunious university students to complainants under 18C. The ‘professional victim industry’, whose existence has been fostered by government incentives involving a raft of wide-ranging, well-meaning but incompetent ‘feel-good’ legislation, runs into billions of dollars a year. Canberra tells us how many multi-millions of taxpayers’ dollars go to running the 150-odd governmental regulatory bodies housing these official rip-off scams, and there are multi-billion dollar estimates of private sector costs of compliance with governmental regulations (Deloitte says $250 billion a year). But we’re not told how much money Australians are forced to pay out every year to claimants under these governmental protection rackets or the costs of fighting frivolous legal actions derived from misguided legislation in areas like the environment and industrial relations. Having to pay ‘go-away’ money to dissident employees, to people who feel racially or religiously offended, sexually harassed, or unfairly dismissed or downgraded, is now a common cost of doing business in Australia, particularly for small businesses that, no matter how aggrieved they may be, simply cannot afford the legal costs involved in fighting a damages case under this jungle of regulations. For many individuals and corporations, the public ignominy involved in being accused of racism or a sexual offence is a major incentive to come to the private settlement that the governmental regulator involved, effectively acting on behalf of the complainant, will be only too happy to encourage you to do. Then, in the annual report of the AHRC, for example, will be the self-congratulatory note that of the 2,013 complaints received last year (even before Soutphommasane began his public touting for business over Leak’s cartoon) 94 per cent were resolved to the satisfaction of the parties. But the key is in the 1,308 that ended up in the conciliation process, where 989 (76 per cent) were ‘successfully resolved’, with no mention of how much money was extracted from defendants in order to avoid publicity. This government-sponsored protection racket must stop. And the AHRC’s demonstrably unacceptable handling of recent 18C matters underlines the fact that the existence of a defence under 18D simply has the disgraceful effect of reversing the onus of proof onto the defendant once the AHRC decides (without first having to even hear the defendant’s side) to take up the complainant’s case. Clearly, 18C as administered by Triggs is an abomination, no matter how well-intentioned.
On top of the expensive ‘hurt feelings industry’, there is the multi-million dollar cost of government-assisted anti-business activism. In what has now become an increasing threat to Australia’s competitive position in a globalised economy, businesses face the expense of the many absurd, unsuccessful and frivolously obstructive (and generally taxpayer-funded through the government’s ‘do-gooder’ agencies and taxpaper-subsidised NGOs) legal actions against official approvals of a wide range of developments of vital benefit to our economy. As Josh Frydenberg recently outlined, these were aimed at stopping developments, not seeking to improve their environmental impact. Since s. 487 of the Howard-era Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act was passed, only one of the 43 third party challenges to government development approvals has ultimately been successful (a 98 per cent failure rate). But they successfully delayed, adding multi-million in costs, or caused the cancellation of economically significant projects. The IPA puts this ‘lawfare’ cost at up to $1.2 billion. And as the BCA says, these costs are ultimately borne by the community. The Productivity Commission is due next year to examine the impact on compliance costs of the Abbott-initiated attack on governmental red tape; it should extend this to look at the cost impact of government-sponsored extortion. There are better ways of spending our money.