Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Julie Collins sit together during a vote to determine the second Deputy Speaker on Wednesday 10 October 2012. Photo: Andrew Meares

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Julie Collins. Photo: Andrew Meares

JULIE COLLINS used to sit in the slot where the government always placed a couple of young women MPs, preferably good-looking, behind the Prime Minister so that they are visible on TV during question time. This shows that Labor is the party committed to supporting young women. This year Collins has not been in the frame because she's been promoted to the ministry. But even there part of her job is still window-dressing. Except this time it is no longer harmless.

Collins is the Minister for Community Services, a real job, but also Minister for the Status of Women, a window dressing portfolio. It shouldn't exist, because supporting women should be woven into every portfolio.

The shortcomings of seeking relevance through gender grievance was captured in an interview Collins gave as part of Labor's campaign to portray opposition leader Tony Abbott as sexist:

Sky News: "Have you ever personally felt that Mr Abbott was discriminating against you because of your gender?"

Collins: "Well as the Minister for the Status of Women I haven't actually been asked a question by the opposition."

(Which is to be expected given the portfolio does not need to exist.)

Collins: "I can't say that there's personally been anything that Mr Abbott has directed towards me, no. But I think that everybody in the chamber really does need to show more respect to the Speaker [Anna Burke]."

Sky News: "[Burke] told Sky News today that she doesn't feel like she's being treated any differently by Mr Abbott just because she is a woman. Is this not just a distraction campaign from Labor?"

(That wasn't really a question but rather a statement of the obvious.)

Collins, as Minister for the Status of Women, is responsible for the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill 2012, which has just passed into law.

"This act is about supporting businesses to achieve cultural change," Collins said of the legislation, which is nonsense. The act is not even remotely about "supporting" business. it is another of the government's pieces of social engineering and ideological impositions which confirm that the Gillard government is hopeless and clueless when it comes to small business, the engine room of job-creation in Australia.

It is clueless to the point of hostile, as if employers have a bottomless well of time, energy and money to comply with bureaucratic micro-management by federal agencies.

As a government almost entirely made up of former union officials and political staffers, it has no intuitive empathy for business, small or large. Collins, who represents the region around Hobart, is a classic, having spent her entire career as a staffer for Labor politicians before entering Parliament in 2007.

She is now responsible for a new law which, from next April, will require any business with more than 100 employees to file reports on how many women it employs, how much female staff earn in relation to male staff, what flexible working arrangements are offered and how many employees avail themselves of flexible hours.

Yet another layer of red tape will thus be foisted onto business. This will be in addition to the more than a hundred new impositions imposed under the Fair Work Act. Any small business operator will now have to think hard about expanding beyond 100 workers and entering this brave new world of various compliance excesses.

The distinguishing characteristic of the Rudd/Gillard Labor governments has been a mania for control, with a spectacular increase in compliance obligations that wrap enterprises in red tape, green tape and black tape.

The result has been a measurable decline in Australia's relative position as a good place for business. One international indicator is the Doing Business report published annually by the World Bank and International Finance Corporation (accessible at www.doingbusiness.org). The last six reports show a clear downward trend in Australia's relative strength under Labor.

In the 2007 report, published during the final year of the Howard government, Australia ranked eighth among all economies for ease of doing business. Over the next five years there was slippage, with a drop to ninth in 2008, a rank which held in 2009 and 2010, another drop to 10th in 2011, then a sharp drop to 15th in 2012.

This is a radical fall, from eighth to 15th, over five years and the big problem area, no surprise, was red tape, with areas such as paying taxes, where Australia ranked 53 in 2012, or dealing with licences, ranked 42 in 2012, plus a poor ranking in protecting investors, at 65th.

The good news is that the 2013 Doing Business report projects Australia to bounce back to 10th (the reports can be revised). The bad news is there are now more than 8000 pages of federal legislation, with new impositions being added all the time, creating a social and economic burden with no relief in sight.

Twitter: @Paul_Sheehan_

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