When Ben Morton was asked to lead the Morrison Government’s deregulation
agenda, his first reaction was ‘oh no, here we go again’.
Such cynicism is understandable. After all, successive federal governments
have spruiked the benefits of cutting regulatory red tape and yet the
layers of legislation keep growing. Eighteen months later, however, the
Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister & Cabinet is an enthusiastic
backer of deregulation and is charging ahead with plans to help unleash the
‘animal spirits’ in the economy.
A confidant to Scott Morrison – and tipped for possible promotion in the
looming ministerial reshuffle – Mr Morton is charged with modernising
business communications, cutting the compliance burden, and removing costly
duplication between layers of government.
During a widespread interview, he insists everything is on the table: from
streamlining bank lending practices to removing archaic paper-based
compliance systems, and reforms that he hopes will save business $100
million in transaction costs by 2030.
He also wants Australia to be a global leader in areas such as Regtech and
believes the Morrison Government and the States can work on tackling
deregulation in a new spirit of “cooperative federalism” through National
Not afraid to speak his mind, Mr Morton admits “there’s nothing worse than
when deregulation agendas rise and fall”.
The reform agenda, he insists, is “like painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge:
your work is never done”.
Even though Australia’s business community has been battered by COVID-19 in
2020, the Government has been heartened by the response from business to
the deregulation agenda. Financial services, the big banks and the
insurance sector have been particularly supportive when asked to contribute
“Normally, the sentiment is like ‘I’m from the Government and I am here to
help’ but it was the opposite (earlier this year) when we needed the
regulators and industry to work together,” he said. “And we saw, with some
of those decisions, that it was a Team Australia moment. And we are going
to need many more Team Australia moments if we are to get ourselves out of
the economic consequences of coronavirus.”
So, has COVID-19 accelerated the use of technology in tackling deregulation
Yes, it has, with Mr Morton referring to several examples, such as the
introduction of virtual AGMs and even allowing for virtual inspections of
And it’s not just big business being targeted by the Government’s
deregulation agenda. In the October Budget, the Government announced a
$11.4 million Regtech Commercialisation Initiative which aims to
streamline Government administration and simplify regulatory compliance.
“What this initiative will allow us to do is to identify some challenges,
[and] SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) are invited to apply to
compete for grants [which would go towards solutions to these challenges] …
where we would fund up to $100,000 for up to five Feasibility Study Grants
and two Proof of Concept Grants of up to $1 million,” he said.
The program will be managed by the Minister for Industry, Science and
Technology Karen Andrews, with Mr Morton promising there will be more to
say about developing “Regtech solutions to regulatory compliance issues”.
And while the deregulation agenda doesn’t usually generate front page
headlines or excite robust parliamentary debates, Mr Morton says Australia
has an opportunity to embrace world’s best practice in the area of Regtech
- and even generate new export markets.
“Our job is to identify under this initiative the problems and then ask the
entrepreneurs, the data scientists, the experts to compete in relation to
what that solution may be,” he said.
Australia, he added, can be at the cutting edge of technology adoption: “It
is absolutely part of our deregulation agenda to ensure that we use those
opportunities to develop and adopt technology that will actually improve
the protections that we are seeking and at the same time reduce the
compliance burden on business,” he adds.
In the October Budget, the Government announced a series of deregulation
initiatives that highlight the huge modernisation task ahead. This includes
working with business to reduce by 50,000 hours every year the level of
reporting to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
Mr Morton cites another area where he’s pushing to cut red tape – the
Therapeutic Goods Administration. The TGA regulates medicines and vaccines
by the thousands but the bureaucratic process is cumbersome and, in some
Says the Assistant Minister: “We are going to fund a process for the TGA to
digitise their systems. It will make the application process quicker.”
But it will also speed up the process to report adverse reactions to
medicines, as he explains: “Currently, if a business has to report an
adverse reaction to a medicine, the TGA has to receive that in a PDF form
or via the fax machine, or post. The TGA then has to data entry that into
their systems and they then have to produce a receipt number. That receipt
number has to be sent to the person who submitted the form and that
business must record that receipt number in their system.”
Why, asks Mr Morton, can’t the TGA develop direct-entry systems that allows
that reporting to occur in a timely way?
“It is very clearly possible that our deregulation agenda can lead to
better reporting of adverse reactions to drugs that will allow the
Government to better look after the health of all Australians,” he says.
These sound like straightforward and sensible reforms and Mr Morton insists
it will be good for the economy and not lead to some scorched earth
“I don’t want to be partisan on this but there is a campaign from the Left
that this deregulation agenda is scary and evil. But this is an efficiency
agenda - this is not about everyone running wild. It’s about making it
easier for businesses to do business, to reduce the costs and the time of
getting things done.”
Other reforms being pursued by the Government sound almost like a plot from
Monty Python. For instance, Mr Morton is fond of talking about a honey
producer in Tasmania who if they wish to apply for an export certificate
has to fill out a form, then print it and have it couriered or emailed to
the local Department of Agriculture office. That local office will then
print the export certificate on special paper using one of only eleven
printers able to do this in Australia.
“For the Tasmanian honey producer, their closest agricultural department is
in Tullamarine, Melbourne,” Mr Morton says, incredulously, adding: “There
is a whole industry involved in the couriering of these certificates from
where they are printed to where the shipment is being dispatched from. And
then, when the shipment arrives overseas some time later, the certificate
is more valuable than the original shipment because it can be used for
counterfeit goods, time and time again.”
All of this sounds sensible and feasible and Mr Morton insists there is an
appetite within the Commonwealth Government to have a fair dinkum shot at
removing red tape.
“You do need leadership from the senior levels,” he says, insisting that
the Prime Minister is the Deregulator-in-Chief and has made it very clear
that this reform agenda is key to Australia’s economic revival.
“There is a big pipeline of things that we can do here. Every day is a day