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Too much red tape

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Some wonder how anyone gets any real work done...

BUSINESSES are spending up to four hours and $200 each work day untangling government red tape.

Workers and consumers are paying the price, businesses claim, as the cost of compliance whittles away wages and makes production more expensive.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry's new "red tape" survey of 870 businesses has found that one in four had to provide identical information to different agencies.

Half complained they had to comply with regulations which government agencies did not even bother enforcing.

And one in seven businesses took more than 50 hours to prepare their last tax return.

The Tax Office, local councils and Fair Work Australia were rated as the worst "red tape" culprits, followed closely by safety regulators and Centrelink.

Nearly half of businesses spent more than $10,000 a year complying with government regulations, and a quarter spent up to $50,000 - roughly $200 each work day.

One in 10 spent more than 20 hours a week - or four hours a day - complying with regulations ranging from planning, tax, and industrial relations to consumer and health laws.

Chamber chief executive Peter Anderson said the cost of compliance meant employers had less money to employ extra staff or award pay rises.

Business wanted government agencies to make their rules clearer, and forms shorter and simpler to fill in.

Often businesses had to provide exactly the same information to federal, state and local government agencies.

"Governments should be passing information to each other," Mr Anderson said.

"There are many bureaucratic requirements, such as hazard identification schedules where the forms sit in a folder in the office - just in case an inspector comes in one day.

"That's just box-ticking compliance that doesn't improve the safety outcomes."

Kids' clothing designer and importer Shane Pepper, who owns the Plum Babywear brand, said tax, import and safety regulations created the most red tape.

"For tax, keeping records for seven years is a lot of paperwork to have to keep in case you get audited," he said.

"Compliance is not cheap, and at the end of the day it does cost the consumer because we can't just absorb it."

Safe Work Australia yesterday revealed that state workplace safety authorities issued 57,611 safety notices to Australian businesses, resulting in fines totalling $15.5m, during 2010/11.

Workers' compensation schemes paid out $5.8bn in payments and medical expenses for injured workers during the year.

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