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A look back on another challenging year for regulators

5 December 2021

News and media


Image of a meeting taking place in front of a Christmas tree

This guest editorial was written for the ANZSOG/National Regulators Community of practice monthly newsletter, highlighting new additions to the  Regulation Policy and Practice collection on APO. The RP&P collection brings together a range of practical resources from national, local and state/territory governments, regulatory agencies and external institutions conducting monitoring, inquiries and reviews. You can receive this newsletter by  joining the ANZSOG/National Regulators Community of Practice (membership is free) or  subscribe to the newsletter directly.

This special edition of the APO newsletter looks back on some of the diverse topics we covered in what was a very busy and challenging year for regulators as we began to shift towards some kind of ‘new normal’. We learnt about the difference between ‘red tape’ and ‘beige tape’, the potential of new technology to help regulators and different ways regulators are serving the public.

The NRCoP produced 10 guest-edited Regulation Policy & Practice Monthly newsletters with APO, which were widely read, with over 3656 individual downloads of our guest editorials. Read on as we look back over the fascinating topics we’ve covered during the course of 2021, or click here to catch up on all past editions of Regulation Policy & Practice Monthly.

Thanks to all of you for your involvement, and the helpful feedback that we have received during the year. It’s been an exhausting and challenging one, and we hope you get a chance to refresh and recharge yourselves over the break.

Below are summaries of, and links to, the editorials from our guest editors.

Arie Freiberg and Monica Pfeffer encouraged us to think about whether we considered ourselves as ‘regulators’ and why this was important. They advocated for adopting a ‘regulatory mindset’ to enable regulators to think differently about policy and program delivery and in order to access research and scholarship to support regulatory practice.

Eric Kimmel drew on the work of Professor Cary Coglianese to highlight the Canadian experience of implementing RegX at the Alberta Energy Regulator. Excellent regulators aim to consistently deliver their mandate in a way that leaves a positive legacy; act in a principled manner that appeals to a deeper set of public values; and seize opportunities to transform entire economic sectors. Kimmel advised that when undertaking the RegX journey, regulators should celebrate increments of success whilst embracing the lessons of the setbacks.

Eric Windholz illustrated a range of regulatory failures and successful lessons from the regulation of sport that were applicable to regulators across the board: lessons on how different regulatory tools can be combined to tackle complex matters; on how government regulators, business and community organisations can work together in partnership to achieve common goals; and on the need for regulation to be dynamic — to evolve with changes in the social, economic and competitive environment.

Jarrod Cowley-Grimmond explored regulatory capability and what makes a good regulator. He reminded us of the need to return to the objective of regulation and the need to use a diverse tool kit. In addition to acquiring a detailed technical understanding of the regulatory environment in which they operate, regulators also required tools to carry out their job and the necessary skills to be effective.

Adam Beaumont explored the crucial topic of ensuring regulatory schemes are fit for purpose. With much of the social and political focus on the administrative burden and the need to cut red tape, Beaumont discusses ‘beige tape’. Beige tape refers to ineffective regulatory implementation: how the regulator applies the law; how they work with their peers; the sharing of information; and whether they support their duty holders to comply. Beaumont advises that regulators ask of themselves a very simple question: what is the problem you are trying to solve? Good regulatory practice can, and should, get rid of beige tape, not least because it can undermine the importance and public value of regulation.

Alice Turnbull reported on the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA)’s adoption of a problem-centric approach to thorny compliance problems. For NOPSEMA this approach helped them breach the gap between community expectations regarding transparency of regulatory decision-making and industry’s practice in conducting consultation. As noted by Turnbull, the adoption of a problem-centric approach requires time, effort, leadership and a shift in mind-set. Parties must be able to pause ‘business as usual’ and adopt a strategy with multiple, complementary ways to address the problem, with a willingness to try new things.

John Hamill presented work from the Victorian Essential Service Commission (ESC) on their Getting to Fair strategy. The ESC committed to using their regulatory powers to protect vulnerable utility consumers. Community members and stakeholders were central to designing the strategy with the establishment of a deliberative community panel of 37 members, including the development of ‘consumer wellbeing’ definition to help guide the work.

Yee-Fui Ng from Monash University advocated for a strengthening of the regulation of political lobbying. Practical steps would include: expanding the regulatory net to require third party and in-house lobbyists to register; increasing the level of disclosure (there currently being little visibility of contact); and enhancing enforcement activities. Ng argues that if political lobbying is regulated properly, this will enhance political equality, improve fairness of government policy-making, increase transparency in the disclosure of lobbying activities, and promote the democratic norms of political equality and fairness.

Anne Lenz discussed how Brisbane City Council (BCC) were making use of regulatory technology in the field. Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning and Predictive Analytics were not intended to replace well-trained compliance or regulatory officers. Rather, BCC utilised these technologies to support their officers to do their job more effectively and in a safer way. The technology plays a supporting role, allowing BCC people to apply their skills to more valuable activities. According to Lenz, the future will be led by organisations that equip their people with the best tools

Emily Sanders discussed the use of regulatory standards within the Victorian child safety environment. She reminded us of the need to remain closely connected with the problem being solved, not losing sight of our regulatory objective, not disconnecting with the evidence base, and keeping the harm to be minimised front and centre in our approach. For Sanders, “when the mission is clear and the regulator is committed, standards can be a powerful tool to generate positive outcomes for our community”.

Writing content for the APO newsletter is a good way to improve your profile with your peers, share information about your areas of interest, and extend your network with people interested in similar topics and challenges meaning you can often learn from that. It doesn’t take long, and shared learning is the best!

Anne Lenz, Compliance and Regulatory Services, Brisbane City Council

The APO regulation policy and practice newsletter is essential reading for all public officials involved in regulatory design and implementation. It provides a snapshot of key issues across regulation in Australia. It also provides a mechanism for regulators to share their experience and for us all to learn from each and improve our effectiveness as regulators in Australian and New Zealand. We are all on a journey to improve our craft and the APO newsletter, along with the NRCoP is a great way of developing out skills, learning from others, and also building a professional community of regulators.

Jarrod Cowley-Grimmond, Executive Director, Queensland Government

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