If you’re a legislator, you can easily become the victim of your tools, as in: ‘I legislate therefore I am’.

However regulation is often a failure of imagination, and a failure of curiosity. It produces blowbacks that can negate the whole point (think: Native Vegetation Act). And it requires a substantial and permanent investment in monitoring and compliance.

The Australian Government, bless its neoliberal soul, is pushing back: which might not be a bad thing.

A recent initiative, ironically, is to create a regulatory burden on regulators, called a Regulation Impact Statement (RIS).

I just read the guideline document, and I’m impressed. This is a valuable process and the guide should be compulsory reading for anyone contemplating regulation.

One smart step is to force agencies to prepare an RIS as their FIRST step towards regulation. Another smart aspect (to prevent this just being a tokenistic desk exercise) is to mandate stakeholder consultation – 2 big ticks!

Their definition of regulation is insightful, reminding us that practically EVERY form of community engagement carries compliance burdens:

Regulation may be defined as “Any rule endorsed by government where there is an expectation of compliance”.

Rules can take many forms, not all of them the ‘black-letter’ kind. Governments and public servants make rules every day and as a consequence impose sometimes unwelcome burdens on businesses, community organisations and individuals.

For example, when you design a form for customers to fill in, are you asking for information you already possess? When you set up a telephone call centre, do you really need such a long menu of service options? When you ask a grant recipient to acquit their funding, what do you actually do with the information you obtain? Do the benefits of having that information outweigh the cost of making the organisation provide it? [my emphasis]


I have so often wanted to ask funders those questions! It would be wonderful if they REALLY thought about them before designing their funding programs!