Last week the first national study into the impacts of local government regulation on business — to be carried out by the Productivity Commission — was announced. The study is expected to do three things:
- Identify the nature and extent of local government's regulatory responsibilities (including the extent to which local governments implement and enforce national and state/territory policies), where these responsibilities are likely to impose material costs on business, and significant variations in the distribution of these responsibilities between jurisdictions;
- Develop indicators and use them to assess whether different regulatory responsibilities, and the way these responsibilities are exercised, have a material effect on the costs of local government regulation on business; and
- Identify best practice local government regulatory approaches that have the capacity to reduce unnecessary costs incurred by business, while sustaining good regulatory outcomes.
Senator Nick Sherry says, rather optimistically to my mind, that "By identifying best practice regulation, this study will help spread effective and innovative regulatory practices among local government and shape future reform initiatives in this area."
All well and good. The terms of reference state that a report is to be completed within 12 months, so we won’t be sitting around too long waiting for it, which is good news. What I have a problem with is the assumption that identifying ‘best practice’ regulation will necessarily help spread effective regulatory practices.
How is this actually going to work? What will the ‘future reform initiatives’ look like? Are councils going to be told that they have to adopt a certain set of practices as identified by the study? Will these practices be enforced? Anyone who has dealt with local government bodies knows that many of them aren’t exactly champing at the bit to change the way they do things.
I look forward to seeing the results of the study; even more, I look forward to finding out how they’re actually going to translate the information into useful reforms.