Government's deregulation boast dented by booklet claims

The Abbott government's proud boast of delivering a new era of deregulation by scrapping red tape and requiring cabinet submissions to contain Regulation Impact Statements, has been dented by claims that a key booklet unveiled this week has lifted major aspects of one released by the previous Labor government.

The opposition has found significant tracts of the Abbott government's new anti-red-tape "guide to regulation" booklet are similar to a document it published in July 2013 less than a year ago.

Among the obvious crossovers is its centrepiece mandatory seven-point series of questions to be answered by bureaucrats when proposing new programs and completing accompanying "RIS statements".

The government's first two questions are (1) "What is the problem you are trying to solve," and (2) "Why is government action needed?

This compares with the previous government's requirement that departments identify: (a) "the problem or issues that give rise to the need for action" and (b) "the desired objectives".

No.6 says: "What is the best option from those you have considered?" This is the same basic meaning as the penultimate point in Labor's seven-point series which calls for: "a recommended option".

Similarly, the Coalition's final point reads "How will you implement and evaluate your chosen option?" compared to Labor's requirement for "a strategy to implement and review the preferred option".

The government's choice of a numbering system appears in place of Labor's alphabetical list but that appears to be one of the bigger changes on a point-by-point comparison.

There are numerous other places where the policy is substantially similar – although there are also some differences.

However the revelation that government bureaucrats have toiled away for months only to come up with modified versions of existing procedures, is not, presumably, the image that an action-oriented government was hoping to convey.

It comes as the government prepares to introduce on Wednesday legislation knocking out 10,000 pieces of law and regulation seen as putting onerous compliance requirements on business and citizens.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott will tell the parliament that by cutting red tape, individuals and communities would have more control of their lives.

“More regulation is not the solution to every corporate, community or personal failing. When someone in authority gets it wrong, the best outcome might be a salutary resignation rather than more regulation," he said.

Under the government's plan, every cabinet submission will be subject to a regulatory impact statement designed to identify its potential impact on business, the community and households.

“All Commonwealth government portfolios now have a dedicated deregulation unit, formed from existing staff, because it's sometimes more important to repeal old laws than to pass new ones," Mr Abbott will tell the parliament.

“Each Cabinet Minister is expected to consult widely before finalising new policy because the first law of government should be: do no harm."

With James Massola

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