Political parties should agree on best practice policy process, research shows

By Shannon Jenkins

Tuesday November 19, 2019

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Two think tanks with conflicting political beliefs have joined up to point out the value of evidence-based policymaking, and the current lack of good decision-making processes when it comes to public policy development in government.

Commissioned by the newDemocracy Foundation, ideologically opposed think tanks the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), and Per Capita Australia independently scored 20 federal and state government policies based on whether they had been developed using a best practice process.

Scored out of 10, none of the policies examined were rated as having an “excellent process”. Four case studies got a “sound” score of 8 or 8.5, while eight policies rated below 5. Of the 200 marks used to score each of the 20 policies, the think tanks agreed on 153, suggesting that policies can and should be well made, regardless of political stance.

Per Capita Australia executive director Emma Dawson noted the analysis from both think tanks showed all levels of government need to improve their policy development.

“While ideological values and principles must always guide the direction of government, this project shows that following a rigorous and consultative process is critical to the effective development and implementation of policies to serve the public interest.”

Read more: Ten ways to optimise evidence-based policy

The IPA and Per Capita agreed the policies closest to best-practice decision-making processes were the Federal National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Act 2018, the Victorian Environment Protection Amendment Bill 2019 (single-use plastic bags ban), and the Queensland Termination of Pregnancy Act 2018 (legalisation of abortion). The policies with the poorest marks were the Federal Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material Act 2019, and the Federal Promoting Sustainable Welfare Act 2018, which failed to tick more than two or three attributes of a good policy process. 

Three federal policies (Tax Relief So Working Australians Keep More Of Their Money Act 2019, Assistance and Access Act 2018, Promoting Sustainable Welfare Act 2018), and four state policies (Victorian Fire Services Reform Act 2019, NSW Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Amendment Act 2018, NSW Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Amendment Act 2018, Queensland Final Environmental Approval for Adani Mine), also rated poorly.

The research project’s steering committee, including the former secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Professor Peter Shergold, and former NSW Treasury secretary Percy Allan called on the Coalition and Labor governments to publicly commit to evidence-based policymaking processes.

Allan argued that the public has little trust in government decision making, giving the major parties another reason to take note of the project findings.

“Winning back trust especially on contentious legislative issues requires capturing the full facts about a problem, weighing up alternative solutions and seeking public input on the best way forward before a final decision is taken,” he said. “When politicians follow that path they regain public trust, when they don’t they lose credibility.”

IPA director John Roskam said federal and state governments have failed to undertake best practice policymaking and have often been motivated by short-term political gain.

“This failure is undermining the quality of public policy and is having a detrimental impact on faith in public institutions,” he said.

“Good process does not guarantee good policy — but bad process has a much higher chance of producing lower quality, uninformed, and harmful policy outcomes.”

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