The assistant minister to the prime minister and cabinet wants the Australian Public Service to shift its culture by taking a stewardship approach to deregulation.
In an address on the government’s deregulation agenda on Friday, Ben Morton said a new regulator performance role would be established within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to drive that cultural change, as well as increase accountability, promote best practice, and build professionalism of regulators.
Morton noted that while regulators across the government face a number of common issues, the approach to setting expectations for regulators has been inconsistent.
With its new regulator performance role, PM&C will work with ministers and their agencies to “lift and lock in regulator performance across the board”. Morton said this would promote more systematic expectation setting, reporting, and monitoring, fostering a culture of “regulator excellence” across the commonwealth.
“This isn’t about being a ‘regulator of regulators’ … It is about better coordination and data sharing, more rational and ultimately effective, risk based compliance monitoring, and footprint mapping with a view to possible streamlining,” he said.
“It’s about measuring, benchmarking and evaluating regulator performance, and streamlining and consolidating performance reporting at a whole-of-government level … It’s also about providing forums for regulators to learn and share best practice, including new or agile regulatory approaches, developing approaches for professional development.”
PM&C will also lead a training pilot with the Australian Public Service Commission and the Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment to lift the performance of agricultural export regulators and to lay the foundation for regulator upskilling and training across government.
In August 2019, the prime minister tasked Morton with “revitalising” the regulatory reform and deregulation agenda through the establishment of a Deregulation Taskforce within the Treasury.
Morton said the Deregulation Taskforce has now moved from the Treasury to PM&C, so it is “co-located with and tightly integrated to the rest of our whole-of-government deregulatory machinery”.
Through the upcoming budget, the Deregulation Taskforce will receive additional funding to allow it to continue and in an expanded capacity. Following the budget, taskforce head Mark Cully will depart his role and Jason McDonald will take the lead.
Taking a stewardship approach
A process has been established through the Secretaries Board allowing government to take a stewardship approach to “regulatory excellence”, with secretaries reporting to Scott Morrison and Morton every six months on progress with deregulation and deregulation opportunities.
Morton said he wants APS leaders to “drive their own deregulation buses within their portfolios” by removing unnecessary regulation, streamlining regulatory processes across jurisdictions, and driving the “harmonisation” of regulation between different parts of the commonwealth and between the commonwealth and other domestic and international jurisdictions.
“When we’ve achieved this cultural change, we’ll know our ‘stewardship’ approach has really taken root,” he said.
He noted the combination of a stewardship approach, PM&C’s new role in lifting regulator performance, and the complementary work with the APSC would together improve regulator culture and client focus.
“While less immediately tangible, I feel it’s this measure which has the potential to deliver the most in the medium to longer term,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Secretaries Board, the Deregulation Taskforce, the national cabinet and the Council on Federal Financial Relations would act as “the vehicles which ministers and their agencies can use to streamline their stock of regulation”, and the Office of Best Practice Regulation would ensure “their flow of regulation is lightest touch”.
“The levers and the architecture we’ve established and we’re establishing at the centre of government can help departments and agencies bring a whole-of-government and coordinated approach to deregulation … This lean, but multifaceted architecture will make it easier for business, while fulfilling community expectations of providing proper safeguards,” he said.