‘Good policy processes result in better outcomes’: Think tanks rate decision-making processes behind 20 government policies

By Shannon Jenkins

Tuesday November 24, 2020


New research conducted by two ideologically opposed think tanks has shown that it is possible for evidence-based policy making in government to be separate from politics, with the think tanks praising the processes behind the Queensland government’s Personalised Transport Ombudsman and the commonwealth’s My Health Record.

The independent research involved the right-leaning Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and the left-leaning Per Capita Australia jointly selecting 20 federal and state government policies.

The think tanks then separately tested the cases against 10 attributes of good decision-making, as identified by professor of public administration Kenneth Wiltshire. Their scores were based on whether the legislated policies had been well formulated, as opposed to whether they were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ policies.

However, Wiltshire noted that “good policy processes result in better outcomes than decisions made without a strong evidence base and close consultation with stakeholders”.

An improvement since last year’s analysis, nine cases received solid scores (between 7 and 9.5), nine received mediocre scores (between 5 and 6.5), and two received unacceptable scores (below 5.0).

The think tanks agreed that the policy which came closest to an ideal decision-making process was the Queensland government’s Personalised Transport Ombudsman, which, when appointed, will deal with the taxi and rideshare industry. The case scored 9.5, and was closely followed by the commonwealth’s My Health Record, which scored 9.

The cases with the lowest scores were the federal government’s repeal of the medevac law and the Victorian government’s free TAFE provisions, which scored 3.0 and 3.5 respectively.

Read more: Percy Allan: process, not policy is where the left and right can agree

Despite being philosophically opposed, the organisations gave the same or a similar score in 16 of the 20 case studies.

IPA director John Roskam and Per Capita executive director Emma Dawson agreed that policy processes should be based on sound evidence.

“Too often policy in Australia is based on short-term interests, decided on the run, and lacks a credible evidence base which leads to poorly designed, ineffective, and costly implementation,” Roskam noted.

“These principles will be even more important as we grapple with the task of rebuilding our society in the months and years ahead, which will require significant and far-reaching policy decisions to reset our economy,” Dawson added.

The research, now in its third year, was commissioned by the newDemocracy Foundation and funded by the Susan McKinnon Foundation. Its steering committee includes prominent figures such as former Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Professor Peter Shergold, Public Purpose principal Martin Stewart-Weeks, former NSW education minister Verity Firth, and former NSW Treasury secretary Professor Percy Allan.

Allan, as committee chair, said politicians should take note of the findings if they want to restore credibility with an “increasingly jaded” electorate.

“Governments repeatedly get into trouble because of a faulty decision-making process. To avoid that trap they should adopt good policy making steps as proposed by the Wiltshire criteria. That would ensure real evidence and consultation-based policies to win the public’s trust,” he said.

“Good process leads to good policy which in turn makes for good politics. That’s clear from the 60 case studies we have now completed over the last three years.”

Firth said the research has shown evidence-based decision-making in government is something that can and should be above politics.

“This project is particularly relevant in a year when Australians are watching the American government’s response to the COVID crisis and the hyper-partisanship of the US election,” she said.

“In addition, the pandemic response in Australia proves the effectiveness of a well organised and well-funded public sector and the public trust that flows from that.”

Read more: In praise of proper public policy process: if professional pundits can agree, can’t we all?

See the full list of policies and their scores below.

Excellent Process

  • Queensland, Personalised Transport Ombudsman, 9.5
  • Federal, My Health Record, 9.0

Sound Process

  • Federal, Client Rights to Bank Data, 8.5

Acceptable Process

  • Federal, JobKeeper, 7.5
  • Federal, COVIDSafe, 7.5
  • Victoria, Gender Equality Bill, 7.5
  • NSW, Abortion Law Reform, 7.0
  • Victoria, Wage Theft Bill, 7.0
  • Queensland, Child Death Review Bill, 7.0

Mediocre Process

  • Victoria, Invoking of Emergency Powers, 6.5
  • Federal, Funding Childcare, 6.0
  • NSW, Invoking of Emergency Powers, 6.0
  • NSW, Music Festivals Bill, 6.0
  • NSW, Right to Farm Bill, 6.0
  • Queensland, Invoking of Emergency Powers, 6.0
  • Queensland, Police Discipline Reform Bill, 5.5
  • Federal, Early Release of Superannuation, 5.5
  • Federal, HomeBuilder Grant, 5.0

Unacceptable Process

  • Victoria, Free TAFE Provisions, 3.5
  • Federal, Repeal of Medevac Bill, 3.0

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