The independent Review of Whole-of-Government Internal Regulation (Belcher Red Tape Review)

The independent Review of Whole-of-Government Internal Regulation (Belcher Red Tape Review) was commissioned by the Secretaries Board in March 2015. The review objectives were to:

  • identify regulations that can be ceased or modified
  • assess the need for, and impact of, regulations against a set of common principles
  • recommend minimum levels of regulation required for entities to meet the needs of government and the public, and
  • assess the culture of departments and selected entities with regards to the creation and removal of self-imposed requirements; identify characteristics and examples of good culture and practice, and make recommendations for structural and cultural improvements.

The Belcher Red Tape Review, independently conducted by former senior public servant Ms Barbara Belcher, contains 134 recommendations. The report was presented to the Secretaries Committee on Transformation and Secretaries Board in September and October 2015. The Secretaries agreed to implement all recommendations, noting that some require consideration by Government.

The implementation of red tape reduction reforms is already underway and complements existing reform work in Finance including the Contestability Programme, and Public Management Reform Agenda.

Report and related information

  • Review terms of reference Word Version  | PDF Version 
  • The report of the Belcher Red Tape Review
  • Principles for Internal Regulation: long form
  • Implications for corporate Commonwealth entities
  • Short guide to improving the usefulness, clarity and accessibility of guidance and policy documents  Word Version  | PDF Version 
  • Media release
  • Information on internal red tape reduction across the Australian Public Service, a blog, tips on how to get started in cutting internal red tape in your entity, share your stories and a cross-APS network of contacts:

Key findings

The review identified opportunities to remove internal red tape across whole-of-government and entities, to facilitate public sector agility and enhance collaboration and innovation.

Ms Belcher noted four whole-of-government themes, which emerged in the course of the Review, including:

  • over regulation
  • inefficient regulation
  • unclear and inaccessible regulations and guidance, and
  • a culture of risk aversion.

Addressing these areas provides the opportunity to improve public sector agility and culture. To ensure these benefits are maintained the Review’s primary recommendation is to develop all regulation, within and across entities, against five Principles for Internal Regulation.

These require regulation to be:

  • the minimum needed to achieve whole-of-government or entity outcomes
  • proportional to the risks to be managed and supportive of a risk-based approach
  • coherent across government and not duplicative
  • designed in consultation with stakeholders for clarity and simplicity in application, and
  • reviewed periodically to test relevance and impact.

Greatest reductions in regulation

The Review noted that recommendations likely to yield the greatest reduction in regulation are those that propose:

  • removing requirements for baseline security clearances for ongoing staff, relying instead on basic employment screening (21.5)
  • reducing unnecessary and duplicated information collection processes, compliance certification, evaluations of external law firms under the Legal Services Directions and the Harradine motion for reporting on file titles (4.4, 8.4, 8.5, 13.1)
  • reducing duplicated work by moving to online, continuously updated reporting on contracts, grants, consultancies and appointments, and enabling users to analyse the data and generate reports (8.5, 8.6)
  • reducing printing and design costs by moving to electronic tabling in Parliament, and reducing requirements for government documents that continue to be tabled in Parliament in hard copy (12.2)
  • streamlining investment and assurance processes to focus on higher risk projects and removing processes that encourage a ‘check-a-box’ mentality (3.1-3.9)
  • streamlining and reducing property, fraud and financial reporting requirements, with particular emphasis on benefits to small entities (2.3, 2.6, 6.2, 10.2)
  • better targeting of ICT benchmarking to focus on heavy users of ICT, and gathering minimal data from lighter ICT users (7.8)
  • clarifying mandatory requirements and better practice suggestions in guidance (1.5-1.9, 2.5, 22), and
  • encouraging the creation of sample templates, processes, contracts and guidelines for lower and higher risk activities and functions, particularly for internal processes for procurement and human resources (1.5, 5 generally,11.2, 22).

Actions for entities

Portfolio secretaries agreed to a set of actions to be implemented within entities in response to the review. These are to:

  • assess current and future internal regulation with the Principles for Internal Regulation (1.1)
  • review data collection exercises, and planning and reporting requirements to consolidate duplicate data collection and ‘collect once, use many times’ (1.3)
  • actively assist portfolio entities to meet regulatory requirements (for portfolio departments)  (1.13)
  • maximise responsibility of SES Band 1 and 2s to make strategic corporate decisions (1.14)
  • review delegations and give greater responsibility to junior levels where possible, including to EL and APS officers (1.15)
  • establish an acceptable level of risk to encourage innovation (1.16)
  • reduce internal systems and processes for Austender notification (5.5)
  • provide portfolio departments with access to the Central Budget Management System to reduce duplication in monthly expenditure reporting (10.1)
  • support the implementation of electronic tabling (12.2)
  • introduce electronic distribution systems for Cabinet documents as a priority (14.3)
  • examine FOI practices to ensure they impose the least burdensome mechanism and consider actively publishing information to decrease FOI requests (17.1)
  • implementing fit-for-purpose HR policies and practices in consultation with the APSC (22.2)
  • review internal performance management systems (22.5)
  • promote informal consultation as the first step in dispute resolution processes (22.7)
  • review recruitment processes to ensure they are not unnecessarily burdensome, (22.9) building on new guidance to be produced by the APSC (22.8).

Application to small entities

Significant benefits are expected for small entities from reduced internal regulation.

In addition to the proportionate, risk-based approach inherent in the principles for internal regulation, specific recommendations relevant to small entities include:

  • Regulators considering whether regulatory requirements could be further tiered to reflect the size of an entity where policy outcomes and risk considerations allow.
  • For example, Finance is to consider whether the material/non material classification could be further utilised in the conduct of the Budget process to reduce the burden on those smaller entities whose contribution would not affect whole-of-government outcomes (1.12 and 2.6).
  • Portfolio departments are also taking an active role to assist small entities to meet regulatory requirements (1.13).

Principles for Internal Regulation: long form

The Belcher Red Tape Review recommends internal regulation, either set by the centre or self-imposed, should be:

The minimum needed to achieve policy (or entity) outcomes

  • Regulation should be created only where, in comparison to other options, it is justified by an analysis of the burden to be imposed against the benefits for policy outcomes or entity performance.
  • Regulation should not be the default option when problems arise. Mandatory requirements should be introduced only where policy failure cannot be dealt with through: better implementation of existing regulation; capability improvement and good practice guidance; self-assessment combined with internal or external audit, and incentive based approaches.
  • Regulation should be principles-based where possible to enable entities to determine the most efficient and appropriate way to respond given their objectives and operating environments.
  • Regulation should be fit for purpose and not apply equally across entities if policy outcomes can be achieved through application only to key entities without undue consequences for the policy framework.
  • In particular, the cumulative compliance burden imposed on small and micro entities should be considered as part of the balance between benefits and cost.

Proportional to the risks to be managed and supportive of a risk-based approach

  • A regulatory approach must recognise the diversity of the Commonwealth in terms of entity role, size and purpose. The Commonwealth is made up of entities ranging from the Department of Defence (95,222 ASL) and the Department of Human Services (30,461 ASL) which manage a widespread portfolio of responsibilities, through to tiny entities such as the National Competition Council (1 ASL) and the Office of the Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (7 ASL) which are responsible for narrow, but specialised functions.[1] The variety of roles and governance structures such entities require creates complexity within the current approach to regulation. A one size approach, or even two sizes, may not be sufficient.
  • Regulators should be willing to adjust their stance to the capacity, maturity, materiality and non-compliance risk of entities. To do otherwise imposes unnecessary costs on both the regulated entity and the regulator.
  • Regulation should promote a culture that identifies relevant risks and mitigations, and accepts residual risk where eliminating risk would impose prohibitive costs or processes.

Coherent across government and not duplicative

  • Regulation should not conflict with, or overlap with, other regulatory requirements.
  • Reporting should be based on the principle of “collect once, use many times” - regulators should seek to rely on or adjust existing reporting requirements rather than imposing new ones.
  • Regulation should be internally consistent and align with other policies in the related area, including the content and timing of requirements.
  • Regulation and guidance documents should be readily accessible.
  • Regulators should consider how digital technology and web-based information accessibility can reduce compliance burden and decrease requests for information.
  • In developing and implementing any differential or risk-based regulatory approaches, the reasons for differences should be clearly articulated and understood by regulators and entities.

Designed in consultation with stakeholders for clarity and simplicity in application

  • Regulators should consult in a genuine and timely way to ensure they have a full appreciation of stakeholder issues.
  • Regulators should communicate the clear connection between the regulation design and desired policy outcomes.
  • Regulators should communicate how information provided through reports is used and the value it adds.
  • As far as possible, regulation should be designed to satisfy internal as well as external reporting and management requirements, including by aligning timing.
  • Regulation should be designed and implemented with common sense, empathy and respect.
  • Regulatory and guidance documents should be streamlined to reduce the burden of reading and to distil mandatory requirements. Regulators should focus on clarity and consistency in language (such as avoiding use of ‘must’ statements when suggesting better practice).

Reviewed periodically to test relevance and impact

  • Regulators should build in periodic review to assess:
    • the continuing need for regulation;
    • the costs and benefits of the regulatory option chosen in comparison to other options and whether it continues to be the minimum necessary; and
    • the efficiency and effectiveness of the entity’s administration of the regulation.
  • The reviews should be considered by relevant decision-makers and made available to those regulated.

[1] Budget Paper No.4 2015-16

Implications for corporate Commonwealth entities

Some Belcher Red Tape Review recommendations extends to corporate Commonwealth entities. These should be considered, as appropriate, in reviewing the entities governance processes and in identifying opportunities to reduce internal regulation for their entity. In particular entities should consider the cultural barriers that may prevent the implementation of sound internal regulation.

Recommendations relevant to Commonwealth entities

Corporate Commonwealth entities will want to assess whether there are issues in their portfolio to address and consider ways of ensuring best practice is embedded in their agency. The relevant Belcher review recommendations are:

  • applying the Principles of Internal Regulation to guide the development and assessment of internal regulation (1.1).
  • devolving decision making and acceptance of risk through application of the APS framework for optimal management structures, including review of delegations and maximising the opportunities for SES Band 1 and 2s to be responsible for strategic corporate decision-making (1.12, 1.14, 1.15, 1.16).
  • Finance working with entities to explore opportunities to streamline entity acquittal and reporting processes (4.2).
  • for Entities who apply the Commonwealth Procurement Rules, reviewing AusTender notification systems and processes to ensure appropriate approval and correct data entry with the minimum necessary process (5.5).
  • should entities wish to remove the need to report separately to Finance and to their portfolio department as part of whole-of-government monthly expenditure performance reporting, consider requesting Finance to provide to their portfolio departments view access to their information on the Central Budget Management System (10.1).
  • Entities:
    • examine their freedom of information (FOI) practices to ensure they impose the least burdensome mechanisms for responding to FOI requests; and
    • consider more active publication of information to decrease FOI requests (17.1).
    • reviewing human resource performance management system (including performance management, recruitment and dispute resolution) and evaluating whether alternatives would offer better value in improving performance for both the entity and the employee (22.5, 22.7, 22.9).

The Review’s recommendations are directed predominantly at Finance, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Australian Public Service Commission, and the Attorney-General’s Department. Questions relating to specific recommendations should be addressed to the entity detailed in each recommendation.

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