Excessive and outdated regulation will continue to burden the Australian public service unless department secretaries address a risk averse culture.
An independent audit of red tape across the entire public service has found departments are burdened by inaccessible and inefficient regulation, confusing staff and delaying outcomes.
The report, commissioned by the board of APS secretaries, made 134 recommendations and called for departments to lead cultural change, overhaul vetting processes and support electronic tabling in parliament.
The report, prepared by former senior public servant Barbara Belcher, found many regulations were inappropriate and inefficiently administered.
The findings were delivered to department secretaries in September and all 134 recommendations have been accepted.
"Over the coming months we will start to see regulation that is better targeted, more effective, and ultimately uses less of our scarce resources," Department of Finance secretary Jane Halton said..
"This will allow us to be better focussed on delivering services for the community. The review will help us to test future regulation against a set of principles, to avoid the future occurrence of red tape."
Ms Belcher found the level and volume of regulation in the public service had increased in recent years, despite commitments to streamline services.
"There appears to be a regulatory stance characterised by a default to regulation as a policy lever and an absence of a proportional approach to regulation," she said.
"The review heard complaints of high-handed and ill-informed requests, with no attempt to make their purpose clear or to feedback useful information.
"Information was also sometimes sought well beyond the time it was genuinely required."
The report found a risk averse culture was a common cause of needless regulation and was hurting staff morale.
"Risk aversion in the form of internal regulation often resulting from overreaction or detrimental reaction to minor mistakes or embarrassment," the report said.
"Of the 18 capability reviews conducted between August 2012 and July 2014, 13 identified significant levels of risk aversion and centralised decision-making at senior levels, which restricted innovation and was detrimental to staff morale."
Ms Halton said many key departments had already accepted the report's warnings and were working to initiate change.
"The four main regulating entities, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Attorney-General's Department, Australian Public Service Commission and the Department of Finance have already made a good start on progressing some of these," she said.
The report also found data collection and compliance reporting often involved duplication and were a waste of staff resources.
"The nature, frequency and volume of data collection and compliance-focused reporting is not only growing, but is often not done efficiently or effectively," the report said.
"Too often an external reporting requirement is imposed on all entities when alternative approaches to ensuring compliance with a policy could be considered."
Regulation has had the greatest impact on smaller agencies who are limited in resources.
"The burden is felt particularly in corporate areas, where one person might be responsible for a significant proportion of compliance and reporting obligations," the report said.
"Staff turnover in such situations leaves a small entity with little corporate knowledge."
Ms Belcher recommended all future regulation be proportionate to risks, coherent across government and periodically reviewed.
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