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Reducing Red Tape in the public service 1: committees and the Senate


Undertaken by former senior public servant Barbara Belcher, the Independent Review of Whole-of-Government Internal Regulation is also known as the Belcher Red Tape review. Made public on 5 November 2015, the review’s recommendations are arranged by 22 key areas of public service operation, including Budget and Cabinet processes, procurement, and all aspects of corporate services. Volume 1 of the review’s report lists the 134 recommendations; Volume 2 is more substantial because it also outlines the shortcomings of existing circumstances, and includes the reasoning for the recommendations—in some cases, this additional information is essential to an understanding of a recommendation.

The Secretaries Board is reported to have accepted all of the report’s recommendations, but full implementation of some recommendations will require consideration by a parliamentary committee or the Senate.

For example, several recommendations relate to the content of entity annual reports and, more broadly, the tabling of government publications—these recommendations will require consideration by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit and the Joint Committee on Publications (JCP). Proposed measures include the streamlining of entity reporting in relation to annual reports and planning/reporting requirements through the re-focusing of annual reports and the removal of unnecessary detail (recommendation 11.1); the use of AusTender for consultancy contract reporting instead of annual reports (11.2); and a review of planning and reporting requirements (11.3). Notably, recommendation 12.2 calls for the scoping of a system for centralised electronic tabling of government documents (excluding legislation documents for the moment), and the reduction or removal of requirements for the printing of hard copies, including the requirement for printing in B5 format. Recommendation 12.2 is flagged by the review as one of 31 recommendationslikely to yield the greatest reduction in regulation.’

Several recommendations aim to enable the Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works (PWC) to focus on ‘higher risk and higher value proposals with more significant public impact.’ Issues here include: whether the threshold for projects to be referred to the PWC could be increased (recommendation 6.4); whether fit-outs need to be included in the scope of the PWC’s consideration (6.5); and whether project risk could be incorporated into the criteria for referral of projects (6.5).

The review notes that procedural orders of continuing effect issued by the Senate have recurrent mandatory obligations for public servants, and that eleven of these orders are directed towards the production of documents. The review observes that entities are more accountable to the Parliament and the public than they were in previous decades. Consequently, recommendation 13.1 proposes a process to seek the Senate’s agreement to review existing orders of continuing effect at the end of each Parliament, and to repeal Senate Order 12 (which implements the ‘Harradine motion,’ an order that requires entities to provide an indexed list of titles and parts of files created over the preceding six months on their website twice each calendar year). Similarly, recommendation 4.4 proposes the development of a proposal to seek amendment of Senate Orders 13 (Murray motion) and 16 (Minchin motion) after the Department of Finance has developed a centralised web-based system (grants.gov.au) that all non-corporate Commonwealth entities will be required to use when it is fully operational by 2017. Recommendations 8.5 and 8.6 propose online, continuously updated reporting on contracts, grants, consultancies and appointments, and enabling users to analyse the data and generate reports, together with a corresponding amendment of Senate Order 15 to reduce the obligation of hard copy tabling of that information.

These recommendations (4.4, 8.5, 8.6 and 13.1) are also among the review’s 31 recommendationslikely to yield the greatest reduction in regulation.’ A separate FlagPost discusses recommendations likely to require legislative amendments.

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