As we look to 2021 to be a better year than 2020, perhaps one of the shocks of Covid-19 has been how quickly our freedoms and liberty have been crushed under the weight of health dictates. It’s been done for our own good—that is, to keep us all safe from a silent, unseen enemy killer.
With luck, we will emerge from the Covid crisis this year with freedoms being returned. One fear, however, is that once governments, whether of left or right persuasion, taste the seductive power of authoritarianism, they become addictively hooked. There’s nothing some bureaucrats love more than the scent of their own power first thing in the morning.
That’s why at Self-Employed Australia we were pleased to receive an invitation from the office of Prime Minister and Cabinet to make comment on a regulation review it is undertaking. The review is looking at the expectations of regulators, their reporting and so on. In other words, the Prime Minister is reviewing how regulators should be held accountable. That’s a positive thing.
In our January submission to PM&C we’ve said that instructions to regulators from Parliament should be clear and transparent. We’ve said:
Our recommendation to the PM&C review is to keep firmly in mind that the community needs clear “road signs” in all regulatory matters. There should be a simple question asked of all regulations, namely:
- Does the regulation provide clear and practical sign posts that can be understood by the community and the regulator in their day-to-day application?
That is, regulators should not be in a position where they can apply their own view of unclear laws to the extent that the regulator effectively become a law-maker ‘on the run’.
We cite the example of the Australian Taxation Office, which all too often is in a position where it effectively ‘creates’ law because unclear legislation enables them to do so. We’ve promoted our ATO reform program as a pathway to fixing the this problem. Here’s our explanatory video.
As Covid recedes (we hope), the balance between health authoritarianism and democracy should be a topic for longer term review. That is, in times of health crisis, are and should health bureaucrats be held accountable under rule-of-law principles?