David Cameron says that he wants his to be the first Government in modern history to finish a term with less regulation than when it began. A noble aim – but getting rid of unnecessary, expensive, complex and counterproductive rules has always proved a struggle for governments in Britain, despite occasional good intentions.
Tony Abbott, the Australian Prime Minister, has hit on a way of making it happen. Today, 29 October, is Red Tape Repeal Day in Canberra. During the course of the day, Australian MPs will scrap almost one thousand regulations and pieces of legislation covering finance, tax, health, education, the environment, social services and telecommunications.
The changes themselves seem unspectacular (though some of them make you wonder at bureaucracies’ talent for pointless interfering) – company directors will no longer have to hold an AGM at the request of a hundred voting members; university researchers will no longer have to conduct staff hours surveys to measure how they balance their activities; a new government web portal will be established to streamline separate existing services; retiring defence personnel will be exempt from completing a separate 100-point (!) identification check to make a claim with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs – but, taken together, they are expected to save individuals, businesses and not-for-profits over £1.1 billion.
On the first Red Tape Repeal Day, in March this year, 50,000 pages of rules were removed – including nearly 10,000 separate regulations and a thousand Acts of Parliament. The Abbott government has pledged two parliamentary days a year to further deregulation.
Of course, Mr Abbott and his colleagues do not have the inconvenience of coalition partners to contend with, or a steady supply of new rules from Brussels. But if an administration is serious about cutting red tape, this could be the way to do it. An idea for the manifesto?