Recently, the Coalition
repeated for the zillionth time fleshed out their promise to boost productivity and reduce regulation with a whole bunch of what appears to be symbolic crap.
I was intrigued by Abbott’s claim that “Over the term of the Rudd-Gillard government…Labor has introduced 21,000 new regulations and repealed 105.” No methodology or source was provided for the claim, and to the best of my knowledge nobody except me has asked them for one (I asked Kelly O’Dwyer on Twitter for a clarification, but haven’t received one).
So I’ve gone looking for a measure of the rate of increase in federal government regulation, and noted that AustLii has a complete list of Commonwealth Numbered Regulations dating back to 1978 – essentially, each numbered regulation consists of a list of changes made to a particular regulation. Unfortunately for us IT geeks, they don’t do something sensible like keep regulations in a change tracking system, so I can’t easily track the evolving state of the regulation, or look at the relative rates of new material, substitutions, and deletions.
However, using my leet programming skills, I’ve downloaded everything dating back to 1983 and have done some analysis of the number, size, and textual complexity of the amendments. As such, it gives some sense of the growth of regulation over time, if a crude one. And, as Larvatus Prodeo is a blog, the presentation of such wouldn’t be complete without charts.
The first such chart simply shows how many “Numbered Regulations” were introduced in each year:
No explosion of regulatory amendments under Labor, it seems. In fact, and somewhat surprisingly, there seems to be a slow trending down of the number of regulation amendments.
The second chart is a graph of the length of the median Numbered Regulation introduced in a calendar year. I have chosen the median as the distribution of regulation size is skewed by a very few, very large regulations with massive tables, such as customs regulation with its huge duty classification tables, or the Medicare benefits tables:
There has been a gradual increase in regulation size over time, but, again, there seems like there’s no sign of a spike under Rudd-Gillard. Instead, there seems to have been above-trend increase post-2001 under Howard, which may have levelled off under Rudd-Gillard.
Finally, for what it’s worth, I calculated the median Flesch-Kincaid grade level for regulations over the years. Flesch-Kincaid is a (very rough) estimate of the readability of text based on word and sentence length. A higher grade level indicates that the document is more difficult to read.
Interestingly, there seems to have been a bit of a kick up in the last couple of years, but overall I think you’d struggle to find a meaningful trend there.
This has obviously been a very crude analysis. It doesn’t look at things like ATO rulings. It doesn’t even try to analyze the actual costs of the regulations imposed, which almost certainly don’t have a simple linear relationship with the rate of regulatory churn. However, what information it does provide is hardly consistent with an explosion of regulation under Rudd-Gillard, more a slow but steady growth in the amount of regulation over the last 20 years on which the party in power has had comparatively little influence, despite promises by both sides of politics to reduce it.
UPDATE: I have had a request to break the numbers in Figure 1 down by government. It turns out that there were 29 regulations gazetted by the Keating government in 1996, and 8 regulations gazetted under Rudd in 2007. Taking this into account (and allowing for a small discrepancy between Austlii and Comlaw which affects the graphs but not these calculations) the 11.725 years of Howard resulted in 4331 numbered regulations at a rate of 369.4 regulations/year, and 1641 regulations over the 5.6 years of the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd government at a rate of 292.9 regulations/year.