The public policy making process in Australia is adrift, notwithstanding regular affirmations by governments at all levels to an evidence and consultation-based approach. Accepted good policy making criteria are well known but an analysis of 18 recent major policies has shown that too few adequately satisfy the standards we should expect. While these case studies of policies relate to the national level, anecdotal evidence suggests the situation is similar at state or local government levels. Nor do we recall previous federal governments committing to and then adhering to a well-defined process when making policy.
This paper advocates that public policy making adopt a ‘business case’ approach. By a ‘business case’ approach we mean establishing the facts and known views about a situation, identifying the alternative policy options, weighing up their pros and cons (either quantitatively or qualitatively depending on whether the policy is ‘hard’ or ‘soft’), sharing those findings with the public and getting its reaction, after which finalising a policy position to put before Parliament or to promulgate by regulation. The use of Green and White policy papers is critical to such an approach yet is used sparingly in Australia even though it pays huge political dividends by giving those affected an opportunity to help shape the outcome of policy and thereby have ownership of it. Green papers float proposals for public feedback whereas White papers outline the final form that policy will take before it’s reviewed as legislation.