After one wrong move, it would be illegal to import e-cigarettes without a prescription, meaning that, for most Australians, it would be impossible to vape from 1 October.
The wrong move tells us a lot about how the Australian government works behind the scenes – much of it for good.
In the middle of last year, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced plans to ban the import of e-cigarettes and refills containing nicotine without a prescription. The Border Force will check the parcel.
To Hunt, the decision made sense. It was already illegal to buy and sell such products without a prescription in every Australian state and territory, and to possess them without a prescription in every state except South Australia.
All hunts were closing in on a (very wide) loophole.
Government backbenchers revolted, Hunt pointed to a doubling of nicotine poisoning and the death of a child in the past year, the prime minister offering less than full support, saying he was keeping an “open mind”, and Hunt put the idea on the backburner. .
This is how it was played out in public.
But beneath the surface, something impressive was swinging into gear. It is called the Office of Best Practice Regulation, OBPR, a non-political body located within the Prime Minister’s Department.
Canberra’s ‘Homework Police’
So what did this little-known organization do to stamp out vaping, effective next month? Its executive director, Jason Lang, revealed the back story earlier this year at an Economic Society of Australia meeting in Canberra.
Established during the 1980s to ensure that government decisions were not unnecessarily shrouded in red tape, the office was gradually given to consider, among other things, the impact of government decisions on citizens. impact, on the environment and on the distribution of burdens. Society.
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Then in 2013 Prime Minister Tony Abbott moved it from the Department of Finance to his own department: Prime Minister and Cabinet.
The prime minister and the cabinet are the traffic policemen: it decides what the cabinet has to decide, and when. So suddenly the office was acting at the center of government decisions, overseeing every single one of the 1,800 or so things placed on senior ministers to make decisions each year.
Seven questions shaping new decisions
For the few hundred proposals it thinks there may be significant unintended effects, the Office calls for an impact statement.
It does not tell the department or authority what to put in the statement. But as Lang explained, it “marks homework”. The proposals behind the statements which are not good enough are difficult to bring to the cabinet.
There was no impact statement for the first time with Hunt’s decision on e-cigarettes. Lang’s office made sure it ranked second.
Each OBPR analysis has to address seven questions.
The first is what problem the agency is trying to solve. Maybe it’s not really a problem. Only by working on it does it come into focus.
Second because government action is needed. The problem may not be too big, or it may resolve on its own.
The third is what options the agency is considering. The agency will have to put forward at least three options, including one that is not regulated. In the case of e-cigarettes, that option was a public awareness campaign.
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He then has to estimate the potential benefits and costs of each option, including the costs of those the option was not intended to hit, such as under-the-counter retailers and using vaping to quit smoking. Those people
The fifth question is the extent of the people and organizations to be consulted (which is one way of ensuring that this happens). The sixth is to identify the best option from the list, which involves no regulation at all.
The seventh is the means by which the measure will be implemented and (importantly) subsequently evaluated.
Classifying government ideas from ‘inadequate’ to ‘exemplary’
Once, and usually sent back for further work, the analysis is graded on a scale of “inadequate” to “adequate” to “good practice” to “exemplary”.
Very few are graded exemplary, and very few that we know of are graded insufficient, because if such a proposal is adopted by the cabinet, the impact statement is published with the grade And a statement that describes its failures—a “nuclear option” Lang says could be extremely embarrassing.
All the impact details related to the proposals adopted by the government are published along with their OBPR rating. This is often the best opportunity for the public to read about the thinking behind the proposal.
Clearly, only 80 of the hundreds of impact statements submitted each year go to decision makers, meaning the process itself rejects poorly thought out proposals.
But if an idea has merit, as was the ban on importing e-cigarettes without a prescription, a 180-page impact statement could make all the difference.
It clearly sets out the problem, sets out several possible solutions and identifies winners and losers from each, and shows how they were consulted.
It shows that someone in the government has clearly thought this through, and provides material to use when selling their decision to the government.
The Office of Best Practice Regulation website has hundreds of impact analyzes on topics as diverse as food standards, safety for car dealers, and prevention plans for child sexual abuse.
Vaping gets tough on October 1st
So from October 1, it will be illegal to import e-cigarettes containing no prescription nicotine, and it will be illegal to supply any liquid nicotine that is not in child-resistant packaging.
Behind the scenes, the government got it right.