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Generating effective debate

Government decisions in response to the Commission’s inquiry reports and commissioned research studies provide a tangible indication of their usefulness to the Australian Government, Parliament and the broader community. Combining the degree of acceptance of recommendations with media mentions, mentions in parliaments and downloads of reports, provides an indication of the Commission’s success in generating public debate.

Internal review across the six inquiries and studies for which final reports were completed in 2018‑19 indicates that two projects generated a high level of public debate — the Superannuation: Assessing Efficiency and Competitiveness inquiry and the Compensation and Rehabilitation for Veterans inquiry. Two reports generated a medium level of debate —the Murray‑Darling Basin Plan: Five‑year assessment and the inquiry into the Economic Regulation of Airports. There were relatively low levels of debate for the review of the National Disability Agreement and the joint study with the New Zealand Productivity Commission on growing the digital economy.

Government responses to most of the reports released in 2018‑19 are still pending, with two exceptions. In February 2019, the Australian Government responded to some of the recommendations of the superannuation inquiry (released in January 2019) as part of its response to the Hayne Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. Around one quarter of the inquiry’s recommendations received support from the Australian Government. In August 2019, the Australian and State and Territory Governments responded to the five‑year assessment of the Murray‑Darling Basin Plan. Governments supported or agreed in principle to most of the 38 recommendations in the report.

During the year, the Australian Government announced responses relating to Commission reports released in previous years.

  • In July 2018, the Australian Government released its response to the Commission’s 2018 Horizontal Fiscal Equalisation inquiry report. The response provided support to eight out of the report’s nine recommendations.
  • In April 2019, the Australian Government released its response to the Commission’s 2017 National Water Reform inquiry report. In its response, the Government supported or agreed in principle to all but one of the 24 recommendations. This included agreement in principle to a renewed National Water Initiative by 2020.
  • The Australian Government response to the Hayne Royal Commission also responded to a number of the recommendations of the Commission’s 2018 Competition in the Australian Financial System inquiry.

In addition, the Government announced policy actions consistent with recommendations in previous Commission reports.

  • During 2018‑19, the Australian Government made a number of changes to the immigration system consistent with the Commission’s 2016 Migrant Intake into Australia inquiry. For example, the visa points system has been amended to recognise partners of primary applicants that are skilled and/or have a competent level of English. The Government has also announced the formation of a Centre for Population to assist governments and the community better understand how populations are changing and the challenges that change presents.
  • The Australian Parliament passed a bill in August 2019 to introduce a Consumer Data Right in Australia — a recommendation from the Commission’s 2017 Data Availability and Use inquiry. The passage of this legislation will provide consumers with the right to access and use the data that businesses hold about them.

Commission inquiry and research reports were used frequently by parliamentarians in debates and questions during 2018‑19. During the 2018‑19 sittings of the Federal Parliament, about 92 members and senators referred to more than 33 different Commission reports or inquiries, or to the Commission’s role in policy processes.

In addition, there were at least 99 mentions of 29 different Commission inquiries and its work in the Hansard proceedings of Federal Parliamentary Committees in 2018‑19. The most frequent mentions were of the Murray‑Darling Basin Plan: Five‑year assessment, the Horizontal Fiscal Equalisation inquiry, the Competition in the Australian Financial System inquiry and the Data Availability and Use inquiry.

The Commission’s inquiry and research reports were also used extensively in debate and questions by state and territory parliamentarians. During the 2018‑19 sittings of the eight state and territory parliaments, 127 members referred to about 44 different Commission publications or inquiries, the Report on Government Services, or to the Commission’s role in policy processes. In about 60 per cent of the 225 total mentions the Commission was cited as an authoritative source, while 5 per cent of mentions were critical of a particular finding, report or Commission attribute. The Report on Government Services was mentioned most frequently, and the Commission’s Horizontal Fiscal Equalisation inquiry and the Murray‑Darling Basin Plan: Five‑year assessment also featured prominently.

The Report on Government Services also contributed significantly to public debate — as it has previously — with a large number of file requests from external users (15 965 and 25 947 for the 2018 and 2019 reports respectively).

The Commission’s website received a high number of report downloads from external users in 2018‑19. There were more than 133 000 report downloads of inquiries and government‑commissioned research studies in 2018‑19. The projects of most interest were the superannuation inquiry (around 18 000 downloads), the Report on Government Services 2018 and 2019 (around 12 000 and 10 000 downloads respectively) and Compensation and Rehabilitation for Veterans (around 8000 downloads).

During 2018‑19, there were more than 210 media mentions each month of the six inquiries and studies that were completed during the year.[1] Of these, more than 20 mentions each month were articles published in the print media. The superannuation inquiry received the highest number of media mentions of the inquiries and studies completed in 2018‑19. The Murray‑Darling Basin Plan: Five‑year assessment, and the Compensation and Rehabilitation for Veterans and Economic Regulation of Airports inquiries were also of high interest in the media.

The many invitations to give briefings and present papers to parliamentary, business and community groups and to conferences is another indicator of the Commission’s role in generating public debate. In 2018‑19, there were around 65 presentations given by the Chair, Commissioners and staff to ministerial councils, industry and community groups, and conferences. These were across the range of the Commission’s inquiry, research and performance reporting work, with particular interest in inquiries on National Water Reform, Competition in the Australian Financial System and the five year productivity review.

International recognition of the Commission as a model for evidence‑based policy is also an indicator of the Commission’s impact. The Commission briefed ten international delegations and visitors during 2018‑19, with a focus on the Commission’s role and activities and related policy matters. These included visiting officials and delegations from Mongolia, Chile, India and the United Kingdom. It also included meetings with officials from the OECD and ASEAN. During 2018‑19, Commission officials visited four countries: China, Brazil, France and the Philippines. These engagements involved discussions of the Commission’s role, methods for measuring government productivity and the Commission’s productivity review. Some of the Commission’s international liaison has been with other productivity organisations around the world or with officials where there is a desire to strengthen the focus on productivity‑enhancing policies (box 1).

The OECD and IMF cited the Commission’s work in 68 of their reports published throughout the year. This included reports that referred to aspects of the Commission’s recent work, such as the IMF’s Article IV: Australia Summary report, which referred to some of the Commission’s proposed reforms outlined in the productivity review.

The Commission continued to be well‑cited in academic literature during the year. In 2018‑19, academic literature cited recent reports, such as the productivity review, along with older reports, such as the 2001 Australian Gambling Industries inquiry, the latter being the most cited of the Commission’s publications in the academic literature over time. This demonstrates that the Commission’s role as a source of evidence‑based policy can continue long after the release of a report.

Box 1

Productivity organisations around the world

Each year the Commission receives enquiries from government agencies around the world on its particular model for evidence‑based policy analysis.

A number of countries have formed similar organisations to the Productivity Commission. Close to home, the New Zealand Productivity Commission was formed around a decade ago and has worked closely with the Australian Productivity Commission on a number of studies. Other countries have also formed similar institutions, including in Latin America, Scandinavia and the European Union. These productivity‑enhancing bodies have been established with their own characteristics, but many share aspects of the Commission’s core functions. In particular, the New Zealand, Chilean and Mexican Productivity Commissions are independent standing inquiry bodies, similar to the Commission in Australia.

Over recent years, a number of Australian states have created their own Productivity Commissions including Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia. These bodies have been formed with the intent of providing independent advice on economic and regulatory issues, and to propose policy reforms to state governments.

[1] The Commission changed its media monitoring provider during the 2018‑19 financial year, which may have led to some minor differences in reported numbers across years.