Productivity Commission recommends tuning mutual recognition – October 2015

Filed under: Australian Politics, Regulation,

A Productivity Commission review has recommended changes to Australia’s mutual recognition arrangements with New Zealand to ensure that they remain effective.

The commission says the Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) and Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Arrangement (TTMRA) are generally working well.

However, the benefit of the schemes risks slowly being eroded due to regulators not always implementing mutual recognition as required, weak oversight, and an increase in the number of goods and related laws permanently kept outside the scope of the schemes.

“There are specific concerns with the operation of mutual recognition of occupations … and background checks. These issues have the potential to weaken the community's and regulators' trust in the schemes and undermine their legitimacy. “This review has therefore focused on improving governance arrangements, potentially expanding coverage, and addressing irritants to the smooth operation of the schemes.

“The commission proposes to reform the governance arrangements by:

  • strengthening the cross-jurisdictional group of officials that oversees the schemes, including by giving it more specific outputs, timeframes and reporting requirements; and
  • improving the accountability of regulators in individual jurisdictions and their coordination with policy makers responsible for mutual recognition.

“The commission proposes the following to improve the operation of the schemes.

  • Where there are legitimate concerns about shopping and hopping, governments should make better use of existing mechanisms to address them, such as referring a jurisdiction's registration requirements to a COAG Ministerial Council for consideration.
  • Governments should reduce ambiguity about the schemes, including by clearly stating that continuing professional development can be required for all persons renewing their occupational registration, including those originally registered under mutual recognition.
  • For occupations where background checks are necessary and are routinely required of local applicants, registration bodies should be able to conduct their own checks on people seeking registration under mutual recognition.
  • Governments should update all Ministerial Declarations which prescribe the equivalence of occupations across Australia, and consider extending them to New Zealand.

“The Commission proposes to maintain the coverage of the schemes - including the exemption of laws on the use of goods, manner of carrying on an occupation, and business registration - except in two instances.

“The Australian Government should accelerate work on the harmonisation of Australian Design Rules with international (UN) vehicle standards and then remove the TTMRA exemption for road vehicles no later than the end of 2018.

“Governments should strengthen their collaborative efforts to streamline regulation of hazardous substances, industrial chemicals and dangerous goods. The TTMRA permanent exemption should then be removed by the end of 2018, in line with the timing of foreshadowed regulatory reforms.

“Automatic mutual recognition (AMR) is more cost effective than the mutual recognition schemes for professionals providing services across borders on a temporary basis. The WA, ACT and NT governments should fulfil their commitment to adopt AMR for veterinarians. All Australian jurisdictions should adopt a proposed AMR scheme for architects.

“The period between formal reviews of the schemes should be increased to ten years.”

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