Lessons from COVID-19 Regulatory Relaxations

About the paper

Temporary regulatory changes were introduced by the NSW Government at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic to support businesses and communities to function more smoothly. This effectively launched a series of natural ‘regulatory experiments.’ For instance, supermarkets and pharmacies were allowed to trade and receive deliveries around the clock, and a range of legal and compliance activities were able to take place digitally.

As recommended in the 2021 NSW Productivity Commission White Paper, the NSW Government extended and evaluated several COVID-19 regulatory relaxations in 2021.

The paper presents key findings and lessons learned from the COVID-19 regulatory experimentation and evaluation process that were used to support businesses and communities.

It was launched by NSW Treasurer Matt Kean on 26 July 2022 at a symposium hosted by the NSW Productivity Commission. You can watch videos from the launch event below.

Key findings

The evaluation of the COVID-19 regulatory relaxations found that reforms delivered in response to the pandemic provided significant direct benefits to the community and an ongoing boost to the economy – valued at $3.1 billion over the next decade.

Three main lessons emerged from the experimentation and evaluation process: 

  • Regulatory experiments are valuable – they allow governments to obtain evidence on what works and improve the design of future regulations. Governments should continue to encourage regulatory experimentation (RegEx) by prioritising a culture of RegEx, developing tools for RegEx, and supporting institutions that enable RegEx.

  • Flexibility is key – allowing businesses and individuals to choose how they meet the underlying objectives of regulations leads to greater productivity and encourages innovation – with new technologies and processes emerging. Where possible, regulations should be designed to be outcomes-based and existing regulations should be modernised to enable digital processes and more flexible ways of working and living.

  • Evaluation is crucial – it allows policymakers to gather and weigh the impact of regulation and in many cases, the value of this new evidence exceeds the cost of collecting the evidence. The evidence base for regulations should be continually assessed and lessons learned should be shared across regulators.

Lessons from COVID-19 Regulatory Relaxations Symposium