Charging Framework

Apart from procedures and definitions, the 2015 Australian Government Charging Framework (pdf) contains the following provisions:

A. Charging Policy Statement

Paragraph 15 of the Australian Government Charging Framework sets out the Charging Policy Statement (emphasis added):

“Where specific demand for a government activity is created by identifiable individuals or groups they should be charged for it unless the Government has decided to fund that activity. Where it is appropriate for the Australian Government to participate in an activity, it should fully utilise and maintain public resources, through appropriate charging. The application of charging should not, however, adversely impact disadvantaged Australians.”

Has the Government decided to fund the subject activity?

The established arrangement is for Government to fund the public functions implemented by an agency and for the agency to charge for additional services.

An aggressive interpretation of this requirement, consistent with the folly of overly enthusiastic centralisation and bureaucratisation (pdf), is that “Government” can be said to be limited to the Executive (i.e. cabinet).

The practical reality is that productive and public interest decisions have been and should continue to be made by agencies in order to avoid the inertia of bureaucracy. Most agency decisions are made to effect professional best practices.

For example, the production stages at the Bureau of Meteorology leading to the issue of a weather warning include: observing; international weather data; numerical modelling; and forecasting. Each stage results in public information. Some of these stages are functions identified by the Legislature (i.e. observing, forecasting; warning) and others required by best practice. Under the Charging Framework it can be said that none of these stages have received specific Executive mandate either because the implemented form of the public information was unspecified by legislation or that an intermediate stage output does not have specific authority, and therefore the reused of the produced public information is subject to charge.

Is specific demand created by identifiable individuals or groups?

A request for information would constitute demand. The Charging Framework does not recognise public goods. An aggressive interpretation that does not distinguish between demand for service activities (where outputs can be consumed only once) and data activities (where output once produced can be reused many times without additional cost) can be used to compel agencies to charge for public information at market value.

B. Revenue Raising

Paragraph 20 of the Australian Government Charging Framework specifies a revenue raising option (emphasis added):

“At times, the Australian Government may direct an entity to recover all or part of the costs of a resource activity or in some instances, recover more than the cost for the activity, depending on the circumstances. When charging for resource activities, entities should generally set charges taking account of: the cost of the activity; where appropriate, market prices; the impact of utilising or accessing the resource; and the policy intent and legislative objectives of the activity and/or the entity.”

An aggressive interpretation could be that the cost of public production should be shared between the Government and users because of its value. Such an interpretation introduces private to public sector cross subsidisation and reduces information reuse when the reality is that the information can be reused without increasing its cost of production.