WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE ADVENTURE ACTIVITY STANDARDS
The mystery of government is not how it works, but how to make it stop" - P.J. O'Rourke.
"Unfortunately, regulations are rarely, if ever, at their best. Indeed, the community is increasingly sceptical about the benefits of some regulations and about the way in which they are designed and delivered. The American humorist, P.J. O'Rourke, captured the current attitude towards regulation when he quipped that the 'mystery of government is not how it works, but how to make it stop'. Early enthusiasts for regulation - often economists - were sanguine about their ability to design regulatory solutions to perceived economic and social problems. But even well‑intentioned regulation can bring problems of its own. The costs associated with these have to be balanced against the potential benefits. Moreover, in some cases regulation is not even intended to further the public interest, being tailored to the needs of particular constituencies." - Gary Banks, Chairman, Productivity Commission, 2/10/2003
WHAT'S WRONG WITH AAS?
We expect the AAS process to create various impediments to enjoyment of parks and forests by private citizens both here in Victoria and interstate.
- Courts can be expected to refer to the standards and misinterpret them as representing minimum safe practice
- Insurers will misinterpret the standards as minimum precautions for safe, responsible activity
- Land managers, perhaps under pressure from their own insurers, perhaps as misconceptions gain strength, will introduce elements of the standards as prerequisites for entry.
This is a project that is sponsored by Sport and Recreation Victoria (SRV) but which will discourage sport and recreation in Victoria.
*WHO SAYS THE AAS IS SKEWED TO OVERSTATING REQUIRED PRECAUTIONS?
If you don't find microeconomics entertaining, you should skip this section.
Just about every industry study done anywhere in the world in the last few decades recognises the phenomenon known as Regulatory Capture (a term coined by Richard Posner, an economist at the University of Chicago) One well-observed and studied phenomenon that comprises an aspect of regulatory capture is this: Almost any time an industry creates a self-regulatory code of conduct, it will create unjustified "barriers to entry". (In fact the main thrust of Regulatory Capture is that many self‑serving effects tend to occur even when you have an independent regulator.)
With the most noble intentions, industry leaders will establish a code which they see as enhancing community respect for their industry. Again, with the best intentions, they will draw the required standards of conduct just below those that they are comfortable of achieving themselves. For industry participants, the moral is, it doesn't matter how good your service is, you must get into the drafting process and make sure that the line doesn't get drawn above the standards that you can afford to meet. And if you are an industry aspirant, there is nothing you can do. The cost of entering the industry has just risen (that is, a "barrier to entry" has just been created). From an economic perspective, the problem is that the competitive forces within the industry have just been limited.
But none of that matters much to the weekend enthusiast. The thing to note is that the industry participants involved in the drafting of a code of conduct are motivated in many ways, mostly well-meaning, to set the bar at an inappropriate level. Not the level of basic reasonable requirement, but the highest level that they themselves can comfortably achieve. Nobody is being dishonest or mischievous here. This is just a tale of human nature and subtle misunderstanding.
The irony is that one of the recognised remedies to this and the broader aspects of regulatory capture is to employ a 'tripartite' approach. That means, you get community representation as a third spoke on the government-industry merry-go-round. If this was SRV's intention, it is to be congratulated for trying to do this.
But it has not worked. Firstly, 'community' in this case refers to the consumer or other affected external parties. The amateur bushwalkers, skiers, climbers and so forth are, in a structural sense, low cost industry participants. We amateurs are on the second spoke. We are the low cost - but in our own way, high quality - competitors who are in danger of getting locked out by these "barriers to entry". We would all like to think that we have amicable relationships with professional stakeholders - and we do - and that we all have some common interests in safety and environment - we do - but in the context of industry structure, our interests are in competition with those of professional providers.
The next problem is that the community groups are poorly represented in the process. They are typically under-resourced, usually relying on what a few enthusiastic people can do in their spare time. On top of that, they are represented in each part of the AAS process by one or two out of perhaps a dozen stakeholders. This is hardly a 'tripartite' relationship with government and industry. Bear in mind also that the amateurs are 90% of all practitioners (just guessing the number).
So, rather than benefiting from being included in this process, we are being dragged into an industry code of conduct that we have difficulty influencing. If it were practical to do it, a series of documents that presents minimum safe standards would be fine. But this industry dominated process will always push the other way.