Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Sweet child o’ mine

Birth registration is important. It is the first step in the process of formal recognition of an individual by the state. But for some in the community, the process of registering a birth is difficult (and not just because filling out a three page form is tough for anyone on two hours sleep per night).

Whilst getting bubs to sleep is beyond the State Government’s control, it recently asked the Victorian Law Reform Commission to look into the process for birth registration.

The Commission heard from different sections of the community about their experiences of obtaining a birth certificate, including some adults whose birth was never registered. It examined whether the current process makes getting a certificate difficult, particularly for already marginalised groups.

The Commission handed down its report in November.

The report identified reasons for failing to register a birth or apply for a certificate, including:
  • a lack of awareness of the requirement to register;
  • a poor understanding of the importance of registration;
  • the cost of obtaining a birth certificate; and
  • other issues such as mental illness or family violence concerns.
In short, disadvantaged background is a common theme for late registration or non-registration of a birth.

The Commission made 26 recommendations, 23 of which relate to changes in procedure at the Births Deaths and Marriages Registry.

The recommendations include:
  • Changing the way in which the particulars of birth notification are collected and how, and by whom, a birth can be registered.
  • Changing procedure where family violence may be a barrier to the registration of a birth.
  • Better facilitation of the birth registration process and access to birth certificates for cross-border Indigenous communities.
  • Streamlining birth registration with applications for services by the Commonwealth.
  • Broadening who may certify identity documents as well as the type of proof of identity documents the Registrar will accept to support an application.
  • Clarifying the fee exemption policy.
Whilst the recommendations relate to the birth registration and birth certificate application process, the report is useful reading for any government officer designing a policy that balances the need for consistency (or certainty of public records) with the flexibility to ensure that a program can actually work across diverse groups in society.

Flexibility is a fundamental aspect of good government decision-making. Where there is discretion in a decision-making process, there should be a policy to ensure decisions are made consistently and fairly. But that policy must be sufficiently flexible to cover a range of circumstances. This report by the VLRC provides a good concrete example of how an agency can tailor its policies and guidelines to achieve flexibility without compromising on certainty or consistency in program implementation.

For more information about this report, designing flexible decision-making policies or working Gunners references into your professional writing, please contact:

Elsie Loh
Principal Solicitor
t 8684 0144 
elsie.loh@vgso.vic.gov.au

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