From the department of self parody – Red tape post (number 453)

Looking at some consulting work on regulation I hunted down something I’d seen before – the Business Costs Calculator. This seems like a sensible initiative which is designed to provide a template through which those engaged in ‘regulation review’ activities can be taken through a process of assessing the costs of some regulation. (I could critique this process itself fairly comprehensively, but we’ll leave that to one side here – and the critique would do little more than show that there is no way of forcing people to follow the ‘spirit’ of the policy of minimum effective regulation by binding them to the ‘letter’ of some set of procedures. This is the perennial problem of regulation itself.)

I expected a template in excel which would take one through the process, downloadable with a click. No such luck. One has to register. Now it’s fairly simple, so I wouldn’t want to make a song and dance about it. But why is this little bit of red tape mandatory? One could make it voluntary and give users the option to leave their details so that they can be contacted about updates, recalls etc. I tested it by not filling out my email address, and sure enough – no email address – no program.

Then I filled in my email address and went into another screen which told me to load a Java plugin. I’d already done this but Firefox wasn’t letting on. So I downloaded it again but to no avail. I got the following page.

Manual Download – Software updates required

Due to the Internet browser you are using, the Business Cost Calculator or the required Java Runtime Environment (JRE) cannot be installed automatically. You may need to install the required software manually.

To check if you have the correct JRE installed, please go to the Java website by clicking here. JRE 1.5 is required to download the Business Cost Calculator and you will need to install it at this site.

Once you have completed downloading and installing the JRE 1.5 update, please install the Business Cost Calculator.

If you experience any problems installing the Business Cost Calculator please contact the Office of Best Practice Regulation at:

“¢ Technical Assistance: +61 26240 3375
“¢ General Assistance: +61 26240 3375

If you require further information on the Business Cost Calculator please email the Office of Best Practice Regulation.

So off I went into Microsoft Internet Explorer and the program downloaded. It took me through the steps of the process, none of which seemed to add a lot of value – though the process of systematising the steps may be valuable. But then after having identified that businesses would be affected by the regulation I mooted in the program it required me to fill out a field specifying which businesses. Sadly this field became (and remains) a mystery to me. I typed and typed again. But, despite it’s initial inviting blankness, it’s blankness remained implacable and the field remains blank and the program refuses to proceed further. Why? Because the field is blank. It needs to be rendered unblank.

I guess this is possible but it wasn’t to me. It reminds me of the ATO’s BAS software. I tried downloading it when it first hit the streets and it was a nightmare. Given that there was no need for any user-side or rich client software at all – that it could have been handled with a simple feedback form behind a password protected log on – I’ve not tried it again and I fill in little paper slips. I expect they’ve improved the software by now, but I still fill in the paper. Once bitten . . .

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Tom N.
Tom N.
14 years ago

Nick, my sources tell me that you have been trying to enter text in a numeric field, which is supposed to have the number of business affected.

Hired Gun
Hired Gun
14 years ago


I agree that the Business Cost Calculator (BCC) is a most unwieldy piece of software.

Let me add another problem; it will not run on a Mac with OS10.3 (some Java problem apparently). I know that this is a small percentage of the total computer market, but it is hardly a great outcome when many Mac users are small businesses and the software was developed by the Office of Small Business!

What is even more disturbing is the gross simplification inherent in the BCC. For example, while it includes startup costs, it doesn’t provide a longer term perspective in which costs may be phased in over time (which is a common outcome associated with new regulations). The reporting of the results is also close to unusable.

This calculator could have been made much simpler and more usable if designed as an excel workbook. A classic case of over-engineering.

P.S. Tom N, as an issue, this isn’t quite up there with the theory of ‘parallel monogamy’.

Tom N.
Tom N.
14 years ago

Nick and Hired,

Alas I don’t know much about software issues myself, but I have drawn your additional comments to the attention of the “relevant authorities”, who will no doubt address them … at least in the fullness of time! :)

Maybe you should also get in touch with them with your concerns directly.