Regulation as a platform: How Data61 is turning text into APIs to serve the burgeoning RegTech industry

The cost of compliance is billions of dollars high and rising. Now scientists are applying some logic to the situation

RaaP game

Data61 has been working with a number of agencies on RaaP pilots, as part of the federal government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda: Platforms for Open Data framework.

With the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), a ‘new business concierge’ tool called PermitMe has been launched. Work is ongoing with the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) and the Department of Finance.

As well as financial and business related regulation, Data61 is also running a two year project with the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) to code elements of the National Construction Code which sets out the minimum requirements for the design, construction and performance of buildings.

ASIC is likely to get involved soon too. Speaking at the InnovationAus RegTech event in Sydney, ASIC senior executive leader, strategic intelligence, and coordinator of the commission’s innovation hub, Mark Adams said: “The concept of software-enabled codification of laws, is something that’s being discussed around the world. And we plan to talk to Data61 in thinking about the opportunity in that space."

Each agency's regulation logic will ultimately feed into the same API, which will sit, open source, at

“Our aim is to enable third party to develop services and business applications, interfacing with regulation quickly and more efficiently,” Hanlen adds.

In addition, Data61's ‘defeasible logic reasoner’ – Spindle – is also available on Github for free for anyone to build upon.

Progress is being made in “small bites” (“'Hey we're going to automate the entire world of regulation’, that would be a bit insane,” says Hanlen). In each case a minimum viable product is being made; enough to be useful, and enough for developers to build upon.

“You hit different pieces of different acts, and organically build up that computation,” Hanlen says.

Code first, text later

Although similar work is going on elsewhere in the world – such as the present RegTech drive from the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority – Australia is “leading in this space” says Data61 research director Liming Zhu.

The end game is not simply that all regulation be available via API, however.

“In the future, the long term vision is to see whether we can start a new regulation from a computable form, then turn those into text later,” Zhu says.

Rather than translating text to code, regulators would set regulation as computable logic, which could be put into text if needed.

“At the moment what we're doing is essentially backward compatibility, but the end state is print to text if you feel like it but the business rule is the thing that's important it's not the actual words written down on a page,” says Hanlen. "We're trying to work at the creation stage of legislation rather than let's reverse engineer the logic out of the legislation.”

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