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Regulatory Failures and Regulatory Solutions: A Characteristic Analysis of the Aftermath of Disaster


  • Fiona Haines is Associate Professor, School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. Please send comments to I have many to thank for their help in preparing this article. First and foremost I owe a debt of gratitude to my colleague and coresearcher Adam Sutton, whose critical eye resulted in many improvements in this manuscript. My research assistant, Chris Platania-Phung, went well beyond his title would suggest and provided invaluable support in preparing this article. Julia Black also gave welcome feedback on earlier versions of the work. Five anonymous reviewers provided constructive and thought-provoking feedback (some twice!) that all helped strengthen the article. Support for the research was provided by the Australian Research Council, Discovery Grant 38031. All errors remain my own.


This article analyzes the regulatory reform and implementation process in Australia following three event clusters: an industrial explosion, recent terrorist attacks, and a corporate collapse. The research employed a characteristic analysis where the compliance challenge on the ground is understood as affected not only by the enforcement efforts of the regulator, but also the reform process and the structure of the industry concerned. In each of the cases studied, preferred reforms could be understood as “metaregulatory” and framed around outcomes, principles, and processes rather than a preoccupation with adherence to prescriptive rules. Metaregulation was seen as the most appropriate regulatory framework to maintain the integrity between regulatory goal, regulatory regime, and compliance behavior. Yet, reform pressures that shaped the causal narrative associated with the particular risk, the emotional work involved in compliance, and success strategies of sites all affected what risks were actually reduced and hence the likelihood of a repeat disaster.