The Australian federal government will set up a behavioural economics team to advise policymakers.

The Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government (BETA), will be housed in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and headed by Professor Michael Hiscox from Harvard University.

Behavioural researchers say that subtle changes to government policies can gently “nudge” citizens into making decisions that are better for themselves and everybody else.

The approach has been used by the UK and US governments, which have set up central teams of behavioural economists. Singapore Government has commissioned help in its Public Service Division from the UK’s Behavioural Insights Team, which now runs as a private company. Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Efficiency Unit runs work on this topic for departments across the city.

In Australia, the New South Wales government has set up a nudge unit. “The NSW Government has successfully utilised behavioural insights to get injured workers back to work quickly and safely,” Assistant Cabinet Secretary Scott Ryan said.

In the federal government, the Australian Taxation Office has used the approach to get taxes paid on time. “Tailored text messages sent to their phones have helped taxpayers avoid going into debt, and plan English debt letters, using social norms have led to more people responding and paying on time,” he added.

“While these tools help us to understand the world as it is, they do not on their own automatically provide the political or public justification for using these tools to change poloc, or seek to alter human behaviour,” Ryan said.

Image above from Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s Facebook. Prime Minister Turnbull with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during a visit to Indonesia in November.