Recently we have been researching various material on our national government’s web sites. There are a number of them which adds to the confusion. The main site is ‘www.aph.gov.au’ which is supplemented by others such as ‘www.directory.gov.au’ and ‘www.legislation.gov.au’ plus many more. The job of updating these web sites presumably is the responsibility of numerous public servants under the direction of their superiors.
Keeping our national government web sites up to date is an endless task and highly error-prone. Why? Because humans are involved! We could be forgiven for thinking that over the years, the procedures for conducting web updates would be well understood and documented. Our findings would indicate that this is not true. In fact, IT specialists and laymen alike can and do pick holes in government published material and how it is maintained. The problem stems from decades of evolution of our parliamentary systems and the inherent changes in technology and methods.
Our federal government is complex! Extremely complex – just like pretty much every government around the world. We would like to highlight some of our findings and highlight an immediate need to improve our methods – especially now that we are well into the 21st century. Sadly, some of our national records indicate somewhat Jurassic methods are still in use and due diligence not always obvious. Numerous people both within government and outside rely on data from online sources. Journalists for one although far more of them need to avail themselves of facts. Our national data needs to be consistent and searchable. Far too many sources of information are in PDF file form which makes searching difficult.
It is almost impossible to tally the full cost of running our country including our public service but we can say that Morrison in his last year spent nearly $21 billion on consultants and labour hire services after severely cutting the APS early in his stint as PM. Now, Labor has had to rebuild the APS by converting labour hire staff to APS staff with over 10,000 hired already.
But we never got good value for that horrendous amount of money. Our government infrastructure suffered. Transparency was adversely affected and as it turns out, so was the accuracy and completeness of our national data or information. Another poor outcome appears to be the lack of ‘knowledge transfer’. When you hire experts, you would expect to retain much of their expertise via knowledge transfer. A prime example would be in the field of IT and more particularly data storage and access.
We’ll start off by looking at the size of our governing body. Its portfolios and subordinate entities are immense – Morrison had 14 portfolios and 1,415 entities grouped as agencies, government appointed boards and other boards and structures. Under Albo, 16 portfolios now cover 1,323 entities. These are detailed on ‘www.directory.gov.au’ but the quality of the data is ordinary. Firstly, the individual web pages have a ‘Last Updated’ date on them but most have not been changed since 19th November 2021! That’s 6 months before the last election and Albo’s government has not yet corrected the situation even if the information on many of those pages has been updated. Look at the PMC makeup as an example – it clearly shows Labor’s changes as of 1st July 2022 but the update date is wrong. We need to be able rely on all update dates otherwise changes may be missed.
We even found a PMC entity still listed which had ceased in 2019! How? Why? Someone not checking the data quality properly? Oddly enough, it was the “Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council” that should no longer be listed. Isn’t that pretty much what The Voice seeks to implement?? While we are at it, and further to Amanda Vanstone’s observations, we counted 27 entities, 19 of which were within PMC, which refer to ‘aboriginal’. ‘indigenous’ or ‘Torres Strait’. That’s a lot of bodies handling various aspects of our indigenous peoples’ affairs – for just 3.8% of our population!
The other problem is that all the related information is not readily downloadable! For example, the full description of each entity is not available in any of the downloads unless you use the AGOR downloads which do not include all entities…but most.
That raises the question of why we have a register of organisations which is a restricted version of our portfolio entities? For example, we have 1,323 entities but only 1,311 AGOR entries. (Under Morrison, the number of entities was 1,415 but the number of organisations (AGOR) was 1,304.)
Perhaps some rationalising could be done to eliminate duplicate registers and their contents.
As for prehistoric methods, we have in the past alluded to the Member Interests Word file formats. Why on earth in 2023 do we still have a template Word file (.doc) or equivalent PDF listing a member’s interests? For one thing, the detail is woefully inadequate, and secondly, the data is not searchable! Why hasn’t this data been converted to a database and maintained as such? Until that happens, the data is not searchable given that we have 151 members and therefore that many PDF files! The member declaration details need to be far more detailed. For example, we don’t want to know what shares are held by members but rather, the number and market value of those shares. Similarly, recent property values are far more relevant than a property locations. We know why this is the case – the politicians don’t like divulging their status and do all in their power to hinder change and improvements in potentially damning data.
Bottom line? Transparency needs a great deal of improvement across the board AND the accuracy of the information supplied across the government needs to be far more reliable, up to date and properly maintained. We know that in some cases, there is only one person responsible and their skills are probably not up to date so it’s time to review and update those areas. Member Interests is a prime example!
If the government cannot properly maintain its records and openness to the public, then why are we paying the ‘zoo-keepers’ so much money? Albo, you are not exempt. You can improve our systems. We recommend hiring your own highly credentialed team of IT experts – especially relational database experts who know how to set up proper, detailed and searchable databases. An examination of the AGOR spreadsheet fields will demonstrate how poor the government’s database skills and resources are. Time for government-wide improvements …now! We can’t help but wonder if a starting point might be to document ALL the available systems, categorise and prioritise them.
GB / AB