Shelved subscription service a transparency issue

James Riley

The Industry department’s lack of an email subscription service has led to concerns over a lack of transparency and inability for the general public to access information and take part in consultations.

The Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources does not have an email subscription service, which would allow anyone to sign up to be alerted to new media releases, news and consultations run by the department.

The department does offer an RSS feed, but this is only available by default on the Internet Explorer browser which is used by fewer than 8 per cent of internet users.

Labor says the lack of subscription service allows the government to selectively decide who gets to access information.

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It comes as the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) looks to revamp its own media release subscription service, which it says is used by more than 7000 people.

Other departments, including Treasury, do have email subscription services, but there is no uniform best practice approach across government.

A spokesperson for the Industry department pointed to the “news and media page” on its website and the RSS feed as ways members of the public can stay up to date.

“The department…has many channels to keep stakeholders and the public up to date with news and announcements. Stakeholders and interested members of the public can sign up to newsletter subscriptions tailored to their specific interests,” the spokesperson told InnovationAus.

The department has advised stakeholders to check the website or subscribe to the RSS feed in order to stay up to date with news and consultations.

Shadow industry minister Brendan O’Connor said the lack of an email subscription service raises transparency issues.

“Minister Karen Andrews’ department has no plan to introduce an email subscription service because the government prefers to selectively email releases and information out to friendly news outlets, rather than the public,” Mr O’Connor told InnovationAus.

Labor will also pursue the issue at Senate Estimates this week.

The Industry department does send media releases to journalists and through services like iSentia. These distribution lists are managed by the ministers’ offices and are then uploaded to the departmental websites.

Government agencies are required to publish all media releases, but there is no uniform approach to distributing this information, a spokesperson for the DTA said.

“The primary websites of Australian government agencies must publish media releases. However, it is up to individual agencies to determine how these are distributed based on their users’ needs and internal ICT capabilities, in accordance with the Digital Service Standard,” the spokesperson told InnovationAus.

Labor has previously questioned the Department of Employment at Senate Estimates over similar concerns.

“These channels were selected based on ongoing assessment of user behaviour, feedback and research in line with the recommendations of the Digital Service Standard. The Department has no plan to introduce an email subscription service,” the spokesperson said.

The Opposition has said the lack of email subscription service is part of an set of increasing transparency issues in government, including growing concerns that submissions made to Treasury are being delayed or never made public.

Earlier this year Labor slammed a “dearth of transparency” in Treasury, after submissions to consultation ran on proposed changes to the research and development tax incentive 18 months ago were only made public following a freedom of information request.

“A dearth of transparency is becoming a growing trend for the Morrison government. A wide range of stakeholders have expressed concerns with the R&D tax incentive bill, and yet stakeholder submissions were made public 18 months late and only following Labor’s freedom of information request,” Mr O’Connor said.

“Important business policies require due diligence and proper processes, not a lack of transparency and details.”

The DTA runs a Media Release Service, which it said collates all known media releases from government organisations and ministerial websites and has 7500 subscribers.

The agency is currently looking to reform the service and make it more effective.

“The DTA is currently examining the Media Release Service to ensure that going forward it is technically viable and fit-for-purpose. The DTA continually reviews its public-facing services to ensure they meet users’ needs in a cost-effective manner,” a DTA spokesperson told InnovationAus.

“The DTA is currently considering an alternative approach to delivering the current Media Release Service.”

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