About Government information

In the information age, the relevant information that industry and professional and their members need is invariably out there. This article outlines some of best ways of locating it and converting to a useful form for your members.

Industry and professional associations need access to up to date, accurate information about the constantly changing array of government policies and regulatory requirements that impact on their members. Associations are also obviously anxious to keep track of policy developments that they may want to influence or take advantage of, for the benefit of their members.

You may have been around long enough to remember when one of the management buzz phrases was about the advent of the “paperless office”, which was to flow from the increasing use of computers. This badly mistaken forecast was, of course, made in the first flush of enthusiasm about the widespread adoption of computers for word processing – before most of us had heard of the Internet.

Never was a forecast more wrong. Instead of electronic information leading to a paperless office, the amount of paper most offices use has increased exponentially (as the share prices of pulp and paper manufacturers attest). Most of us now fight a regular battle with multiple versions of reports and other documents, where in the past a single version with hand-written changes and crossings-outs would have been sufficient – before they were passed to a long-suffering “typist” to prepare the final version.

There have been many other communication and efficiency advantages which outweigh the paper deluge. But electronic information certainly has not produced a “paperless office”.
The information age and the Internet have created a comparable paradox to the “paperless office”. Information is far more readily accessible than before the electronic age. But accessibility has created its own problems. Rather than the physical limitations of your office, filing system or reference library, the main problem with electronic information is the risk of being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of references, including many out-of-date references, which are likely to defeat the best intentioned efforts to find the current legislative or regulatory requirements on any matter – say, on the obligations of an employer in offering a choice of superannuation fund to an employee.

The bad news about information and regulatory overload is that there is no single, sure-fire way to easily get the single correct answer to a question about a regulatory or legislative requirement (such as an employers’ superannuation choice obligations.) But there are a large number of readily available and often little-known or little-understood tools that will help a busy association and its staff to narrow the field and, in some cases, guide them to the single relevant piece of information.

Some of these tools are free, especially those provided by the government or government agencies as part of their responsibilities to make legislative or regulatory and legal requirements readily available in the public domain.

Governments provide a range of free email services, Internet entry points for government websites, specialised legislation and regulatory web pages and specialised search engines.
Depending on an association’s requirements some of these can be truly excellent. Their chief deficiency is that they often (especially government email alert services) take a broad-brush approach, covering a wide range of subjects or topics (most often, the full range of a department’s or portfolio’s responsibilities.)

As well as being broad – and thus threatening to overwhelm recipients with a deluge of irrelevant or barely-relevant information – these email services also suffer from being shallow. Most are “press release” or “media release” based – they will alert recipients when press releases (usually most releases, but not all) are published by a department or agency or their minister. But many developments, especially administrative decisions, reviews, the content of parliamentary or parliamentary committee debates, government inquiries, submissions to inquiries, regulatory decisions, legislation and a whole range of other government decisions and related information do not generate press releases.