11 January 2024

APS frustrated over 'appalling mismanagement' of Federal Register of Legislation

| Chris Johnson
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The Office of Parliamentary Counsel is having to explain why links to legislation can’t be opened. Photo:

Senior public servants across the APS are describing the Office of Parliamentary Counsel’s management of the Federal Register of Legislation as ‘appalling’ after it launched a new website that has discarded links to legislation.

As reported by Region on Tuesday (9 January), the OPC went live with its new Federal Register of Legislation on 1 January this year.

But the new register is refusing to allow links to legislation to be opened, impacting departments and agencies across the Australian Public Service.

Users of its website were greeted with a ‘performance issues’ alert, but that notice appears to have been removed after Region reported on it.

The Federal Register of Legislation is the authorised whole-of-government website for Commonwealth legislation and related documents.

It contains the full text and details of the lifecycle of individual laws and the relationships between them. The register is managed by the OPC.

But while the OPC has tried to shift some of the responsibility for the crash onto individual agencies for not linking their data to the new site, agency bosses are furious over what they say has been a ‘complete failure in change management’ by the OPC itself.

“This is literally one of the worst failures in stakeholder management I’ve ever seen,” one senior public servant told Region.

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The OPC says it posted news of impending changes on the old register last year and left the update there for nine months, asking agencies to link their legislation to the new register.

But that explanation is sparking outrage from senior public servants who insist they were blindsided by the new register, which has removed all the links to their legislation.

“We’ve gone through all our communications from last year and we cannot find one email from the OPC about the register being changed,” one said.

“They might have posted an update on the old website, but we don’t have anyone employed to monitor updates on websites. No one in our office was aware of this change.”

Website users were greeted with this when they opened the Federal Register of Legislation. Image: Screenshot.

Another agency boss said alerts from the OPC should have been delivered directly to other APS offices to draw attention to and remind them of upcoming changes.

“Most other agencies communicate changes very well and repeatedly,” they said.

“This has been a complete failure in change management by the Office of Parliamentary Counsel.”

In a detailed response to questions from Region, the OPC’s general manager of publishing, Aasha Swift, said the office advised from the outset that with any new website launch, “you can expect some teething problems with the technology itself and a change to the way the website functions”.

She said despite receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback on the ‘look and feel’ and new functionality of the site, “we are experiencing some issues”.

“We did provide an update on the old register in March 2023 about how to update links for the new register. This information remained on the old register from March 2023 until the launch of the new register,” she said.

“For those agencies who have not updated their links, they can simply go to the ‘help/resource’ tab and then the ‘linking and downloads’ section for advice on how to complete this action.

“The slowness is being experienced by most users and is being worked on as a matter of urgency.

“Access to legislation is available through the new register, albeit a bit slow. If there are any links to legislation that become unavailable, we will publish these in the known issues tab.”

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Ms Swift said the number one issue impacting users was slowness.

“We have a team working around the clock to resolve this issue,” she said.

But the explanation is not satisfying agency heads and program directors who say they now have to assign ‘too many’ employees with ‘monumental hours’ of work to link legislation to the new register.

Some departments have tens of thousands of links that need transferring.

“This is appalling mismanagement and should never have happened,” one told Region.

“This is a very important register – way too important for there not to have been proper communication around changes to it.

“Someone needs to be answerable for this.”

The OPC was established under the Parliamentary Counsel Act 1970, but that link doesn’t work either.

“When you go to the OPC’s page, you can’t even open the links to their own legislation,” one frustrated public servant told Region.

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David Rowlands5:34 pm 11 Jan 24

As a former public servant at the ANAO, I can assure you that FRLI’s facilities (including all the historical material) are essential. I am sorry to hear of the difficulties reported here. One wonders whether they tried ‘parallel’ running of the old and new versions to identify teething problems before switching to the new version wholly.

No, it was a replacement on Jan 1st. A parallel rollout would have been excellent, who knows why they didn’t go with that approach. It would have been more work to keep both up to date, sure. But I think the resultant fallout was not worth any potential savings.

Why are they appalled? This kind of thing is standard for government. The only thing that is different this time is that this is obvious to the public.

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