How Do Australia’s Government Communicate Laws and Regulations to Citizens? What can India Learn from this?

This report says that it is important that government departments set aside people and money tasked to communicate the laws, rules, and regulations that the department is charged with administering. Doing so is an important, but neglected, step in ensuring the effective implementation of public policies.

Good policy

Summary

In India, in particular, the Union and State governments, who rarely bother to inform citizens about what their laws and rules are. The federal government of Australia and the state government of Victoria are organized, and budgeted to carry out this function. They also do this in innovative ways. However, Australian citizens do not always know the details of all the laws that maybe relevant to them, because they either get too many messages or do not get an integrated and personalized communication. Finally, the paper examines what the future could look like for Australia, given today’s best practices in business and in computers. It also makes immediate, do-able recommendations for India’s Union and State governments.

­

2i-harsh-shrivastav-profile-1
1: Why is it important to inform citizens about policies, laws, and regulations?

According to Roger Wilkin AO, Secretary in the Attorney General’s office of the Federal Government, “Communication is the most powerful tool we have to raise awareness and increase understanding of government programs, policies, and reforms. Developing community and industry awareness and understanding of our work is essential to be successful in what we do. We can develop the best public policy or the most efficient programs, but if we do not communicate these effectively, they will not have the desired reach or impact.”[1]The same report on page 6, says “a strategic approach also enhances our opportunities to effectively promote important policy or law to the community to inform, influence, or change behavior.”

According to the 2011 annual report on campaign advertising by the Australian federal government, “Governments legitimately use taxpayer funds for advertising campaigns in the recognition that all members of the public have equal rights to access comprehensive information about government policies, programs, and services, which affect their entitlements, rights, and obligations.”[2]

According to Carolyn Evans, Dean of the Law School of Melbourne University, it makes sense to spend money to communicate laws because this promotes greater voluntary compliance. As she says, voluntary compliance is far cheaper and more convenient than to spend money on the police that can only catch some lawbreakers, who then need to be prosecuted, and finally jailed or fined. However, she adds that more than the “what” of the law, communication must also explain the “why” of the law. She believes that citizens need to appreciate how and why a law or a rule will deliver greater benefits to the community or the country, even if it requires individuals not to do something. Only then will there be greater voluntary compliance. However, she adds that communicating laws would be the second in her list of priorities. Most importantly, would be to have clearly drafted laws that are enforced impartially. Even if this is second on the Dean’s list, it is important that India’s State and Union Governments pay attention to this task. But, as the next chapter shows, they rarely do so. One more person I spoke to, gave this reason for why it was important to communicate laws. He said that if innocent people were prosecuted for violating the law, especially if they were ignorant of its provisions, then other citizens would lose their respect for the law—and laws can only be enforced if the majority voluntarily respects the law.

2: How is this different from what already happens in India?

India’s newspapers are full of government advertisements; yet no citizen will know the salient points of most or all of the laws and rules and regulations that are applicable to them. Governments communicate, but they communicate the launch of schemes and projects; of anniversaries of coming to power; of the birthdays of past heroes; of awards given to scientists and others. Very little of government communication is about matters that are immediately useful to citizens. These advertisements invariably carry photographs of the leader of the party or the Prime Minister (for Union Government advertisements) and Chief Ministers (for State government advertisements). They are often written either with too little information (with space for the obligatory photos) or with too much text, that is not readable. All these advertisements invite people to participate in these schemes, benefit from subsidies, or to know about the achievements of their government. In all this, the citizen has a choice in her or his participation in these schemes or subsidies. Whereas, it is obligatory for citizens and residents to follow all applicable laws, rules, and regulations.

Not all Indian government advertisements are useless. Some government agencies like the police or the railways advertise service changes—like the timetable of trains or the closure of roads. Other advertisements around festivals exhort people to lock their houses before vacationing or to pay their income tax on time or to drive safely—which are comparable with what other countries also do.

However, very few Indian government agencies are communicating the applicable contents of laws that have been enacted. The exceptions to this are:

  • The Consumer Rights Act and the entitlements that citizens have under it have been advertised for some years.
  • The strong penalties now in force under the Prevention of Pre-Natal Determination of Sex Act are now being advertised.
  • The Domestic Violence Act; and the
  • Food Safety and Standards Act are now being slowly advertised.

One smart example of legal communication was this hoarding that was put up at the popular Surajkund mela held every year at the outskirts of Delhi.

Untitled

Another innovative idea was this poster put up inside one of the trains of the Delhi Metro about the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act. Notice that the poster and the hoarding both have photographs of the relevant Ministers!

Untitled 1

Yet, these advertisements are few—and they are all being done by Union government ministries. State governments do not advertise at all. The mindset of most senior officials is that once laws have been enacted they are published in the Gazette of India—and that is sufficient information. These officials say that they do not have the time to implement a communications and outreach plan, since the same officer has not also now implement the newly passed law; or putting together the rules and regulations under the law, or “subordinate regulation”; or drafting amendments to the previous law. Their attitude is that those who want to find out about the law can read up the law in the Gazette or buy a book about the law and its related commentaries from some legal publishers. To reduce this absence of information, the Law and Justice department of the Union Government has put together a website that has the full text of all laws that are currently in force. This website, www.indiacode.nic.in, however is understandable only by lawyers, since it simply has the text of all the laws, searchable alphabetically or chronologically.

This website does not compile all the subordinate legislation; the various rules and regulations made by the executive under the law, and which have the force of the law. According to a senior officer in the Planning Commission, there is no compilation bringing together all the subordinate legislation of all the ministries of the Union Government. For State Governments, this is worse. Indian states pass laws only in their state language. Those who do not know that language will not know what the applicable law is in that state. More than the language problem is the mindset challenge. No State Government has an online, easily searchable compendium of laws—not even like the Union Government’s indiacode website.

All state governments have information departments; the Union Government has an information officer for each department. However, these departments are busy in organizing press briefings for their ministers; issuing and following up on press releases; and in general, worrying first about the publicity of their minister; second, about publicizing their department’s schemes; and last about providing information. For states to communicate laws is even more important because, for citizens and residents, it is the rules and regulations made by their respective State governments that impinge more on their daily lives than does the rules made by the Union Government. Yet, because of the absence of a mindset, of money, and of the right medium (which language), most Indians are completely ignorant of their State’s laws.

Thus, both India’s Union and State governments have to do a lot to prepare themselves for communicating statutory information to citizens. The next two chapters look at how Australia’s federal and state governments are carrying out this task.

3: What does the federal government of Australia do?

Australia’s federal government spends a lot of money on advertising, but it is also spending it smartly. In the year 2010-11, the federal government spent AUD 117 million on advertising and communication. And in the six months to December 2011, the government spent AUD 69 million in advertising. My research is based primarily on my meetings with the Attorney General’s office, which is responsible for communicating many of the laws. I have also met other departments, but they had a more supportive role. First, the Attorney General’s department has created three separate teams within itself. One, looks at media and the minister—the sole role that India’s communications officer have. This separate team has been created to deal with crisis management and to support the minister’s engagement with the media, recognizing that this is an important task. The second team, “strategy and campaigns” organizes the communications relating to particular laws and all other communications. Finally, a third team is responsible for creating websites, brochures, advertisements, etc.

The second team starts its work by meeting with legal and policy experts to understand what are the key messages from the proposed or about-to-be-enacted law. In addition to the messages, the key stakeholders who need to be reached are also identified. Before any other activities are done, some time is spent understanding what is the existing level of awareness that stakeholders have about the laws. Sometimes, market research agencies are engaged. Only, after this understanding is developed, does the work of designing advertisements and brochures start.

As an example of thought through communication is the changes to Family Law that will come into force from June 7, 2012. These changes will put the interests of the child first, when couples divorce. To communicate these changes, the Attorney General decided that rather than taking out large advertisements, it would be better to prepare one-page leaflets that would be given to all related lawyers and counselors, who are the first people likely to hear separating couples. Alternate designs for this leaflet was being discussed when I visited the AG’s office in the first half of April 2012. Here’s a photograph of one proposed option.

Untitled 4

According to the Strategic Communications Framework of the Attorney General’s Department referred to in the first chapter, it is important to not dive in straight into writing out a press release or advertisement, but to think, plan, engage, and review. Their starting point was “think” about what your communication is expected to do. This guidebook also talks about how it is important that communications be an integral part of the strategic plan of the department, and the business plan of each department, something that is rare in India in India’s governments.

Continuing, the framework gives seven good principles to follow in communicating the work of the Attorney General’s department[3]. These should be:

  • A critical part of all our planning.
  • Results-based and focused on the audience
  • Open and two-way—a very important point that India’s government often forgets!
  • Coordinated, consistent, and credible.
  • Targeted and timely.
  • Inclusive and respectful. Again, inclusive, is an important point that multi-cultural India should learn from multi-cultural Australia.
  • Modified as needed based on evaluation.

Independent Communications Commission

For all federal departments, advertisements and communication campaigns that cost more than 250,000 AUD are first cleared by an Independent Communications Committee. This committee, which comprises four retired senior officials, and meets every fortnight, looks at the quality of the proposed advertisement and whether these meet the 2010 guidelines on relevance, objectivity, access, and non-partisan.[4] The committee is supported by the Communications Advice Branch, a part of the Department of Finance and Deregulation.

One of the objectives of this committee is also to ensure that departments are not sending out messages that are contradictory to each other and that there is no bunching up of communications, so that recipients are not bombarded with too many campaigns, and then too few. Also, this branch ensures regular meetings of the communications heads of different government departments so that they can learn from each other. India could do with such coordination!

More agencies of more types than India’s single DAVP

To get better coordination, the Federal Government has created a common multi-user list of not just advertising agencies, but public relations and market research agencies as well. In India, we have a single Directorate of Audio Visual and Publicity, which is the monopoly provider of print advertising. We could learn from Australia and create a similar pre-selected list of agencies that cover the entire spectrum of marketing and communications.

Interactive and informative australia.gov.au

The team at the Australia Government Information Management Office manage the national portal of Australia, australia.gov.au. This portal is slightly better than the India.gov.in national portal, which is managed by the National Informatics Center, because it has more links on the home page to online services (probably because Australia has more online services) and with more information about government policies. One of the ways that this team makes their page more relevant is by changing the ranking of subjects within the various topics, based on how frequently these subjects are queried in search engines.

Preparing for big changes

Australia is going to implement a much-debated carbon tax from July 1, 2012. In preparation for that, the Department of Climate Change is working to inform citizens what this new tax will mean; why climate change is important; and what they can do about it as citizens.

Explaining the “why” by reaching out directly to citizens

To build a case for the carbon tax, the Government set up an independent Climate Commission. The commission felt that it should focus on smaller towns first, rather than big cities. In its first year, it went to eleven such smaller towns selected because they were steel or coal towns or mid-sized cities. In each town, they Commission spent three or four days. They held a public forum; they met local editors; regional businesses; NGOs; and others. At each place, they presented their understanding of how climate change would impact that town. Now that the carbon tax has come into force, the Commission will do general advocacy of the importance of climate change. It will do more of storytelling, which brings an emotional dialogue with the person, not just statistics. This complements the government’s communication, which is more specific about the carbon tax.

Comlaw vs. Indiacode

India’s compilation of Union laws is on a website called indiacode.nic.in; Australia’s is called comlaw. The comlaw website, www.comlaw.gov.au is more useful than India’s. It starts with a document on how to use the website. It then has a link explaining “how to read legislation”. It follows that up by having a section called: “explore the law: an A-Z of key jargon”. Then all the laws are sorted into different easy-to-follow categories. Another way that this site is more user-friendly than India’s is that the laws that are most popularly searched are put on top

Coordination with State Governments

Australia is as vigorous a federal country as India is. Coordination across the federal and state governments is facilitated through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), which brings together the Prime Minister, all state Premiers, and the President of the Local Government Association. This is somewhat similar to India’s National Development Council and the Inter State Council. Ron Perry, Assistant Secretary, of the COAG, in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, explained to me that COAG often works towards harmonizing inter-state rules on commerce. Once such harmonization is taken place, then it is the responsibility of the agencies of the state governments to communicate these nation-wide uniform rules to residents of their state. The COAG helps sometimes in providing the content.

4: What do state governments do?

The Victoria state government spends even more on advertising and communications than does the federal government. According to a February 2012 report[5] of the Auditor General of Victoria, In the 54 months from July 2006 to December 2010, Victoria’s 11 departments and five agencies spent over one billion dollars. In the six months to December 2010, Victoria spent 152 million dollars.

Victoria duplicates the Federal system of having an independent committee looking at large advertising and communications campaign. The Advertising and Communications Committee is serviced by the Department of Premier and Cabinet and it looks at all advertising campaigns above AUD 150,000. In Victoria, this Committee comprises the Premier and three other senior Cabinet Ministers. Last year, the committee used to meet every month for two hours to review the communications campaigns and even the design of advertisements. This year, the Committee meets every eight weeks for about an hour and a half.

No Indian state government’s chief minister has ever created such a coordination mechanism. This may not be needed too—when our political leadership has many other things to do, but perhaps a committee of junior ministers can be formed to regularly review all advertising and communications to ensure that they represent the best strategic interests of the government.

Better coordination across government agencies

During the Easter break, many more Victorians are on the roads and accidents are higher. To reduce this, a coordinated advertising campaign that brings together the Transport Accident Commission; local governments; the Victoria Roads agency; and the Victoria Place, to together inform motorists about the higher chances of accidents. In Delhi, for instance, the Delhi Police carries safety advertisements, but other government agencies do not join this.

For better coordination, there are monthly meetings of the heads of communication of each government department. Copying the federal government system of a centralized list of communication providers, the Victoria government also has a Master Media Contract, which all 480 Victoria government departments and agencies are supposed to use. Empanelled agencies are expected to provide training to government departments as part of their contract—increasing the capabilities of in-house government officials.

Focus on the small laws as well

Joanne De Morton, the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, was earlier the head of communications of the Department of Primary Industries. She explained that her earlier department took communicating even small rules and regulations seriously. They first analyzed the risk of non-compliance of these small laws. If they found that more people were not going to follow the law, and that there doing so would have high costs, they increased the spending on communicating the laws and rules.

They realized that regulations of fishing were likely to be considered “boring”. So they created an attractive fishing guide, in which, interspersed with photographs and other “cool” stuff, they had pages about the relevant fishing regulations. Further, the rules relating to the size of the fish that could be caught were not being taken seriously. So, they plastic rulers that clearly showed the permissible catch size. These rulers were made available at fishing piers and where fishing boats were hired. The philosophy of the department was that it was more cost-effective to target the right people (the would-be fishermen) at the right place (where they went out to fish), at the right time (when they were going out), rather than taking out large advertisements. This level of thinking about impact is routine in the marketing departments of big and medium Indian companies, but rare in India’s governments.

Strengthening the capabilities of the in-house communication staff

Both Joanne De Morton and Annmarie Faulkner, the Communications Manager of the Department of Business and Innovation have said that they now consider it more important to teach their own colleagues new ways of doing new things than taking out large advertisements. One of them has suggested that if one less advertising campaign was run, the money saved could pay for some years’ worth of training for her team. Another added, that in an effort to encourage excellence and benchmark with the best, government communication campaigns were being submitted as entries to competitions about the best marketing campaigns, in which many other entrants were businesses. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in the Union government is now sending Indian Information Service officers for refresher training, but this level of professionalism and concern for their own staff is rare in India’s state governments.

The Department of Business and Innovation has fifteen persons in its communication team, out of a total staff of approximately 750 people—or two percent of its total staff. In India, there would be one or two persons dealing with press relations in each ministry; maybe one or two if it is a large ministry.

New media, but old media too!

Everyone that I met in the Victoria government (and in Canberra too) were not very enthused by the use of social media to communicate laws and regulations. One person said that at best the official Twitter account was used to re-tweet press releases. Once, a Facebook campaign was run to emphasize civil behavior in restaurants, even when your colleague (or to use the proper Australian term, mate) was drunk and likely to aggressive. However, two people said that using radio made a lot of sense for such government communications, because most residents listened to the radio once during the day—either in their commute in their cars or while cooking or at home. This was insightful and useful for India, where in all our many private radio stations that are also always turned on in public buses, there is no government radio advertising.

Using employees to communicate to targeted stakeholders

The Department of Business and Innovation which supports small businesses in the state is redeploying its own staff of 750 people to more directly reach out to companies and businesses. Some of its headquarters staff have been compulsorily relocated either to suburban offices in Melbourne or to smaller towns of Victoria. There they man, what are called “shopfronts”, where small businesses can walk in to have their questions on laws and rules, as well as subsidies and schemes, answered in person, and not just by going through the FAQ section in their website.

Not content with just sending more people out into the field, the Department has set them some targets in the field too. All of Victoria’s businesses that employ more than one hundred people must be visited at least once a year by a DBI employee. Half of those businesses that employ fifty or more people, must be visited by a DBI employee every year. This way, they can actually “walk their department’s talk”!

Next steps: Communicate first to all your employees

Senior and middle-level Victoria government employees have both agreed that would be even more effective than outreach to citizens is to first communicate to all their fellow-government employees, across all departments, the changes in laws, rules, and regulations—and the reason why these are being carried out. This was for two reasons. The negative was, that government employees, especially junior ones, often did not know what their government was doing—and they often only read opinionated newspaper criticisms. But, more importantly, if the thousands of governments employees were regularly informed about changes in laws and regulations, than they would be the most credible ambassadors to their friends and families.

While Victoria has not yet tapped the power and the network of its own employees, they are at least thinking about it. The logic that they have used is even more applicable in India, where even lower-level government employees (Class 2, 3, and 4) have high social status, but are most often ignorant about government decisions.

A clear introduction to recent laws

The website of the Premier of Victoria has a useful page that lists all the laws that were enacted in 2011 and gives a one-paragraph description of the law.[6] For instance, in 2011, Victoria’s parliament enacted 85 laws.[7] The one paragraph write-up is in clear English and it covers why this law was passed (to meet an election commitment; to honor a judicial settlement, etc.); what is the intent of the law; and what, if any, regulations under that law that still need to be made.

Indian’s Union and State governments should create a similar website. Of course, we have the challenges of multiple languages, so to start with this website could be in Hindi and in the official language of the state—later on an English-language version can always be made.

Advertisements in papers—that are clear!

Print advertising—the mainstay of Indian government communications—is also used to communicate legal and regulatory changes. The photograph below is that of an advertisement in an Australian newspaper that came out on March 21, 2012. This relates to a change in laws in the state of New South Wales. This advertisement is large in size—and therefore, costly. Yet, without wasting space on photos of ministers, and by using clear English in a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) format, it is effective in informing citizens. Most importantly, the sequence of questions has also been thought through, starting with “What has changed”.

This example shows that advertising, if done well, can and should be used, if you want to reach out to many citizens.

Untitled 5

Press coverage of impending legal changes

The photograph of an article in a local newspaper in Tasmania (a small Australian state) on April 8, 2012 also shows how the print media can be used to inform people. The article is clear that this is only a draft law of the government, but by reading it, it is also clear what the intent of the government is. Further, this newspaper article is as informative as the previous example of a paid-for advertisement, because the last paragraph of the article gives details about where to get more information and how much time there is for citizens’ feedback.

In India, it may be difficult for the main national dailies to devote so much space about such “small” laws, but it should not be too difficult for government agencies in states to get local, language newspapers to print such informative articles. Especially, when these smaller papers are dependent on state government advertising! You only need to have the mindset of informing citizens about laws and regulations to do this.

2C. Figure 3

Planning better

Every department in Victoria has to prepare a yearly communications strategy that is discussed in the Advertising and Communications Committee, mentioned earlier in this chapter. This is an exhaustive exercise that covers every one of the agencies within the department. The physical size of the 2011-12 plan for the Department of Business and Innovation can be seen from the photograph below. Appendix 3 gives a better sense of the level of detailed planning that is done. Its thirteen A-3 pages (which is one size bigger than the normal A-4 page) covering one agency, Small Business Victoria, which is one part of the many agencies of the Department of Business and Innovation that can be seen in the folder below—all the pages in that folder are A-3!

In India, such detailed planning for communications—covering every last step, sub-agency, media—is NEVER done.

2D. Figure 4

The next chapter discusses whether citizens themselves feel if they know enough about the law, despite all this planning and effort.

5: What do Australia’s citizens think of these efforts by their governments?

Australians when asked whether they knew all the laws that are applicable to them, were first surprised to hear this question. However, they all said that they did NOT know most or even some of the laws. However, when a few people thought about it, they replied that they did get to know the provisions of some of the more relevant laws. For instance, almost everyone said that he or she had a sense of the changes in the tax laws and provisions that were applicable to them. For this they credited the “Taxpacks” provided by the Australian Taxation Office.

Much mail from MPs

Some people said that since almost every Australian had a residential address, they routinely got mail from their state Member of Parliament or even local councilor that had a lot of information about upcoming changes in laws and policies. Unfortunately, many of them considered such constituency newsletters that came in the post as “junk” mail, to be thrown away unopened. Although, they agreed that these communications from their elected representatives listed important service changes in government or proposed projects to which government was inviting consultations.

Based on this, one person emphatically told me that most Australians actually had “no excuse not to know what was happening”. Except, that they had so much information at times, that they did not know what was relevant. There was also the feeling that for one or two big issues, the government did take a lot of effort to communicate. For instance, the now enacted carbon tax has been discussed adequately. So was the roll-out of the Goods and Services Tax some years ago.

Others pointed to the State Government’s zeal to stop over-drinking and underage drinking. This was seen in every restaurant, which is required to prominently display standardized boards about the penalties for this or for getting drunk. This can be seen from the two photographs below: the first is about intoxication in public; the second about underage drinking.

2E. Figure 52F. Figure 6

One person said to me that the Government was like a “nanny state” in that it kept bombarding its citizens with regulatory information in every public place. For instance, in the Melbourne Metro, this is displayed in every coach.

2G. Figure 7

Apart from too much of information, some citizens criticized the government as focusing only on English, when Australia now had many non-English speakers too. One suggestion, that may have been tried by one or two departments, but could be replicated was to have a one-sentence explanation of the name of the proposed in ten or so non-English languages as part of every big advertising campaign, with a phone number that one could call and hear a translation in one of these ten languages.

Some expert criticism

A marketing and communications expert, who used to work in government communications earlier, added that government was spending too much money on advertising its projects, but not enough on informing citizens. This had to be done in a way that “cut through” the clutter of advertising and communication that most people received every day.

He also complained about a lack of convergence across different government departments. While acknowledging the coordinated efforts made by different agencies to reduce traffic injuries, they gave a counter-example of confusion. Prostitution is legal in Victoria, but there was confusion in the messages that the police put out; that the consumer affairs department put out (apparently, this is the department responsible for regulating prostitution); what local councils put out about locations for brothels; and, what health agencies said.

Another point made was that information was only the first, but important, step in keeping citizens’ engaged with government. There should be a continuous dialogue on service delivery, on feedback on existing rules, on proposals to update rules, and of course on new laws and rules. To do this though, government must give up its attitude of one-way dissemination of information and adopt the attitude that businesses now have in this decade of social media. That is, government should strive to be “in” the conversation that people are already having with each other—both online and offline.

He also reiterated the importance of communicating first to all the staff of government departments. One simple test was that could every government employee satisfactorily answer a routine phone query from most citizens.

This chapter shows that citizens have mixed feelings. Some are overwhelmed and some are underwhelmed, but most seem to be aware of the key messages that the government is sending out, even if they are not aware of the 85 laws!

6: What could the future be for Australia?

The future for government communications in Australia is already present. Most citizens get SMS alerts about their financial transactions. They post and see status updates on Facebook. They also get many services from Google with their one single Google account. They are also used to downloading and apps on their Apple phones. Technology in 2012 already keeps people more than informed about their friends and their work. The challenge is for government to just replicate the best that the private sector is already doing.

The Australia.gov.au portal has an account service that allows you to sign on and authenticate yourself only once—and that authentication is then valid for other online government services. At the moment, just under a million people use this service. One suggestion is that all Australians should compulsorily have an online account with the government.

The second suggestion is that Australians get consolidated monthly emails from all relevant government agencies—so you need a back-office to consolidate this information, about service and regulatory updates. Some of these could be compulsorily sent out to all citizens; others could be voluntary based on interests or occupations or residential location. For instance, those who have a dog, may get more information than those who do not. Those who live in the countryside, may get different information than those who live in high-rise apartments. Those who say that their primary language is not English would get all these communications automatically in the language that they have signed up for.

Another suggestion is that at a fixed time in a day, citizens will get an SMS update, if there is any temporary or emergency change in a relevant rule, but otherwise they are not repeatedly bombarded by SMSs, which they soon start considering as span.

Finally, because mobile phones can also track where you are, if people move from one city to another, they may automatically get a welcome email with only those rules that are different in the city than from their previous city. And, for a few key health and safety related changes, they could even get a more frequent SMS detailing how, say Sydney’s traffic rules, are different from Melbourne’s.

This might raise the question of “Big Brother” and an omniscient Government, which knows where everybody is, and what they are doing. The counter-argument to that is simple: Google already knows all about you, since almost every day, every Australian is using some or the other online service. So, if Google knows, and Facebook knows, then it may not be too much for Government to also know.

This would of course require different government departments—across Federal, State, and local level to work together or to at least create systems for sending regular updates about their rules and regulations to this central distribution center that could then pump it out. Of course, in today’s decentralized world, this shold not stop individual agencies from still communicating on their own.

7: What are next steps for India’s governments?

India’s Union and State Governments have much to learn from their Australian counterparts. I’ve summarized the key learning that I have found from my two-month research project.

  • Ministers and top bureaucrats will have to be given some training to change their mindset so that they can take this subject far more seriously than before.
  • Before each law goes to Cabinet for approval, it must have a section, that specified what are the key messages in that law and for what stakeholders.
  • There should also be an analysis of the cost of non-compliance with this law, and therefore an estimate of what is a reasonable budget for communicating this law.
  • The indiacode website should be updated to meet the comlaw website.
  • Every State government should create an equivalent statecode website in two languages: one its official language, and second in English. These websites should not just have the laws, but also all the relevant “subordinate legislation” should also be updated.
  • Each Union government ministry and perhaps two or three ministries in the State Government should have a separate team handling strategic communications of the type that I’ve described in Australia—and this team must not do press relations.
  • Government agencies should also have to report how effective they are in their legal dissemination work, perhaps by having their work audited through an independent market research done on key stakeholders, and not just lawyers.
  • The secretaries of each government department would have to certify in their annual reports the work that their department has done to disseminate laws and regulations that they are administering.
  • To do all this, government communications people must be trained to write in the most easy-to-understand language. For starters, they can be issued with a copy of a style guide like the Complete Plain Words, which was first written in 1954 and has always been in print.[8]
  • As convenient, the use of SMS to disseminate updates should be encouraged, just as I have outlined in the previous chapter.

Appendixes

1)    People that I met for my research

No. Name Designation

In India

1 CV Madhukar Founder, PRS Parliamentary Research Service
2 Dharmendra Sharma Joint Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs
3 Pankaj Jain Resident Commissioner, Meghalaya
4 Pronab Sen Principal Adviser, Planning Commission
5 Snehlata Shrivastava Joint Secretary, Law and Justice Ministry

In Australia

6 Allan Fels Dean, Australia New Zealand School of Government
7 Amanda Mackenzie Senior Communications Advisor, Climate Commission Secretariat
8 Annmarie Faulkner Manager, Stakeholder Relations, Department of Business and Innovation, Victoria Government
9 Carolyn Evans Dean, Law School, Melbourne University
10 Dale Ahern Communications Officer, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Victoria
11 Daniel Gleeson Director, Strategy and Campaigns, Attorney General’s Office, Federal Government
12 David Doherty Australia Government Information Management Office
13 David Hanna Principal Adviser, Department of Business and Innovation, Victoria
14 David Broadbent Communications Director, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Victoria
15 Joanne De Morton Deputy Secretary, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Victoria
16 John Dubois Director, Marketing and Communications, Melbourne University
17 Laurie Van Veen Assistant Secretary, Department of Finance, Federal Government
18 Miguel Carrasco Partner, Canberra, Boston Consulting Group
19 Nick Higginbottom Communications Officer, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Victoria
20 Ron Perry Assistant Secretary, COAG, Prime Minister and Cabinet, Federal Government
21 Rory Medcalf Lowy Institute, Sydney
22 Sandhya Tewari Department of Business and Innovation, Victoria
23 Sue Mithen Communications Manager, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Victoria
24 Victoria Walker Adviser, Prime Minister and Cabinet, Federal Government

2)    Websites that I referred to

No. Web address Information received
1 aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_Legislation Australia’s Parliament
2 www.audit.vic.gov.au/publications/20120229-Govt-Advertising/20120229-Govt-Advertising.html The audit report of government advertising in Victoria from July 2006 to December 2010
3 www.australia.gov.au The national portal of Australia
4 www.climatechange.gov.au The homepage of the Climate Change department.
5 www.comlaw.gov.au Australia’s repository of laws.
6 www.finance.gov.au/advertising/docs/Guidelines-on-Information-and-Advertising-Campaigns-by-Australian-Government-Departments-and-Agencies-March-2010.pdf Guidelines on how to conduct large advertisement campaigns, issued by the Federal Government
7 www.indiacode.nic.in List of all laws in force in India
8 www.premier.vic.gov.au/announcements/bills-passed-into-law-by-the-victorian-coalition-government-and-bills-currently-before-parliament.html The list of bills passed in the last year in Victoria
Small Business Victoria Communications Plan – 2011/12
SBV Mission Statement Small Business Victoria provides a range of advocacy and low cost information, programs and services promoting a fair and competitive environment that is supporting all small businesses to succeed.
SBV Business Plan Objectives The Business Plan identifies the following objectives:

  • Improve SBV’s offering to identify and support all Victorian businesses;
  • Promote and improve client management processes to achieve significant growth in the number of Business Victoria online account holders – from 60,000 in June 2010 to 90,000 in June 2011;
  • Expand focus and process improvements within VSBC to mediate disputes – particularly in relation to retail tenancies (in conjunction with VCAT), commercial leases, and planning disputes;
  • Increase development and tailoring of management skills content for online delivery;
  • Better utilise the data collected about Victorian small businesses and their needs to segment, tailor and target services more effectively;
  • Strengthen evaluation of program outcomes and better utilise lessons learned in program design and delivery;
  • Improve promotion of Small Business Victoria services to elevate awareness of available support and its benefits – this will include more extensive utilisation of advisors (e.g. accountants, lawyers and banks) that represent key information and access channels to engage small businesses;
  • Ensure small business services address the needs of all Victorian small businesses and are easily accessible at time or point of need; and
  •  Ensure linkages across related government industry programs are well managed to avoid duplication and confusion amongst Victorian small businesses.
SBV Communications Objective Particularly in response to the Business Plan Objective:

  •  Improve promotion of Small Business Victoria programs, services and information to elevate awareness and take up support for small business and its benefits;
  • Raise awareness of Small Business Victoria programs, services and information with stakeholders, making clear the role of, and how stakeholders can interact, with SBV;
  • Highlight SBV’s policy role in representing small businesses;
  • Engage stakeholders who wish to participate in events and activities, or influence policy in the interests of small businesses;
  • Focus attention on SBV’s branding, image and messaging in order that programs and services reach small businesses at a time, in a place and in a way where they have a moment to make a working-on-the-business decision; and
  • Facilitate a working-on-the-business connection between Victorian small businesses and Small Business Victoria, in order that they are receptive to messages with longer-term implications.
‘Structure of Communication Framework
Section 1. Policy – Strategic Communication

  • Legislative Agenda
  • Small Business Ministerial Council
  • Multicultural Business Ministerial Council
  • Small Business Discussion Paper
Section 2. Key Information Channels

  • Mobile Business Centre
  • Small Business Information Centre (VGBO)
  • Victorian Business Line
  • Business Victoria (website)
  • Victoria’s Small Business Festival
Section 3.Core Programs

  • Workshops & Seminars
  • Small Business Mentoring Program
  • Grow Your Business Grants
  • Skills for Growth
Section 4. Specialist Programs

  • Master Class for Growth
  •  Building Resilient Businesses
  • Indigenous Business Development
 SECTION 5.Small Business Commissioner

 

Appendix

[1] From the Secretary’s Foreword to the Strategic Communications Framework of the Attorney General’s Department.

[2] From the foreword by the Special Minister of State, Gary Grey, of this 2011 annual report.

[3] On page 7 of the Strategic Communications Framework..

[4] The guidelines can be downloaded from the website given in Appendix 2.

[5] The website carrying this report is given in Appendix 2.

[6] The hyperlink to this website is in Appendix 2.

[7] No Indian state legislature is so productive!

[8] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Complete_Plain_Words gives details of this indispensable book.

Fellowship research work in Australia.

Published :
April 27, 2016
Author:
Harsh Shrivastava