Tom Burton: the waste and faux-accountability of reporting

Annual reports: faux-accountability built on an outdated and fictional performance construct. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so expensive — and against real public policy outcomes.

If ever there was a candidate for red tape reduction it is the forest of annual reports, which literally get dumped in Canberra’s Parliament House each spring session.

Walk past the press gallery pigeon holes and you will see box after box of reports from agencies big and small, many unopened, a sharp reminder of the inability of government as a collective institution to adopt to the modern world.

While the corporate sector long ago gave up producing and distributing massive tomes, the federal government continues to insist its hundreds of departments, agencies and quangos produce printed annual reports. In what can only be described as a make-work program for Canberra’s printing and design industry, every agency is required to produce bound reports primarily for the members of Parliament House.

The printing of annual reports is the tail which wags a long process of content preparation, editing, design, layout and endless proofs. This is all done to a set of requirements laid out in micro detail by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. PM&C details paper quality, binding and size, to support what is a modest print run of several hundred for distribution across Capital Hill, where protocol requires the reports be tabled for parliamentarian review.

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