Australian government pays PR firm to copy existing Covid data into daily email to media

The health department is refusing to say how much it is paying a public relations firm to email a copy of the Covid-19 vaccination data displayed on its website to media outlets each day.

The department, which has its own media and communications team, has contracted PR firm Cox Inall Communications to take a copy of its daily PDF of vaccination data, attach it to an email, and send it to media outlets.

The PR firm does not provide any additional detail on the vaccine rollout or present the data in a less rigid format than PDF, which often frustrates researchers and data analysts.

“I am reaching out on behalf of the Australian government (department of health) to provide you with the latest data on total vaccine doses,” Cox Inall says. “Our team will be sending an updated deck through to your newsroom each day to ensure you are up to date with the latest data for the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.”

No information about the contract has been displayed on the public database of government tenders, AusTender.

When approached about the work, the department refused to say how much of taxpayers’ money was being given to Cox Inall for the service.

Guardian Australia was told it would have to wait until the contract was published on AusTender.

The department’s most recent contract with Cox Inall gave the firm $300,000 for three months’ work to provide “agency and event support for Covid-19 vaccine communications”.

The department did not answer questions on whether paying a private firm to do such basic work was value-for-money.

But it said Cox Inall was contracted as part of a broader communications campaign.

“They are undertaking a range of tasks including information booths at shopping centres to support people who wish to book a vaccination appointment to broader communications to support the vaccination program,” a spokeswoman said. “A key priority of communication is addressing vaccine hesitancy within the Australian community – often amplified online and via various other channels.”

It’s not the first time in recent weeks that a government department has refused to provide basic information about contracts with private firms.

Last week, the Department of Education, Skills and Employment refused to say why it was giving management consultants McKinsey and Company $2.2m for two months’ of “confidential” work.

AusTender said only that the work was research-related and linked to an “inter-departmental workforce taskforce”.

The health department has also redacted large parts of advice that it received from McKinsey on its vaccine and treatment strategy, despite requests from the ABC.

InnovationAus has reported that other contracts between the health department and McKinsey have not been published to AusTender, in breach of procurement rules.

Cox Inall was approached for comment.

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