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26 July 2022

Opening day of Parliament of a new Government – this is a new era – carpe diem.

It is very important to me to be here today, I am really encouraged to see so many people having this government services conversation.

And I am also encouraged by the agenda of today:

  • you’ll talk about breaking down silos, collaboration across government services and jurisdictions.
  • you’ll talk about data for good policy … removing barriers to accessing health, community and social government services.
  • you’ll talk integrated services and planning for complex government services.

This is so encouraging, and I’ll briefly explain why I am confident these are the right directions, and why these conversations are so essential.

But can I encourage you, don’t let this be just one day a year – let it be your modus operandi – working together. Add to the list of your collaborators community groups, work hand-in-hand with service providers … they deliver so many of our services, look at what other countries are doing.

This will be an era of social shared national improvement. The Albanese Government is about national improvement on a basis of unifying our country that leaves no one behind.

Somewhat immodestly, the incoming Cabinet is at least as good as any since Federation. That obviously includes our capable Finance Minister who has carriage of the important DTA.

So when you are having your panel discussions today, be bold, be confident, know that I will back you, know this government will back you to build the services Australians deserve … world-class services.

When considering new policies and reforms, one test I have always asked myself, if we are not already the best, who does it the best, what can we learn?

Put another way, we should be ambitious for the citizens of our nation, when we are the best in the world, then that will only be good enough.

Well, three international examples come to mind immediately:

  • Denmark has already delivered digital tools and solutions that join up all levels of government services – it is unified.
  • Estonia has been exemplary in digital services for over 20 years, it has been embedded in their government services almost from the start of their restored independence:
    • In 1996, they introduced e-Cabinet meetings that streamlined governmental decision-making, that reduced the length of cabinet meetings from 5 hours to 30 minutes.
    • In 2000: to maximise state tax revenue to support the growing needs of the developing society, they developed e-Tax, 98% of people declare their income electronically, it now takes about 3 minutes online. 
    • 12 years ago they introduced e-Prescription, 99% of medical prescriptions are handled online; routine refills can be issued without appointments.
  • South Korea are implementing a facility where citizens can directly manage their personal information held by government agencies, to allow citizens to choose essential data to be shared when applying for and receiving government services, giving them control over their own data. I’m attracted to this level of transparency and agency given to citizens.

Almost certainly, there are other jurisdictions doing other world-class innovations.  Some of your discussions today might consider this. It should also be part of the constant national conversation – what can we learn from them? We can’t afford to be complacent.

We are also fortunate to have exemplars and great counsel here in Australia with regards to how digital advancements should be implemented, in a way that protects and promotes human rights. One such person is Ed Santow. His Human Rights and Technology report of 2021 provides excellent consideration.

Australians are not scared of adoption, they are not averse to using new technology, in fact, it wasn’t just the step-change caused by COVID-19 that has advanced digital adoption, Australians have always been early adopters of new technologies.

We were early adopters of ATMs, way back in 1967, and interestingly, we have been just as fast to ditch cash, with more than 90% of us using cashless “tap and go”, we are among the highest of countries to make the transition to cashless purchases.

However, this comes with a proviso that I support; Australians demand that any digital technical development rejects unaccountable power, and upholds citizen rights, human rights.

When new technology is used to make important decisions, especially in the sphere of government services, it must be fair.

It is right the Australian public values their personal rights, pluralism and accountability. In practice that means decision, designs and services are fair, accurate, accountable and efficient.

Why should we embark on this journey? Why should you take on this challenge?

Our citizens want this conversation, they expect this conversation, they are already having it among themselves.

The election result shows citizens are hungry for better government, they expect to be heard, they expect reforms, and the delivery of effective and ethical digital services can play a vital role in these reforms.

Let me use getting a passport as an example – it is remarkable for all the wrong reasons:

Passports are an example where there is capacity for a more citizen centric service. The process for getting a passport is a 1950’s five-step process:

  1. First you prove who you are by gathering original documents and getting passport photos done. Evidence you are Australian, identity documents and compliant photos. 
  2. Someone has to be your referee or guarantor and you need all their details.
  3. Then you fill in an application – physically. It can be generated online … but you then have to print it. 
  4. Then you lodge your application in person at a post office or similar, and pay the fee.
  5. Then there is, at best, a 6 week wait, unless you have the capacity to pay a hurry-up fee.

Now to be fair there are a lot of safeguards built in to that process, but imagine the difference were we to approach this from a fair, accurate, accountable and efficient point-of-view.

Let’s imagine how we could do this, and what it might look like.

Imagine if there was a single digital interface between the citizen and the government – so they didn’t need to understand and grapple with the complexities of the machinery of government.

Our principle of accuracy is important here:

  • Few things are more frustrating that re-telling your story to every arm of government, especially in times of crises.
  • If I had a dollar for every time a constituent said to me ‘why do I have to tell government the same thing over and over, why don’t departments talk to each other? Why do I even need to know how the government decided to structure departments and agencies?’

In your panel discussions today, you’ll be talking about collaboration. To enable this, we will need all federal government agencies marching to the beat of the same drum.

While agencies continue to create digital silos, with their own disconnected apps and websites, ordinary Australians will remain rightfully frustrated.

Imagine a myGov that unifies government digital services – by making it more valuable for the commonwealth, states and service providers to interface with myGov to offer better service delivery to Australians.

That means outcome and people-led, not tech-led. When you are talking about collaboration, set success as delivering services that improves our citizens lives. Imagine the unity of those services and simplification of citizen’s journey. It doesn’t matter if your agency is not the supplier of the interface with the citizen, if you are part of that unified service, that makes life easier, that improves outcomes, that is success, and I’ll back you all the way to deliver it.

If we succeed in that challenge, if we unify and collaborate, that will enable a trusted, secure and holistic picture of a person so we can proactively get them the right services, when they need them.

The accuracy I mentioned is key. And the architecture I’m painting here is about real-time collaboration.

Data custodians are best placed to maintain the accuracy of their data. They should be accountable for its safe-keeping.
Let’s imagine what this could this deliver by 2032.

If the demise of the car manufacturing industry happened in 2032, imagine if we were able to look at their workforce, and how to support them to re-skill and transition to better jobs.

We would be able to see if that transition was successful and target more supports to those that need it, to ensure that we don’t lose the human capital.

Consider, if we have a full picture of these individuals, we will be able to support them to understand how their skill set could be augmented with additional training to open up new career pathways.

This provides value for money for the taxpayer, they are investing in building human capital.

This lifts both participation and productivity of workers.

For the individual it eases uncertainty and can prevent hardships of unemployment.

Let’s look at integrated care – when someone from NSW goes to Queensland on holiday but gets sick and goes to hospital, it is a struggle for them to share their results with their regular GP. Imagine if that sharing happened seamlessly in the background.

Imagine the simple convenience of pharmaceutical prescriptions being accessible within the enhanced myGov, for instance. If Priceline can do it for their customers, why can’t government?

Imagine with aged-based life events – throughout life, but particularly after 40, we could nudge people to engage in preventative screening and treatments.

We could nudge people to book in for cancer screening, commenced from within the enhanced myGov app (interfacing with GP software platforms for bookings). Imagine if that simple and effective nudge saved one of our lives.

And the list is endless … life-long education – both providing services and information for education and other policy development.

Nudges to top up training and education can boost productivity and wage growth, and insures against individuals becoming obsolete within their industry.

One of your panel discussions today is about ‘Privacy, data management, and data for good policy’. Imagine how great it will be when we nail that, so we can securely use the longitudinal datasets that would be derived from those whole-of-life supports I’ve just outlined for policy development and research.

The pay-off for getting this right is immense. This could support generations of policy development … actually imagine the productivity explosion.

It would allow us to constantly refine the efficiency of our service delivery … accurate service delivery … that makes for better outcomes for our citizens, and better use of government resources.

That is just a snippet of what I think working together could deliver. It’s examples, not a list – I am sure the list is much, much bigger.

Soon we will commence the myGov Audit.

It will be an opportunity to get a deep understanding of what our citizens want and expect.

And based on that we can collectively plot out, the “how” and “what” that sets us up for success for many, many years.

Not just a once-off digital blue-print, a reset in thinking. By delivering through myGov we must consider how we continuously improve our services. Australians deserve more than an uplift of their services every 10 years, they deserve them to be contemporary and world-class all the time.

We can’t build world-class services without dealing with risk.

It’s not just the successes we can learn from, the cyber-attack on Estonia in 2007 shows the risks we face, and the consequences if not managed.

Take the NSW Government Cyber Attack as an example. In July 2021, hackers were able to take the names and email addresses of an undisclosed number of people. Not only a loss of data and confidence, it had the potential to disrupt the return to school.

There was an attempted cyber-attack on Parliament, which required proactive action by Department of Parliamentary Services to update their mobile device management ahead of their planned roll-out.

In May this year, there was an attack on an NDIS client management system provider. Large volumes of personal, health and other sensitive data belonging to NDIS participants and other individuals was accessed by an unauthorised third-party.

The task is never complete…quantum computing will introduce new risks. In fact I’d wager our adversaries, state and non-state based, could be trying to harvest data now in preparation to process this cryptography with quantum computing.

If we don’t collaborate and come together, we are left trying to manage stand-alone risks, that are often avoided, which may well create a greater risk of inaction. We need to collectively consider the whole system, understand to whole-of-system risks, and manage them together.

We must work together with our national and international experts to manage these risks.
So again, working together is essential.

One absolute and irrefutable requirement of the “how” is to rebuild trust.

We have committed to a Royal Commission into Robodebt, and we are progressing this already.

Consider ‘Robodebt’ against those guiding principles I mentioned earlier: fair, accurate and accountable - as a debt-recovery system, it failed on all three measures: Robodebt was unfair, it was inaccurate and ordinary citizens found it almost impossible to achieve accountability (i.e., overturning incorrect or unfair debt notices). And of course, it was hopelessly inefficient, the tax payer has been left to pay the bill for the reversal of this unlawful system.

In my opinion, another thing about Robodebt is that the Government was beta-testing a new form of technology on literally the most vulnerable people in our country – people who rely on social security. They created an unlawful digital workhouse (the 21st Century equivalent of a 19th century problem). This is the antithesis of fair, a woefully unlawful experiment on vulnerable people.

The Royal Commission will help us understand how such a failure of public administration could happen, for the crucial reason of ensuring it will never happen again.

The Commission could quite possibly find that the decision makers had there assumptions back-to-front. We should assume that AI and similar new technology will make mistakes, and that we should design services around that assumption.

Where was the accountability and discretion when more and more individuals started approaching Centrelink saying that their debt notices were wrong, instead of assuming they were all trying to cheat the welfare system. It was unfair, it exerted unaccountable powers. It was an administration that didn’t consider whether, in fact, the individuals were right, and the system and their design was inaccurate.

Whilst at one level I’m fundamentally angry at the steeple-fingered, cold-hearted coalition ministers who neither knew nor cared about the harm caused by Robodebt. The metaphor that it was a few bad apples fault, it doesn’t capture the whole story because at a deeper level at the core of Robodebt, it was the application of unaccountable powers … wrapped in a deeply-flawed digital service … that presented unlawful debts as a false fait accompli to vulnerable Australians.

Is it a surprise people have a trust issue with government?

So many of the imaginable opportunities simply won’t be taken up if we don’t do our all to earn trust – it is absolutely essential.

I’ve set us a challenge today … let’s together deliver world-class government services.

We have come through a long period of an ineffective, arrogant and at times malicious digital transformation. This, among many other actions, has eroded trust in government, and in fact I’d go so far as to say, it is threatening democracy.
Imagine if humble Government Services could help restore citizens’ faith in democracy as an operating model. Imagine that!

I want us to return to a respectful relationship between the Government and the APS, that has the safety to be and truly frank and fearless.

I want you to know it is time to be bold, to innovate.

You have a government with the political will and respect for bureaucracy.

We have an APS with the knowledge and skills.

Just by way of example, the agency in my portfolio, Services Australia’s responsiveness in delivering recent emergency payments is impressive to say the least. While dealing with flood emergencies, they stand ready to help Agriculture and Health in the emerging Foot and Mouth situation. They can handle an extraordinary number of transactions. Per year, they manage 1.2 billion online transactions, 73 million calls and 9.3 million face-to-face engagements.

Every day, right across the APS, the APS does great things, and the conversations you have today will build on that. I think your agenda today is terrific.

And so I want you to know … integrity is back, leadership is back, support and respect for the APS is back.

We have the opportunity to rebuild our relationship … to make a real difference in the lives of Australians.