Massive digital and ICT investments over the next six years underpin the Federal Government’s approach to guiding the Australian economy out of the COVID-19-induced downturn, according to the 2021-22 Budget.
Central to this return to prosperity is the government’s Digital Economy Strategy which comprises a diverse range of initiatives totaling $1.2 billion across a range of sectors and agencies.
Some of the Budget’s funding also reflects the Budget’s strong social agenda. This, together with a raft of unallocated funding commitments, have been taken by many to be a sign of an early election.
If this is indeed the last Budget before the election, the strong digital component is a notable departure from the funding pattern Intermedium has observed over earlier electoral cycles where ICT and digital funding is notably absent in pre-election budgets.
This about-face is likely due to the degree to which the Morrison government has embraced the idea that digital transformation of government services to business is both an economic stimulus measure and a means to reduce government costs through improved effectiveness and efficiency of government services.
Sectors receiving significant digital investment were wide-ranging, with initiatives responding to many issues that are receiving ongoing national focus.
RegTech continues to be a core focus of Whole-of-Government digital transformation, with $134.6 million over four years going towards the Commonwealth Deregulation Agenda. This includes specific initiatives for various sectors such as health, fisheries, childcare, clean energy, a number of which are outlined below.
Signals of Imminent Approaches to the Market
Increasingly a feature of Federal Government Budgets, funding for many initiatives was listed as “not for publication” (NFP).
The most common reason for this is an imminent ‘Approach to the Market’. The concern is that publishing the amount of funding would signal to prospective bidders what the Government expected the solution to cost, thereby eliminating some or all of the competitive cost element.
The largest of these ‘NFP’ projects would appear to be the continued roll-out of the GovERP shared corporate services system. This ongoing project has been overseen by Service Delivery Office (SDO) in Finance, with six agencies tasked with developing various functionalities as part of a hub and spoke model.
Services Australia will have a more prominent role to “build and deliver”, with the SDO to support implementation across 14 client agencies as “the first implementation”.
After the massive fish kills of 2019, Intermedium flagged that there would be funding for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
The Budget states there will be “funding to modernise and integrate Basin river modelling to provide more timely and accurate information about water availability”. However, the amount of funding was listed as NFP, suggesting an imminent approach to the market.
The politically sensitive Cashless Debit Card will be continued, with funding listed as NFP “due to ongoing negotiations with potential commercial providers”.
Other key areas of funding include the following:
Artificial Intelligence initiatives totaling $124.2 million to “enhance” Artificial Intelligence (AI) capability over six years, included:
- Creation of a National AI Centre and Capability Centres to support SME adoption of the technology.
- Business and regional grants to develop solutions and capabilities.
- Next Generation AI Graduates Program offering scholarships to AI specialists.
$111.3 million has been allocated to rollout the Consumer Data Right, which was launched in 2017 to ‘give consumers greater access to and control over their data’ and improve their ability to compare and switch between products and services encouraging competition between service providers.
Spatial Mapping / Digital Twin
$40.2 million was allocated for a national “Digital Atlas”, which will create a location-based platform consisting of over 90,000 datasets, complementing pre-existing digital twin initiatives in other jurisdictions.
At least $220 million was allocated for industry grants and scholarships to boost workforce capabilities and innovation in the non-government and private sectors.
Agriculture & Regional Development/ Services
“Agriculture 2030” represents the government’s goal of increasing agricultural input to the economy to $100 billion by 2030. $850.4 million over five years will be spent, with much of that funding going towards ICT improvements and data collection and analysis.
- $102.0 million over two years to create the National Soil Resources Information System.
- $80.9 million over four years for biosecurity screening and cargo risk assessment improvements through ICT and analytics improvements.
- $60.1 million over four years for pest and disease intelligence and analytics systems and diagnostic tools and “modern technologies”.
- $17.1 million over two years for single-touch environmental approvals and assessments.
Other initiatives included:
- $84.8 million over two years from 2021-22 to the Regional Connectivity Program to improve regional telecommunications access and affordability.
- $37.5 million will be spent over three years to review and modernise Australian trade processes and ICT systems.
- $16.5 million over four years from 2021-22 to establish the National Freight Data Hub.
As the Morrison Government grapples with claims of sexual harassment in its own ranks and wider community calls to address domestic violence, the Budget provided funding for initiatives to address family, domestic and sexual violence (FDSV). Digital opportunities include:
- $80.6 million over five years to improve data collection on FDSV.
- $29.0 million over four years (for the Attorney-General’s Department) to improve information sharing between the family law and family and domestic violence systems.
- $23.2 million over two years to address online harm.
Health & Aged Care
$421.6 million was allocated over two years to continue My Health Record and Australian Digital Health Agency funding.
There were several eHealth initiatives and funding commitments in the Budget across the health sector. Many of these focused on boosting the availability and quality of primary care services to ensure more effective and efficient health outcomes.
The Government response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was allocated $17.7 billion, with a considerable portion of its initiatives aimed at improving data collection, quality, service design and navigation. These included:
- $28.5 million in 2021-22 to continue the My Aged Care program.
- $365.7 million to improve access to primary care in residential aged care through investment in digital assistance and making the system “easier to navigate”.
- $29.8 million will be spent to extend the Home Medicines Service, remote and regional COVID-19 support, and the Beyond Blue Mental Wellbeing Support Services as ongoing COVID-19 related telehealth programs.
Mental health received particular attention in the Budget, with $2 billion over four years dedicated towards the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan. Funding included:
- $111.2 million over four years from 2021-22 to expand and enhance digital mental health services.
- $47.4 million over four years from 2021-22 to support universal mental health for pregnant and postnatal care, including expanding helpline services.
- $34.2 million over four years from 2021-22 to expand and implement the Initial Assessment and Referral tool for mental health practitioners.
Other health initiatives included:
- $50.7 million for systems to support the use of voluntary patient registration, dubbed “MyGP”.
- $23.1 million over four years from 2021-22 (and $2.1 million per year ongoing) to modernise and improve the administration of the Prostheses List.
- $3.8 million to support the National Health Funding Body to improve payment compliance.
Like the commitments under the Digital Economy Strategy and Agriculture 2030 initiatives, specific initiatives funded for the Department of Employment, Skills and Education are aimed at hitting the government’s predicted sub-5% unemployment rate by increasing the digital skills capability of the workforce.
The New Employment Services Model (NESM) received $699.4 million over five years to “introduce a new approach to employment services that is digitally driven, tailored and flexible”. The Government hopes to save $860.4 million over four years by transitioning from the current ‘jobactive’ model to the NESM which will make greater use of digital services.
- $69.1 million over five years will create a “new VET National Data Asset” to aid vocational education planning and outcomes assessment.
Social Services & Veterans Affairs
The Budget provided funding of $200.1 million over two years to “develop and transition government services” to the new myGov platform.
Veterans’ Affairs was again recently in the spotlight, with a Royal Commission into Veteran Suicides announced shortly before the Budget. Digital initiatives include:
- $40.7 million (including $12.4 million in capital funding in 2022-23) to develop a fully integrated Data Sharing Analytics Solution to better identify and intervene in long-term illness and injury of veterans.
- $21.4 million over four years to expand DVA’s data and analytical capability in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare for real-time monitoring of veteran health.
- $55.1 million over four years for ICT consolidation with Services Australia.
Other social services initiatives included:
- $139.1 million over four years for initiatives (for Prime Minister & Cabinet) aimed at preventing child sexual abuse which includes a considerable component of online education and safety programs.
- $99.3 million over four years to deliver social services and payments remotely and virtually.
- $12.3 million over two years from 2021-22 to ensure NDIS compliance, regulation and information sharing.
- The Cashless Debit Card will be continued (as mentioned earlier).
Many of the following initiatives build on awareness of increased security risk through technological change as identified in the 2020 Cyber Security Strategy.
- $1.3 billion over ten years ($413.8 million over four years from 2021-22) for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation to counter threats posed by a complex security environment and responding to “rapid technological change”.
- $51.8 million in 2021-22 to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission for operational and core capability sustainment, which includes supporting information-sharing arrangements between law enforcement agencies.
- $42.4 million over two years from 2021-22 to improve security arrangements for critical infrastructure assets, particularly to address the risk of cyber-attacks.
- $14.2 million in 2021-22 to develop a plan for future maritime surveillance capabilities.
- $9.6 million over four years to support data-sharing with the United States as part of the CLOUD Act arrangements.
- $387.2 million over ten years from 2021-22 for the Square Kilometre Array Radio Telescope Project in Perth which will include the establishment of a centre to support computing and data management as well as communications infrastructure links to the area.
- $33.6 million over five years from 2021-22 to improve preschool data collection and to inform a new preschool framework for reform.
The Government will also look to support SME participation in procurement, funding $2.6 million to research and improve SME engagement opportunities, pain-points and best use of panels.