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ICT initiatives under scrutiny in Senate Estimates

by Cameron Sinclair •
Free resource

The first day of Senate Estimates, on Monday 14 February 2022, provided a window into a range of ICT initiatives across the Government. Hansard transcripts for two committees with significant ICT workloads were available as of close of business 15 February - when Intermedium’s newsletter went to press.

The Finance and Public Affairs (FPA) Committee saw questions put to the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS), Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), Australian Public Service Commissioner (APSC) Garry Woolcott, and the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA).

The President of the Senate, WA Senator Slade Brockman confirmed that DPS was in the process of implementing Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC) after a series of cyberattacks on the parliamentary email system. Since its implementation on 6 December 2021, there has been “an 82 per cent reduction in email traffic attempting to impersonate the aph.gov.au domain,” Brockman said.

PM&C confirmed that Australia is providing cyber support in Ukraine, by funding “capacity building, training and cybersecurity.” This engagement is led by Australia's Ambassador for Cyber Affairs and Critical Technology, Dr Tobias Feakin, who is currently considering what further support can be provided.

Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott confirmed that the Government’s formal response to the recommendations contained in the final report of the Senate Committee inquiry on APS capability is due next Friday, 25 February.

It is likely the Government’s response will echo Woolcott’s view that there will “always be a role for consultants” to provide specialist skills and advice and address temporary surge needs.

Intermedium has been following this inquiry closely, noting that its recommendations will likely have eventual (and possibly significant) impacts on the use of labour hire and consulting firms under an Albanese Labor Government.

The DTA made its usual end-of-the day appearance at the Estimates hearings, starting at 10.52pm. It responded to (exactly) 10 minutes of questioning from One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts; on whether “Google (is) adding data about private citizens who use a government website to Google's own data records,” the final cost of both the now abandoned WofG Cloud project and WofG Platforms program, and use of the use of gendered language in the official government style guide.

Monday’s hearings in the Legal and Constitutional Affairs (Legal &Con) Committee were primarily with the agencies responsible for national security and law enforcement: the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo opened the session by confirming that the Digital Passenger Declaration is about to ‘go live’ on 18 February 2022. It is the first use case on the new permissions capability platform. He also provided an explanation of the delays in getting the funding approved. It was originally announced in October 2020, but funding was not confirmed until June 2021.

Tasmanian Greens Senator Nick McKim asked some pointy questions about a tender for managing existing identity matching services. He reminded the committee that the powerful Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) rejected the Identity-matching Services (IMS) Bill 2019, amid concerns that it would provide a slippery slope for, among other things,  CCTV facial recognition technology.

Officials were quick to hose down his concerns, noting that the RFT was to host and manage existing elements of the national identity matching service provided by Home Affairs. This system includes the National Driver Licence Facial Recognition Solution (NDLFRS). Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia have passed enabling legislation to participate in the scheme, with other jurisdictions expected to follow.

AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw reminded senators he travelled to the US in late 2021 to witness the signing of the CLOUD ACT agreement between the US and Australia. He also stated that a man charged for his role in a spam email campaign, sending over 23 million messages during the 2019 Wentworth and 2020 Eden-Monaro by-elections, will be sentenced this year.

There were a couple of ‘Dorothy Dixers’ from government senators during the day to give officials the opportunity to promote digital government initiatives.

Queensland LNP Senator Paul Scarr asked about progress on the ransomware action plan. The Government received almost 500 ransomware related cybercrime reports in 2020-21, up 15% from the previous year.

WA Liberal Senator Matt O'Sullivan asked about the Digital Economy Strategy, but the only new information provided is that there is a 12 person task force based in PM&C. 

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